Getting a Divorce in the U.S.? Information You Need.

Getting a Divorce in the U.S.? Information You Need.

Divorce has been recognized in the USA since the mid-19th century. By the 1920s, the number of divorces in the USA far outnumbered that in Europe.

Possibly this was because the Catholic Church, which does not recognize divorce, had a lesser influence in the USA than in Europe. The U.S. populace has always been overwhelmingly Protestant.

In 2018 there were 780,000 weddings nationwide, and almost half of those marriages ended in divorce.

This is due to the relaxation of the grounds for divorce in the USA. Otherwise, the impetus has been due to rising financial independence among women, and a less constricted social outlook.

Common Legal Grounds for Divorce in the United States

Although a couple can be married by a priest or a judge, the dissolution has to compulsorily happen before a judge.

Being a legal matter, it requires grounds or reason for which the divorce suit is being heard.

The grounds are no-fault and fault. In a no-fault divorce, the person seeking a divorce does not accuse the partner of any wrongdoings, and simply seeks divorce because of personal reasons.

1. No-Fault Divorce

  • Separation – If a couple has been living apart for a long while, it is adequate grounds for divorce. In some states, the natural separation can be followed by a court-monitored period. This is to find if there are any grounds for reconciliation.
  • Irreconcilable Differences – This is a common ground for divorce. The couple has disagreements that they cannot smooth over any further.
  • State Acceptance – The state accepts that a couple should go through a dissolution of marriage, rather than remaining married.

Many of these might overlap.

2. Fault Divorce

  • Adultery – If a partner has been unfaithful (and it can be proven), it is grounds for divorce.
  • Cruelty – The cause is self-explanatory. No citizen can be asked to tolerate cruelty from another.
  • Abandonment – Leaving the spouse alone and not providing any support is the cause of divorce.

Other such grounds include:

  • Mental Illness – An expert’s testimony is required.
  • Criminal Activity – Where one partner is incarcerated.
  • Addiction – When normal life is disrupted by addictive behavior.

There is a lot of divergence among states when it comes to other issues.

Illinois allows divorce if the partner has caused a sexually transmitted disease, while in New Hampshire a change of religion by one partner is a cause for divorce, and so on.

Divorce is not under federal law, but state law. As such, there are considerable differences when it comes to grounds, their enforcement and standing, and providing maintenance and division of property.

What Is the Procedure for Divorce in the USA?

Though the underlying legal arguments might change, the overall process of divorce in the United States is reasonably consistent.

There is separation, followed by petition, hearings, and verdict.

Besides the principal matter of divorce, there might be subsidiary issues such as custody that considerably complicate the matter.

1. Separation

Divorce has to be preceded by a period of separation. This is not legal separation, but a period when the couple is away from each other (have different addresses).

2. Legal Separation

A couple can ask for legal separation if their religion prohibits divorce.

The reason for this is that once they are legally separated, the property of one cannot be attached if the other gets in trouble with the IRS, or similar evasion.

The type of legal separation offered depends on the state. Some states allow the couple to enter an agreement for providing child support and alimony, but do not allow legal separation.

3. Divorce Petition

This is a rather standard civil suit and asks the court to dissolve the marriage.

Even if a couple has been living separately, they may have to go through a court-mandated period of separation.

It is important to understand that separation is not the same as divorce. Legally the marriage still exists, though the couple is living apart.

The court might ask the couple to try and reconcile or go through therapy. This depends on the temperament of the judge and what they feel after having handled hundreds of such cases in the past.

This is of course non-binding advice.

The petition also states the grounds for divorce.

Like any civil suit, the other party must be served with a copy of the petition.

4. Response

A spouse has about four weeks to respond to the petition. If they do not respond, the motion may be heard ex parte (only one side present).

If the spouse contests the divorce, it heads to a full-fledged civil suit with witnesses and evidence.

If there is no contest, then it is divorce by mutual agreement (without a judge having to hear evidence).

In the case of the latter, a judge still has to pronounce the marriage as dissolved.

5. Other Hearings

Though a spouse might not contest divorce, they might obstruct other issues, such as a fair division of property, child maintenance, and alimony.

If this occurs, these issues again proceed through the civil court system.

There is considerable bargaining by lawyers of both parties, because a divorce or any other suit is extremely expensive.

For example, a wife might allow the ex-husband more time with children in return for a speedier final divorce agreement.

Custody disputes can be bitter and have a detrimental effect on children. It is in the interest of both parties to arrive at a compromise.

Points to Note

  • Just as one burglary trial has no bearing on the other, it is the same in divorce. It will be easier to think about it in terms of any other civil suit with its own circumstances. Because your friend was able to get an easy divorce does not mean it will be the same for you.
  • Keep the children away from the divorce. Any argument between you and your spouse does not have to spill over into their lives. Unless there are serious issues such as physical abuse, they should not have to take sides.
  • If disputes lead to a trial, the road is expensive. Contested divorces are primarily among those who can sustain a long, drawn-out court battle.

Collaboration Is the Key

One day a couple looked into each other’s eyes and said “I do.” After a few years, one or both of them felt differently.

Recognizing that this is a phase in life that many people go through is the key to the successful negotiation of divorce.

For this reason, legal teams have begun to collaborate to find the easiest solution that is satisfactory to both.

Besides the attorneys, the team also needs accountants to swiftly decide the division of assets.

This is a legal matter where the best outcome for everyone is not to go to court, but to proceed through negotiation.


1. How long does it take?

In case of divorce by mutual consent, it can take as little as three months in some states. If contested, it might take several years while it goes through appellate court and state Supreme Court.

2. Is separation mandatory?

In most states it is mandatory. Exceptions exist in states such as Michigan.

3. When is it final?

Like other civil matters, the judge will issue a decree that a marriage is dissolved.


  • Divorce is accepted in all of the U.S., but the law varies from state to state.
  • It can be no-fault or at-fault.
  • The divorce petition can be contested or not contested.

Mutually agreed divorces are quicker and less painful.

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