Legal language concerning divorce is often hard to decipher. So when you stumble upon the term “irreconcilable differences,” it can take some time to get to the bottom of it. What is it? Should you use it in your divorce? What benefits can it bring you?
Read on to find out.
What’s the Meaning of Irreconcilable Differences?
Some of you may recall a 1984 movie of the same name. One of the lead characters, a 9-year-old girl, asked the court for divorce from her parents on the grounds of “irreconcilable differences.” Her main argument was that she’s tired of being neglected, forgotten, and taken for granted.
Our reality isn’t too far from this comedy-drama film. We use this phrase to denote that the spouses cannot find any reasons to continue living together.
Let’s look at the definition of irreconcilable differences provided by California Family Law, § 2311.
“Irreconcilable differences are those grounds which are determined by the court to be substantial reasons for not continuing the marriage and which make it appear that the marriage should be dissolved.”
Several states, such as New York and Massachusetts, also use “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage” to refer to the same notion.
What are Examples of Irreconcilable Differences?
Among the most cited examples of irretrievable breakdown of marriage are the following:
Disputes about having children.
Every person has certain expectations when they get married. But unfortunately, not all couples discuss the future of their relationships, especially children. And when the honeymoon period ends, it turns out that one person wants to have two or three kids, while the other doesn’t want any. Even if everything else is perfect, these child-related differences can strain a marriage.
Change of views and lifestyle.
A real-life example of lifestyle changes is when one spouse becomes unemployed and has no intention or ambition to find a new job. Even if money is not an issue, it’s very annoying to the other spouse (especially if it’s a woman) to see their partner lying on the couch all day long. (Check out, “Breadwinning Moms Face an Uphill Battle When Married and Divorcing”.) As for men, many of them leave their beloved wives when they stop feeling attracted to their wives physically. It’s an unfortunate reality.
Disputes about how to raise children.
If parenting styles were the same for everyone, there wouldn’t be many conflicts between the parents. But instead, each parent draws on their unique childhood experience and wants to implement it when raising their kids. If the spouses can’t compromise on how to combine two parenting styles, their relationship can worsen with each new collision.
One spouse mistreats the other.
One of the spouses is contemptuous of the values and desires of the other. They show their displeasure with the other spouse’s behavior, status, and earning capability. Over time, this attitude begins to cause strong rejection in the oppressed person and becomes the reason for divorce. Note that we’re not talking about physical or emotional abuse in this example. There are specific grounds for divorce provided in family law when a person suffers cruel treatment.
Issues with in-laws.
It’s not uncommon for a husband’s or wife’s relatives to interfere with the couple’s life. It is especially noticeable in families forced to live together with their in-laws. If the partner whose extended family gets in the way of a happy marriage lets it slide, the other spouse will want a divorce sooner or later.
Another example of irreconcilable differences in marriage is incompatible sexual drives. Couples can split because of a lack of sex or its unsatisfactory quality. Such issues occur in almost 15% of marriages. But since the spouses don’t want to publicly announce the real reasons for divorce, they use irreconcilable differences.
Different religious or political views.
Many conflicts can also arise from different political views. For example, according to the IFS studies, marriages between a Republican and a Democratic Party supporter make up only 9% of all U.S. marriages. And if we talk about religion, the problems of an interfaith marriage most often include conflicts about the child’s faith and difficulty communicating with the in-laws, already mentioned above.
To understand how to sequence things, what comes first, what comes second, and how to protect what is fair to you, check out our important “55 Must Do’s on Your Modern Divorce Checklist.”
Irreconcilable Differences & No-Fault Divorce
The last state to adopt no-fault grounds was New York. It happened in 2010. These days, irreconcilable differences are widely used as no-fault grounds for divorce in all fifty states. The main reason for this is the desire for privacy and faster divorce proceedings.
Filing for Divorce Based on Irreconcilable Differences
Starting a divorce on no-fault grounds is undoubtedly easier than blaming each other for a marriage breakdown.
The conditions to file for a no-fault divorce include:
- The petitioner (the person who files divorce papers with the court) must state “irreconcilable differences” as the reason for marriage dissolution in the petition. Some states, such as New Jersey, require these differences to occur and continue for six months before filing for divorce. If neither party objects to the no-fault grounds, the court will proceed with the case.
- The couple must meet the state’s residency requirements so that the court can have jurisdiction over the case. It almost always refers to a specific period that one spouse must live within the state’s borders before starting legal action. For example, in California and Texas, the waiting period is six months, and in Georgia and Missouri, it is 30 days.
- Spouses with irreconcilable differences must agree on divorce terms and draft a settlement agreement. It should include provisions concerning child custody and support, property division, and alimony. The spouses should also file a Parenting Plan, specifying the child’s time with each parent, financial aid, and other child-related issues.
Do You Need a Lawyer?
In theory, family law allows anyone to commence a legal action without a lawyer. The same goes for legal representation in court. It’s not necessary to hire an attorney to present your case to a judge. You can do it independently, especially if your divorce is uncontested. (Read “What’s the Difference Between an Uncontested and Contested Divorce?”)
Those people who proceed without an attorney are called pro se litigants. Most of them are couples filing for a no-fault divorce since it’s less complicated than a fault divorce. Plus, conflictual cases are usually highly intricate and require at least legal advice, not to mention full-scope lawyer involvement.
Essentially, if a couple believes they can avoid conflict in court and trust each other (e.g., no one is hiding any assets), they can go pro se.
If there’s the slightest doubt about the other person’s sincerity, the spouses should seek legal counseling.
Here’s a checklist to understand whether you should hire a lawyer or not. You can do without one if at least half of the following is true:
- neither of you blames each other for the marriage breakdown
- you agree with your spouse about divorce terms
- you don’t have substantial property or debt
- your marriage was short
- you want to end your marriage peacefully
- you trust your spouse.
Divorce Papers for Couples with Irreconcilable Differences
As a rule, documentation for couples with irreconcilable differences is less complicated than in fault-based cases. The forms include a petition (complaint) for divorce, a settlement agreement, a parenting plan, and other papers. Couples with children usually have slightly more paperwork than couples without kids.
A settlement agreement is probably the most influential document to reconcile differences in divorce. But it also requires a great deal of consideration since the terms will be hard to change once the divorce is granted. For example, a person who wants to modify child custody or support will have to file a motion with the court and attend additional hearings.
The Benefits of Choosing Irreconcilable Differences
Why is filing for a no-fault divorce using irreconcilable differences so popular? For some spouses, it is the best choice because of the following:
- lower legal expenses
- you can file without a lawyer
- no need to prove the other person’s misconduct
- more privacy since the law doesn’t require explaining what exactly caused the breakup
- less complicated divorce documentation
- more control over the outcome
- faster divorce process
- more chances to maintain civilized relationships after divorce
Should You Go with Irreconcilable Differences in Your Divorce?
Taking all the benefits into account, you can consider a no-fault option if:
- you had a relatively peaceful marriage and now want to part ways because you can’t find a reason to stay or feel stuck
- neither you nor the other party did anything wrong that caused the marriage breakdown
- you’re sure that all the divorce terms you and your spouse agreed to are in your best interests.
How do you know if the divorce terms you and your spouse are thinking about are in your best interest? It’s always wise to have a private, educational consultation with a divorce attorney to hear what your rights are and what you are entitled to BEFORE you start splitting things up. Read “Questions to Ask a Divorce Attorney at a Consultation.”
Choosing irreconcilable differences as the reason for divorce is wise for many couples. It saves nerves, time, money, and energy. But make sure you’re not missing any essential aspects, which can lead to unexpected circumstances. You’ll want to make sure your divorce is genuinely no-fault.
Jamie Kurtz is a divorce lawyer and a member of the LA County Bar Association and the State Bar of California. She’s a co-founder of a law firm dealing with uncontested divorces and a contributing writer for OnlineDivorce.com, an online divorce papers preparation service.
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