No-fault divorce has been around in Minnesota since 1974, and the term is familiar to most people. Yet most people don’t think about what “no-fault” divorce means until they are in the process of seeking a divorce themselves. Let’s talk a little about the history, the pros and cons of no-fault divorce, the Minnesota no-fault divorce process, and what your first steps should be if you want to pursue a no-fault divorce in Minnesota.
What does no-fault divorce mean? It doesn’t mean that nobody has done wrong in the marriage. It simply means that you don’t need to prove wrongdoing to be eligible for a divorce. Several decades ago, most states (including Minnesota) required a spouse who was filing for divorce to have grounds for the divorce—a specific identifiable reason that the divorce should be granted. Common grounds for divorce included adultery, cruelty, and desertion. If the spouse seeking the divorce could prove the grounds, the divorce would be granted.
If this seems like a cumbersome and embarrassing process to you, you are not alone. Over time, many states came to realize that the absence of specific grounds for divorce didn’t necessarily mean that a marriage should continue. In fact, requiring couples to stay married because they had no grounds for divorce created a serious hardship for many people.
While many states retain the concept of a divorce in which one party’s fault is proven, most no longer require fault for a divorce to be granted, and have put no-fault divorce laws in place. In Minnesota, the petition for divorce needs only to state that there has been an “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage. Unlike some states, there is no need for a period of separation before a no-fault divorce proceeding can begin in Minnesota.
If you are reading this blog post because you are considering filing for divorce, you probably think it is a good thing that the requirement of fault has been removed from Minnesota divorce law. And in many ways, it is.
Because there is no separation requirement, if you need a divorce, you can get one relatively quickly and move on with your life. And there are a number of advantages of no longer needing to present evidence of fault in court to prove that you have grounds for divorce. For one thing, you don’t have to have your “dirty laundry” displayed in open court. Your private business remains private. You also don’t have to spend long hours in court proving this issue—which means that your attorney doesn’t have to spend even longer hours preparing for that trial (and you don’t have to pay those attorney fees). Because people are spending less time in court proving fault, the courts are available to hear other matters.
Of course, for most people, the biggest advantage of a no-fault divorce is that they can get a divorce more quickly than in the past. In essence, the existence of no-fault divorce means that the state trusts people to know their own needs with regard to ending their marriage.
Along with all these advantages, there are a few downsides to no-fault divorce. From a public policy standpoint, some people argue that the availability of no-fault divorce makes it too easy for couples to give up on their marriage. From a personal standpoint, if you are a spouse who has been wronged, you may feel that no-fault divorce deprives you of your “day in court” to expose all of your spouse’s bad actions. While those feelings are understandable, you may find that down the road, it is easier to co-parent together if you haven’t dragged each other through the mud, so to speak, in court.
Just because you don’t need to allege fault to be granted a divorce doesn’t mean it isn’t relevant in your divorce. Depending on what you or your spouse have done, it could be relevant to issues like division of marital property or child custody or parenting time.
For instance, if one spouse had an affair and spent marital assets to buy gifts for the affair partner, the other spouse might be entitled to a greater share of marital property in the divorce. If one spouse was physically abusive to the other or actively abused substances during the marriage, that would reflect poorly on them in a child custody and parenting time evaluation. You should always let your divorce attorney know if there are any fault issues in your divorce (either your spouse’s fault, or your own) and let her advise you as to how they should be addressed.
Since all Minnesota divorces are technically “no-fault,” there is no special procedure for filing for a no-fault divorce; you can start your divorce by filing a Summons and Petition for Divorce in the county in which either you or your spouse live. You will need to serve your spouse with a copy of these divorce papers (pleadings) and they will have a chance to respond. Alternately, if you have no minor children together and limited assets to divide, and you both agree you want to divorce, you may be able to file a Joint Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.
Whether or not there is fault involved, getting a divorce can be stressful. If you have questions about no-fault divorce in Minnesota, please contact Mundahl Law to schedule a consultation and get the answers you need.