No-Fault Divorce Myths

No-fault divorce has been available in Minnesota for nearly five decades, which means that it has been state law for longer than most Minnesotans have been married. Even so, we encounter a lot of misconceptions about what no-fault divorce is and how it works. If you are facing the end of your marriage, some of these divorce myths may be swirling around in your head. In this blog post, we’ll try to set the record straight about what no-fault divorce does and doesn’t mean.

Myth #1: No-Fault Divorce Means an Amicable Divorce.

No-fault divorce means that neither party has to allege and prove fault on the part of the other spouse in order to be granted a divorce. A minority of states require fault grounds, such as abuse or adultery, in order to grant a divorce. Having to begin your divorce by accusing your spouse of misconduct does seem like it would set a negative tone for the process, and reduce the chances of an amicable divorce.

However, it doesn’t necessarily follow that just because you are getting a no-fault divorce, your divorce will be an amicable one. “No-fault” refers to what you have to allege in order to be granted a divorce. Unfortunately, you can have a hostile and contentious divorce process even in a no-fault state like Minnesota. If an amicable divorce is your goal, talk to your attorney about the best way to achieve that without sacrificing your rights in the divorce.

Myth #2: A No-Fault Divorce is an Uncontested Divorce.

A no-fault divorce may also be an uncontested divorce, but the two terms are not interchangeable. As discussed above, the term “no-fault” means that neither spouse needs to allege that the other is responsible for the breakdown of the marriage in order to be granted a divorce.

An uncontested divorce, on the other hand, is a divorce in which the spouses are in agreement on all issues in the divorce, including the division of property, custody of children and parenting time schedule, and whether or not there will be spousal maintenance. It is perfectly possible to file a no-fault divorce and have one or several issues be contested.

If you want to make sure that your no-fault divorce is also an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse might decide to go through family mediation even before filing for divorce in order to resolve any disputed issues and allow your divorce to proceed as quickly and smoothly as possible.

Myth #3: Fault Doesn’t Matter at All in a No-Fault Divorce.

It’s certainly true, as we’ve discussed, that you don’t need to allege or prove fault on your spouse’s part in order to get a divorce in Minnesota. Furthermore, Minnesota Statutes section 518.58(1) states in part that “...the court shall make a just and equitable division of the marital property of the parties without regard to marital misconduct…”

That might seem to indicate that a court cannot take a party’s fault into account when dividing property, but that is not quite true. The court cannot punish one spouse for their fault in the breakdown of the marriage by giving the other spouse a larger share of the property.

But take a closer look at the language in quotes — specifically, the works “just and equitable.” What those words mean is “fair under all the circumstances.” So while the court can’t, say, punish one spouse financially for having an affair, the court might compensate the other spouse for their share of the marital funds the first spouse spent taking the affair partner on lavish vacations and buying them gifts.

The same behavior that would constitute “fault” in breaking down a marriage might also reflect negatively on a parent in a custody matter. For instance, a parent’s daily drug use might be a significant part of the reason for the breakdown of the marriage. But if the drug use also took place in front of minor children, endangered the children, or made the parent unable to properly care for them, it would also be a strong factor against that parent in a custody dispute.

In a nutshell: a Minnesota court will not punish you for being at fault in the breakdown of your marriage. But to the extent your actions negatively affect marital assets or your kids, there may be consequences even in a no-fault divorce.

Myth #4: You Don’t Need a Lawyer for a No-Fault Divorce.

The fact that divorce in Minnesota is no-fault has no bearing on whether or not you need a lawyer’s help. Just because you don’t have to prove (or defend against) allegations of fault in your divorce doesn’t mean you don’t need an attorney. At a minimum, even in an uncontested divorce, you should have your own lawyer review your divorce documents before you sign to make sure you understand and agree to everything in them.

If any issue in your divorce is contested, it is even more important to have an attorney’s advice and advocacy. The right lawyer can also help you achieve a more peaceful settlement rather than a hostile and costly trial.

If you have questions about no-fault divorce in Minnesota, get the answers you need. Contact Mundahl Law to schedule a consultation.