No Fault Divorce in California: Over 40 Years of Benefits & Consequences
Believe it or not, it was the coastal “blue” states who first and lastly signed no fault divorce bills into law.
Former governor Ronald Reagan signed the Family Law Act of 1969 which changed California family laws and set precedents for no fault divorces with other states for the next 40 years – while New York’s former governor David Paterson brought the Empire State on board in October, 2010.
But what is a no fault divorce, and what does it mean for Californians in particular?
Critics of the law have argued that the law makes it too easy to obtain a divorce. That may be true, considering that 50 percent of marriages tend to end in divorce these days. However, there are definitely some benefits to a no fault divorce:
No Fault” means “No Lying”
Before 1970 (when the law went into effect) one party in a divorce had to state specific reasons for applying for a divorce. Oftentimes, when spouses just didn’t get along, a husband or wife had to claim physical abuse, adultery or make some other critical complaint.
Back then, clients often lied in an effort to obtain divorces.
Aside from the legal muddle of ethical questions and perjury involved, the lying caused other problems. It often created a hostile atmosphere which made it difficult for separating couples to agree on divisions of community property, child visitation, child support, and child custody.
Additionally, if one side is at fault and the other looks innocent of all wrongdoing, settlements on the above issues generally proved to be unfair to the “at fault” spouse.
But who suffered the most before 1970? Usually, it was the children, whose parents tended to be hostile and bitter towards each other, and who sometimes saw their relationships with a particular parent decline because of court-ordered restrictions on visitation or custody settlements.
Other Benefits of the Current California Divorce Laws
Because fault is irrelevant when filing for divorce, separating spouses no longer have a “day in court” to tell all that went wrong in a marriage. Some of my clients, specifically those who have been emotionally hurt and angered, are disappointed when I tell them this.
But not having to testify benefits almost everyone else, particularly victims of domestic abuse. They no longer have to summon up the courage to face their abusive spouse in a courtroom – a California no fault divorce makes it much easier for them to leave a violent marriage.
Marital Advice From a California Divorce Attorney
One last thing you should know: Attempting to by-pass the California no fault divorce law with separate, conditional agreements regarding your marriage probably won’t work.
For example, writing an agreement that assigns one spouse certain property if another spouse has an extra-marital affair won’t be recognized as a valid agreement by the California family law courts – because the judges cannot consider fault when dissolving a marriage.
There may be other remedies available, like a prenuptial agreement, if you don’t specifically address such marital issues in the agreement – but it would take some forethought and planning by your family law attorney.
The long and short of it though, is that the no fault divorce laws across the country are mostly beneficial to parties seeking a dissolution of marriage.
Vanessa Soto Nellis is a California Divorce Attorney in Los Angeles County. She is a shareholder at Lewitt Hackman in Encino.