For purposes of no-fault divorce, states use various terms to describe the basic concept of marital breakdown, including irreconcilable differences, incompatibility, insupportability, and irretrievable breakdown. The realization that existing divorce laws no longer comported with the modern marriage experience and marital life led most states to recognize marital disharmony as a basis for no-fault divorce. Statutes usually provide some definition for the concept, and courts often have discretion to apply the standard in individual divorce proceedings. For example, the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act provides that, if a party claims marital breakdown, then the court shall determine “whether the marriage is irretrievably broken.”
The factors composing an irreconcilable marriage can be diverse and many. They might include divergence of the spouses’ interests, personality conflicts, the absence of mutual emotional support, financial disagreement, frequent arguments, physical separation, disinterest, distrust, or ongoing hostility.
If a party disputes that the marriage is unworkable, then it usually is up to the court to determine whether there are substantial reasons for discontinuing the marriage. It usually is sufficient to determine that the spouses’ relationship cannot continue as a harmonious marriage. Most states require the divorce court to find that there is no reasonable hope of reconciliation in order to grant a divorce for marital discord. The standard is subjective and flexible.
The statutory framework would appear to establish a difficult threshold for denying divorce petitions based on marital breakdown. Courts are empowered to deny divorce upon a finding that the marriage is salvageable, and it usually is within the judge’s power to order the parties to undergo counseling. The very fact that a spouse asserts marital incompatibility probably constitutes prima facie evidence that the marriage is broken. Courts rarely deny a divorce, which is requested because of incompatibility, on the ground that the marriage is not broken.