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Fifty Years of No-Fault Divorce – A Dozen in New Jersey

It has been 50 years since the first state passed the very first no-fault divorce law, freeing couples of the requirement to make public and formal accusations in order to legally separate.

In 1969, then-Governor Ronald Reagan signed the first no-fault divorce legislation in California. Every other state since then has passed a no-fault divorce law. New Jersey was one of the last, in 2007.

Prior to no-fault divorce in New Jersey, couples could divorce on “separation” grounds if they had been separated/living apart at least 18 months. (New Jersey doesn’t recognize legal separation, which would require filing legal documents at the start of that 18-month period). Separation was the only means spouses in this state had to separate and not make specific allegations. It’s still listed as a cause of action in fault-based divorces, but couples can also file immediately for a no-fault divorce on grounds of irreconcilable differences.

Some have argued that the wave of no-fault divorce had unintended – and very negative cultural – consequences for American families by making divorce “too easy.”

But as our East Brunswick divorce lawyers know, it wouldn’t be accurate to say the whole process is now a breeze.

Did No-Fault Divorce Make Divorcing “Too Easy”?

Divorces are “easier” in the sense that some aren’t as venomous as they might otherwise have been if both sides had to write a public checklist of wrongdoings to dissolve the marriage. It’s easier – not to mention cheaper – to get a divorce when those involved aren’t forced to litigate accusations of adultery or alcoholism or cruelty or sexual dysfunction.

There may still be some cases where these issues are relevant (and New Jersey does still offer the option of a fault-based divorce), but couples aren’t forced to fight about these things if they decide not to. The main reason some couples still do opt for a fault-based divorce is because if proven, those findings could (although rarely) influence other issues in the case, such as custody.

The process can still take months – if not years. It can be prohibitively costly for some couples, some taking out personal loans and putting expenses on credit cards. All this is even before we talk about the toll of the emotional upheaval.

If divorce were so incredibly easy, presumably more people would get married in the first place. As it turns out, cohabitation is now more common than marriage among 18-24-year-olds in the U.S.

Benefits of a No-Fault Divorce

No-fault divorces are inherently less adversarial, making an already difficult process less contentious. The way a divorce is initiated can have a big impact on how it proceeds – which can carry over into longer-term, influencing cooperation in co-parenting, etc.

New Jersey no-fault divorcees have the benefit of:

  • Lower legal fees. Resolving personal differences in a courtroom is emotionally draining, potentially embarrassing – and expensive. When there is no need to prove the other party is to blame, attorneys can spend billable hour resources on other key issues.
  • Spotlight is on needs, not fault. A no-fault divorce allows separating couples to focus less on, “How did we get here?” and more on, “Where do we go from here?”
  • No need for manufactured allegations. When couples were faced with waiting 18 months to even start the divorce process OR accusing their soon-to-be-ex of some wrongdoing, many opted for the latter. Intentionally lying to or misleading the court has its own legal consequences, not the least of which might be an unfavorable divorce settlement.
  • Lower psychological burden on children. This one might be more subjective than the others, but there is no question divorce can be traumatizing for children. It’s exponentially more damaging when both parents have declared war.

These are some of the reasons many people in New Jersey opt for a no-fault divorce. There are situations when a “fault” divorce makes sense, but it’s a decision that should only be made after careful consideration and consultation with an experienced divorce lawyer.

Call Rozin|Golinder Law, LLC today for a free and confidential consultation.

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