California’s original divorce law, passed in 1851, the grounds for marital dissolution were impotence, adultery, extreme cruelty, desertion or neglect, habitual intemperance, fraud, and conviction for a felony. This meant that if the divorcing or “innocent” spouse could prove any of those grounds, he or she would be able to terminate the marriage.
In 1970, however, Governor Ronald Reagan signed the Family Law Act and California became the first no-fault divorce state in the nation. Under California Family Code §2310 , there are two grounds for divorce:
- Irreconcilable differences, which have caused the irremediable breakdown of the marriage.
- Permanent legal incapacity to make decisions, or as it was referred to in less enlightened times, “incurable insanity.”
What Are the Differences Between Traditional Divorce and No Fault Divorce?
In the past, the spouse filing for divorce had to prove that he or she had grounds to sue for divorce, or that the other spouse was solely at fault for the breakdown of the marriage. The key word there is solely, as proof that the filing spouse had engaged in misconduct of his or her own would offset that of the offending spouse, and invalidate the petition.
Under the current system, the judge need only find that one of the spouses in a marriage has no faith that the relationship can be salvaged, and the divorce will be granted.
See the graphic to the right for a deeper look at the differences between “fault” and no-fault divorce in California.
What Are Irreconcilable Differences in Divorce?
In general, irreconcilable differences are those which cannot be resolved by the spouses, and which have no hope of being resolved in the future. The determination of whether the marital issues are irreconcilable is up to the judge in the divorce case, but really he or she is assessing whether both the spouses believe the relationship could be repaired in the future. The standard here is that the judge believes that in the minds of the parties the martial differences are so substantial that there is no reasonable possibility of reconciliation.
Permanent Legal Incapacity at the Time of Marriage
Legal incapacity or “incurable insanity” as grounds for divorce requires proof, in the form of medical documentation and witness testimony, that the allegedly incapacitated spouse was in that state when the marriage occurred, is currently incapacitated, and will likely remain that way. If the spouse is unable to understand the proceedings, the court will appoint a guardian ad litem to represent him or her.