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Should I change the declared grounds for divorce after I file?

This article is from Elina Katz, a member of our Long Island criminal defense division. You can change your declared grounds for divorce after you file, provided you’re in a state that offers fault divorces. Whether you should do so depends on the circumstances of your case, but it can be beneficial in some situations.

Deciding on Your Grounds for Divorce

When you file for divorce, you need to select grounds at that time. The available grounds will vary depending on the state where you reside.

Every state has no-fault divorce available, and there are certain states where this is the only available option. This means that you don’t have the option of choosing a grounds that will put the fault of the divorce onto your spouse, and vice versa.

In a no-fault state, the grounds for divorce that you select will typically be called irreconcilable differences, although in some states it goes by a different title. This term means that you and your spouse have problems that you can’t fix. Since no-fault differences have gotten increasingly popular due to their convenience and lower cost than fault divorces, irreconcilable differences is one of the most common grounds for divorce.

In a state that allows you to assign fault for a divorce, you can choose from several different grounds. Available grounds and what each entails can vary from state to state. A few of the most common grounds are adultery, cruelty, abandonment, mental illness and criminal offenses.

When you select your grounds for divorce, there are a couple things to keep in mind. You can choose multiple grounds, and this is a good idea if you have multiple valid reasons for the divorce. You’ll need to prove to the court that any grounds you’ve chosen are legitimate. It’s smart to have multiple grounds chosen, that way if the court doesn’t accept one, you still have another. Of course, you don’t want to choose grounds you can’t prove because that will damage your credibility.

Changing Your Grounds After You File

Since you can’t choose from a list of grounds in no-fault states, you’re unable to change grounds there. In states that allow fault divorces, you are able to change grounds after filing. You can either change your grounds from one fault to another, or you can change to irreconcilable differences and go from a fault divorce to a no-fault divorce.

Why would you change your grounds? There are a few situations where it could be advantageous to you.

The first is if you’ve decided there’s a fault that better addresses your situation than the one you originally chose. After all, you want to choose the most accurate grounds so you can argue your case as effectively as possible.

The second is if your spouse requests that you change the grounds. Spouses may do this if they don’t agree with the grounds you originally chose, which is especially common with grounds that are more subjective.

Let’s say that you originally filed for divorce and listed your spouse’s cruelty as the reason. If your spouse also ended up moving out, he may ask you to switch your grounds from cruelty to abandonment. There’s less of a negative connotation to abandonment than with cruelty. With cruelty, your spouse would be admitting to malicious behavior, whereas with abandonment, he’d be admitting to leaving on a certain date.

Even if you think your original grounds are valid, choosing grounds that your partner will agree with is going to make the divorce go much smoother.

Finally, you could change your grounds to irreconcilable differences. You may do this if you decide that you don’t want your spouse to be at fault for the divorce, or you may do this if you want to speed up the divorce process. If your spouse doesn’t agree to admit to any fault in the divorce, then you’d need to go to trial to prove your case, and this can get costly.

The most important thing to realize is that it’s fine to change your grounds after you’ve filed for divorce. It’s not going to negatively impact your credibility with the court if you decide to change anything.

Talking to your divorce lawyer is the best way to figure out if it’s a good idea to change your grounds. He can explain how changing your grounds could help you get a quicker resolution