Defenses in Fault-based Divorce: Mental Illness

Divorce statutes in most states consider several defenses in case of fault-based divorce, such as recrimination, condonation, reconciliation, collusion, and connivance. States traditionally have allowed mental illness as a common law affirmative defense in fault-based divorce actions, particularly against charges of adultery, cruelty, and desertion. Under a typical scenario, the defendant was required to plead the defense and prove that mental illness prevented the defendant from recognizing that the offending act was wrong. In states that allow fault-based divorce and that have detailed statutory schemes governing divorce actions, the general movement has been to limit or eliminate common law divorce defenses such as mental illness.

Fault-based Divorce: Abandonment

Abandonment, also known as “desertion,” is a ground for fault-based divorce in a majority of states. Abandonment is defined as one spouse’s leaving the marital home without the other spouse’s consent and without any justifiable reason. Some courts have drawn a slight distinction between abandonment and desertion by stating that desertion involves an intention to sever the relationship, but abandonment does not have that requirement. Some state statutes require that there must be a continuous abandonment for a certain period of time before the filing of a divorce petition.

Fault-based Divorce: Adultery

There can be various grounds for seeking a divorce; adultery is stated as a reason for divorce in the laws of the majority of states that allow fault-based divorces. Adultery is defined as voluntary, consensual sexual intercourse or sexual activity by a married person with someone other than their legal spouse. While intercourse is usually required, something less may amount to adultery under the divorce laws in some states.

Property Division in Divorce: Inheritance

Generally, the concepts of equitable distribution and community property distribution in divorce cases do not apply to property that a spouse inherits from a third party during marriage. Ordinarily, property that a spouse inherits from a third party during marriage is considered that spouse’s separate property. Inheritance includes acquisition through wills, trusts, probate, or intestacy.

Valuation of Closely Held Businesses in Divorce Proceedings

Generally, divorce cases involving thorny property issues can be complicated to resolve. This especially is true when the marital estate includes a closely-held business. A closely-held business usually presents one of two scenarios in the divorce context. The business may be tied to one spouse who is responsible for the business’s success. Distribution of the business to one spouse often creates asset allocation and business valuation issues.


The contents of this website do not constitute legal advice, and do not establish an attorney-client relationship. Representative case results are provided as examples only, and do not guarantee or imply the same or similar results for other cases, which are evaluated on their individual merits.