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No-Fault Divorce in Florida

In 1971, Florida joined a growing the number of states to allow no-fault divorce. Today, under Florida law, divorce (or dissolution of marriage, as the statute calls it) can only be granted for one of two reasons: "(a) The marriage is irretrievably broken" or "(b) Mental incapacity of one of the parties."

Prior to the enactment of the no-fault divorce law, Florida—like all states prior to this movement—required a showing of fault to grant a divorce to the person requesting it. Fault grounds included adultery, cruelty, desertion, and violence. In the days when divorce rested on showing fault, courts came to conclusions that would seem absurd today.

For example, a New York Times op-ed recently touted a 1935 divorce suit between Oregon spouses. Louise Maurer was seeking a divorce because both she and the children lived in fear of her husband's domineering behavior. But, according to the court, Louise was "quarrelsome." Therefore, because both spouses acted badly within the marriage (had "unclean hands," as courts often described it), neither could be granted relief from the marriage.

Marital Misconduct Still Relevant

Thankfully, in order to dissolve the marriage itself, fault and defenses to fault are no longer appropriate inquiries. Still, misconduct within a marriage can and does arise in family law cases. Most obviously, when courts are deciding on child custody/time-sharing arrangements, they will look at all relevant factors when assessing what is in the best interests of the child. The statute itself lists "moral fitness of the parents," "evidence of domestic violence," and "demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to maintain an environment for the child which is free from substance abuse," among others.

Moreover, when deciding on the distribution of marital assets among divorcing spouses, courts may also take marital misconduct into account. For example, in the recent Florida appeals court case of Zambuto v. Zambuto, the court inquired as to whether a husband's gambling losses should be deducted from his portion of the distribution.

The standard in Florida in such cases is a strict one and, in Zambuto, the court actually decided for the husband. According to the court, the wife had also engaged in gambling. And, moreover, the husband's gambling often took place during the entertainment of business clients—which framed the gambling as "serv[ing] a marital purpose." Still, on other facts, this case could have concluded quite differently.

The Overall Effects of No-Fault Divorce

Aside from the limited applicability of misconduct, however, fault remains on the periphery of divorce cases today. As the above-mentioned New York Times article notes, this has not been a welcome development for all advocacy groups. Some ascribe a higher divorce rate directly to no-fault divorce statutes. It is true that—in the immediate five-year period after a state adopted no-fault divorce—rates shot up. But, after this initial spike in demand (built up from years of fault requirements trapping spouses in bad marriages), rates leveled and fell.

An Attorney Can Help with Your Divorce

If you are considering or seeking a divorce and need help navigating the law, please reach out to our legal professionals at Hager & Schwartz, P.A. in Miami today. We can help you navigate through this time and advise you on any and all family law-related matters.

Categories: Divorce, Family Law