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Would emotional distress be grounds for divorce?

Married people who are fighting often find themselves debating what cause to give the judge as grounds for divorce. It is important to understand that the legal world term “grounds for divorce” means the reason before the law that a couple will receive a divorce from the courts. There are a range of reasons for why a marriage can be terminated.

These can include no fault, actions of one or both people, and more. Every state has its own statutes that provide the reasons for which divorces will be provided to married couples. Even when no fault is an acceptable reason, there are grounds that still must be met. In this article, we look at the various acceptable grounds for divorce as considered by the court and the judge.

No Fault Divorce vs. At Fault Divorce

A number of American states require a certain minimum amount of time before they will allow for a no fault divorce to be either finalized or even filed. Separation periods range from one state to the next. They commonly run from as little as three months to as long as a year, according to their own state statutes. With no fault divorces like these, the husband and wife merely sign the paperwork, claiming that they simply can not remain together any longer, thanks to the so-called “irreconcilable differences.”

With at fault divorces, one spouse insists that the other is entirely to blame for the failure of their marriage. There are states that permit such at fault divorces; there is not any separation period that stalls their wishes to divorce. The innocent spouse can be granted a larger share of any and all marital assets. Sometimes this includes spousal support if the wife can prove that her husband was to blame for the failure of their marriage. The majority of states permit either type of divorce to be filed, though some of them have turned to only the no fault divorce model.

Grounds for an At Fault Divorce

Every state maintains its own separate list of significant wrongs that justify one spouse petitioning the court for an at fault divorce. The most common reasons are abuse and adultery. In such cases as these though, certain requirements will have to be demonstrated for the divorce to be seriously considered and eventually granted.


Abuse is often filed under the synonymous category of cruelty. This might comprise a variety of reasons itself. It could be that one spouse has inflicted physical harm or mental and emotional suffering on the other. This could be common demonstrations of rage, physical violence, or even something as simple as public insults and repeated false accusations of wrong-doings.

For such abuse or cruelty grounds to be approved and a divorce granted at fault, the victim musts prove to the satisfaction of the courts and judge that the acts of cruelty somehow caused the marriage to become meaningfully insufferable. It would mean that the incidents of either emotional distress or physical violence had to be repeated. Courts will not contemplate only a single offense as reasonable grounds for such an at fault divorce.


Adultery is also called infidelity. It refers to any kind of inappropriate sexual actions with another person outside of the marriage. Proving such behavior to the satisfaction of the court will require hard evidence including audio or video recordings or pictures of the sex act in progress. A cheating spouse’s free confession is also good enough for the judge.

Mental illness

Most states will approve verifiable mental illness as a legitimate grounds for divorce. It will need the filing spouse to demonstrate conclusively that the other spouse has an incurable mental illness which causes the relationship to be unbearable. This will require the diagnosis of a medical doctor to be accepted (and not merely the word or personal opinion of the offended spouse).

Sexual Impotence or Incompatibility

On rare occasions, a state will permit this as a reasonable grounds for divorce. Some states understand that if a spouse cannot deliver sexually, then the other one is justified in wanting to get out of the confining relationship. Sexual issues must not have been disclosed before the marriage in order for a court to consider this. There are states that will only allow it in cases where the marriage could not be consummated sexually.


Some state statutes allow for the spouse of a jailed husband or wife to receive appropriate grounds for divorce. The minimum sentence time for most states to consider granting this is a year.


If one spouse walks away from the home without the approval or even knowledge of the other spouse, then the courts label this as abandonment. An innocent spouse has to demonstrate that the accused left completely involuntarily without any actual plans to return. Military service or fleeing to get away from spousal abuse are not legally acceptable forms of abandonment.

Drug or Alcohol Abuse

There are some states that accept alcohol or drug abuse as viable issues that could terminate a marriage. The offended spouse will have to physically demonstrate that this was the case.

Grounds for a No Fault Type of Divorce

The majority of states now allow for no fault divorces. Some of them such as California now only tolerate no fault forms of divorce. With such divorces though, the court will still require that the parties provide a valid reason for dissolving the marriage. There are only a few limited acceptable excuses for no fault divorces. These include the following:

  • Irreconcilable Differences – or irretrievable breakdown, states that the couple simply can not cooperate any longer and have no reasonable hope of improving the marriage in the future
  • Incurable Insanity – mental illness like this argues that the one spouse suffers from a permanent and severe psychological disorder that makes the marriage unbearable for the sane spouse

As is plain to see, there is no grounds for divorce based on simply emotional distress. If a woman can successfully file under the cruelty or abuse category, then she can argue that such emotional distress was cruel and unusual. A court may grant her the request for divorce on such grounds, even when no physical violence has occurred.

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