Fault vs. No Fault: What Are the Grounds for Divorce in Utah?

Before you can file for divorce in Utah, you need to meet two basic requirements: you must have been a state resident for at least three months, and you must decide the grounds for your divorce.  But which grounds are accepted under state laws?  What’s the difference between a “fault divorce” and a “no fault divorce”?  West Valley City divorce attorney Darwin Overson explains.

Accepted Reasons for Fault Divorce in Utah

There are two types of divorces in the state of Utah: fault divorces, and no fault divorces. Fault divorces point out specific problems with a marriage or spouse, such as acts of adultery.  By contrast, no-fault divorces point toward general issues, the most well-known of which is inarguably “irreconcilable differences.”

Utah Code §30-3-1(3) establishes eight fault grounds as follows:

  • “Impotency of the respondent at the time of the marriage,” meaning your spouse cannot produce children.  This applies to both men and women.
  • “Adultery committed by the respondent subsequent to marriage,” meaning your spouse cheated on you after you were wed.
  • Your spouse deliberately deserted or abandoned you for a period of more than one year.  This means 12 consecutive months, not a total of 12 months separated by periods where you were together.
  • Your spouse deliberately neglected to “provide for the petitioner the common necessaries of life.”  This means he or she willfully failed to provide you, the petitioner, with basic needs like food and shelter.
  • The “habitual drunkenness” of your spouse, i.e. chronic alcoholism.
  • Your spouse has a previous felony conviction.  It does not matter whether the felony involved violent crimes, sex offenses, drug possession, or something else entirely: the key component is that the conviction was a felony rather than a misdemeanor.
  • Your spouse has subjected you to “cruel treatment,” resulting in physical injury and/or “great mental distress.”
  • Your spouse has a medical diagnosis amounting to “incurable insanity.”  Be advised that incurable insanity is often very difficult for plaintiffs to prove successfully.  Utah Code §30-3-1(5)(a) clearly states, “A divorce may not be granted on the grounds of insanity” unless both of the following conditions are satisfied:
    • The “appropriate authorities of this or another state” have adjudged the respondent insane “prior to the commencement of the action.”  In other words, certified healthcare professionals, whether inside or outside of Utah, diagnosed your spouse before you filed the petition for divorce.
    • It isn’t enough that your spouse has been “adjudged insane.”  Additionally, the court must find that such insanity is incurable, based on “the testimony of competent witnesses.”

A final point regarding insanity as grounds for divorce: under Utah Code §30-3-1(5)(e), as long as the respondent (i.e. your spouse) lives in Utah, either you or your spouse may request a mental health examination, to be conducted by at least two physicians.

doctor with stethoscope insanity exam divorce grounds utah

No Fault Grounds for Dissolution of a Marriage

In addition to the eight fault grounds noted above, there are also two acceptable no fault grounds under §30-3-1(3):

  • You and your spouse have irreconcilable differences which simply cannot be resolved. Irreconcilable differences can encompass many different issues, ranging from religious differences to disagreements about how children should be raised.  The core idea is that there is a profound, fundamental gap between you and your spouse which your marriage cannot withstand.
  • You and your spouse “have lived separately under a decree of separate maintenance of any state for three consecutive years without cohabitation.”  This means you are currently in a period of separation, having spent at least 36 consecutive months physically living apart.  The “decree of separate maintenance” refers to a special form of alimony for separated couples.

young black couple thinking about getting divorced

Waiving the 90-Day Waiting Period

Whether you ultimately decide to file based on fault or no fault grounds, you will still be subject to Utah’s 90-day waiting period.  This waiting period means at least three months must pass between your initial filing and the granting of the final divorce decree.

While this delay is normally mandatory, you or your spouse you may be able to waive the waiting period under certain circumstances.  To waive the waiting period, you (or your spouse) must file a formal Motion to Waive the 90-day Waiting Period, ideally with the help of an experienced family law lawyer who can help you understand your legal responsibilities.

It’s important to understand that simply filing the motion is not enough to waive the waiting period: you must also persuade the judge that “extraordinary circumstances” actually merit granting a waiver.  You should also know that both you and your spouse have the right to challenge the motion, though granting the waiver is ultimately at the judge’s discretion.

Ending a marriage can be a complex and difficult legal procedure, but our attorneys are here to support you through every step of the way.  To set up a free, completely confidential consultation, call Salt Lake City divorce lawyer Darwin Overson at (801) 758-2287 today.