The History of No-Fault Divorce in the United States

Gray Divorce, Silver Splitters and Diamond Divorces

Divorce among those aged fifty and older is generally known as gray divorce, but is also known as a silver split or a diamond divorce.

While we’ve seen articles linking divorce and perimenopause, such evidence is anecdotal.

Experts say the underlying causes are more likely longer life spans and financial independence.

Such divorces have been on the rise for the past two decades, not only in the United States but in Japan, Australia, India and Canada as well.

While no-fault divorce is now being touted in political culture wars as only favoring women, it should be noted that divorce laws are written and legislated in state legislatures, where an analysis of data by the National Conference of State Legislatures shows the majority of legislators–more than 70%–are men.

In other words, it’s men who for decades wrote and passed no-fault divorce laws.

This article will focus on divorce in the United States, while future articles will focus on other countries.


The concept of no-fault divorce is one of the most transformative legal developments in family law, significantly changing the landscape of divorce in the United States.

Prior to its inception, obtaining a divorce was a cumbersome and often stigmatizing process, requiring one party to prove that their spouse was at fault for the marriage’s breakdown, often through adultery, abuse or abandonment.

No-fault divorce introduced a new paradigm, one that focused less on moral blame and more on the fact that the marriage was irretrievably broken.

Fault-Based Divorce

Before no-fault divorce was legalized, American couples had to navigate the intricate and often humiliating fault-based divorce system.

The idea behind this was rooted in the historical context that saw marriage as an almost unbreakable bond.

A divorce could only be granted if one party was at “fault” for the breakdown of the marriage.

Common grounds included adultery, abandonment, and cruelty.

The process required the aggrieved spouse to publicly air the couple’s dirty laundry, which was not only emotionally devastating but also socially stigmatizing.

Moreover, if both parties were at fault, a divorce could be denied, trapping couples in unhappy marriages.

California’s Pioneering Move

The winds of change began to blow in the late 1960s, coinciding with the social and cultural upheaval that characterized that era.

It was California that led the way with the Family Law Act of 1969, signed into law by then-Governor Ronald Reagan.

This act, which became effective on January 1, 1970, removed the requirement for a spouse to prove fault and instead allowed for divorce based on “irreconcilable differences.”

Ronald Reagan, who was divorced two decades prior to the enactment of no-fault divorce, later said he regretted his role in enacting the no-fault divorce law and blamed the legislation for an increase in divorce rates.

Regardless, this move set a precedent that would reverberate across the country, sparking a radical transformation in the way divorce was viewed and handled.

During this same time period, women were finally allowed to open bank accounts and credit cards in their own names.

Until 1974, women were required to have a man as a co-signor on all financial accounts.

The Domino Effect

Once California instituted no-fault divorce, other states quickly followed suit.

By the end of the 1970s, most states had enacted some form of no-fault divorce legislation.

New York was the last state to jump on the no-fault bandwagon, finally legalizing it in 2010.

The momentum for this rapid change came from multiple quarters.

Feminist movements argued that fault-based systems were fundamentally biased against women, trapping them in abusive relationships.

Legal professionals pointed to the emotional and financial costs associated with drawn-out court battles.

Social scientists noted that the adversarial nature of fault-based divorce could have a long-lasting negative impact on children.

The Impact and Controversies

While no-fault divorce undeniably made it easier for couples to separate, it also generated its share of controversies.

Critics argued that it undermined the institution of marriage by making divorce too convenient, thereby encouraging marital instability.

Some religious and conservative groups lamented the erosion of traditional family values.

However, many studies have shown that no-fault divorce laws led to a decrease in domestic violence and allowed women more freedom to exit unhealthy relationships.

Moreover, the decline in the stigma associated with divorce made it possible for people to approach marital dissolution without the social shame that once accompanied it.

The Modern Landscape

Today, all fifty states offer some form of no-fault divorce, although the particulars vary.

Some states require a separation period, while others do not.

In some jurisdictions, a spouse can still choose to allege fault, which may have implications for spousal support (formerly known as alimony) or asset division.

However, the core idea remains that divorce should be accessible without the necessity to prove wrongdoing.

Justice and Equality in the Legal System

The history of no-fault divorce in the United States is a testament to evolving societal norms and the constant pursuit of justice and equality within the legal system.

From its pioneering start in California to its present-day ubiquity, no-fault divorce has been a significant, albeit controversial, advancement in family law.

It has not only streamlined the legal process but also led to cultural shifts in how marriage and divorce are perceived.

As society continues to change, the laws around divorce may further evolve, but the impact of no-fault divorce as a liberating and leveling force can’t be understated.

mySysters is an app for women in perimenopause and menopause. Good Housekeeping and Woman’s Day named mySysters the Best App for Women in Perimenopause and a Must Have App for Women.

The information and other content provided in this blog, website or in any linked materials are not intended and should not be considered, or used as a substitute for, legal advice, medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.