Family Law

Grounds for Divorce: Irretrievable Breakdown

In some cases, these's no one to blame for a divorce: Couples grow apart and life circumstances change, which can eventually ruin a relationship. If you know your marriage is broken beyond repair, it may be time to consider a divorce.
Updated: Apr 9th, 2015

What's an Irretrievable Breakdown?

All states recognize some version of a no-fault divorce, generally referred to as a divorce based on an irretrievable breakdown or irreconcilable differences. What this means is that you and your spouse simply can’t get along, and the marriage is no longer working—it’s permanently broken. Some couples file for divorce because they no longer share the same life goals, they’ve fallen out of love, or no longer want to be married—all of these are considered no-fault grounds for divorce. If you decide to seek a divorce based on irretrievable breakdown, you and your spouse’s differences must be permanent, and the marriage must be broken beyond repair.

How Does a No-Fault Divorce Work?

When you prepare your written petition (request) for divorce, you need to state a reason or “ground” for the split. Most states allow you to choose a fault or no-fault divorce. In a fault-based divorce, you’re blaming your spouse for the breakup—in other words, your partner's adultery, cruelty, substance abuse, or desertion destroyed the relationship.

In a no-fault divorce, there’s no one to blame and no reason for the divorce other than the fact you and your spouse simply can’t get along. Most states refer to this no-fault divorce as irreconcilable differences or irretrievable breakdown.

No-fault divorces are usually simpler, faster, and less expensive than a fault-based divorce. This is because you don’t have to prove your spouse’s fault at trial. However, even in no-fault divorces, spouses can get tied up in court battles over property division, alimony or child-related issues, such as custody and child support.

Do My Spouse and I Have to Agree to a Divorce Based on Irretrievable Breakdown?

Although state laws vary, generally, one or both spouses can file for a divorce based on an irretrievable breakdown or irreconcilable differences. Your spouse doesn’t have to “agree” with your divorce petition and may even want to stay married. However, that won’t prevent you from getting a divorce. Likewise, divorcing couples that have a seemingly good working relationship can still get a divorce based on an irretrievable breakdown. For example, you and your spouse can file a joint petition for divorce based on irreconcilable differences.

What Issues Need to Be Decided in My Divorce?

Even if you and your spouse agree to a divorce based on irretrievable breakdown, you’ll still need to figure out all the normal divorce issues regarding asset and debt division. Spouses are free to reach their own agreements regarding any or all of the following:

Generally, a resolution of these issues should be part of any divorce settlement you file with the court. Many couples avoid costly divorce trials through mediation or by reaching a settlement on their own.

If you and your spouse can’t reach an agreement in your divorce, a judge will hold a trial in your case and decide the issues for you. It's a good idea to speak with an experienced family law attorney in your area to understand the implications of your divorce agreement or help prepare you for trial.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • I filed for divorce based on irretrievable breakdown, but I’ve changed my mind. Can I allege a fault-based ground now?
  • If my spouse filed for a fault divorce, can I still file for divorce based on irretrievable breakdown?
  • Will I be entitled to more alimony if I ask for a fault-based divorce?

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