To Fault or Not to Fault

It may sound cliché, but for the most part, people simply do not marry intending to divorce or enter into a domestic partnership anticipating filing for a dissolution. They may realize that there is a possibility of it, but when the reality hits, panic can set in. Although seeing frantic, confused, hurt, and angry clients is normal in my line of work, it’s anything but routine for me. Why? Because each one of these people are individuals, with unique concerns and issues. They’re human beings and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. While looking at and preparing legal documents is part of my job, this is something that is likely new and overwhelming for my clients. I make it a point to remember this whenever I meet with a prospective client and take the time to address their individual questions. At the same time, after working with hundreds of different people from countless backgrounds, patterns begin to emerge, and I have developed a pretty decent sense of common areas of confusion. I view my job as providing the client perspective and, colloquially speaking, a reality check. I have been asked several times by clients why I don’t probe for the reason why they are involved in a dissolution. Simply put, in most cases, it doesn’t matter. California is what is known as a no-fault state. There are two legal bases to request a dissolution: irreconcilable differences and incurable insanity. For the record, incurable insanity is an extremely rare cause for dissolution and despite your feelings towards the other person, is unlikely to be the proper legal basis. Irreconcilable differences is essentially a catch-all reason and is virtually unlimited-it doesn’t matter if your spouse cheated on you or if you don’t like the way your partner looks. If it’s not incurable insanity, it’s irreconcilable differences. Why is this important? For starters, people need to understand exactly what no fault means. Because the Court does not look at the reason why you are seeking a dissolution, it does not affect the outcome of your case. If you were cheated on, you will not get more than your community share of the property. If the other party is seeking a dissolution, that person is not viewed as “the bad guy.” Petitioner (the person who files first) and Respondent (the responding party) are nothing more than names. Being part of a no-fault state has both advantages and disadvantages. The bottom line is that the sooner litigants accept it for what it is, the easier it is for them to proceed with their dissolution.

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