In 1970 California became the first state to adopt no-fault divorce. The fact of an extra-marital affair, for instance, is not something the Court needs to know to grant a dissolution of the legal relationship, and the Court will almost certainly refuse to let you talk about such conduct. In some eastern and southern states, establishing a breach of the marital relation is a condition to granting a divorce. A party must show that the other spouse abandoned them, treated them with extreme cruelty, or committed adultery. In those jurisdictions, such evidence may result in one party being awarded a greater share of the property or more spousal support.
California Family Law Judges do not view their role as that of righting relationship wrongs or punishing spouses for breach of moral duties. Neither party needs to give any reason for seeking a divorce, other than stating under penalty of perjury that irreconcilable differences have led to an irremediable breakdown of the marriage. This limitation can be difficult for some people who feel it is important for a judge to hear that it was not they who violated the marital vows. Others believe that family courts should impose financial or other consequences on the “bad” spouse. This attitude is one reason why many divorce proceedings spin out of control and can become unduly expensive: One or both spouses wants to be heard about the injustices they suffered, and so a spiral into accusation and counter-accusation begins (which is exactly what no fault seeks to avoid). However, pressing judges to act on legally irrelevant accusations against the other party is likely to result in their becoming less, rather than more, interested in your case.
Concepts akin to “fault” are considered in limited contexts. Awarding custody according to the “best interests” of children may require an analysis of parenting or other behavior. When spouses or domestic partners breach important fiduciary duties that exist between them, for instance by concealing bank accounts or other property, a remedy exists which includes compensating or reimbursing them for their attorney fees and awarding possibly as much as 100% of the value of the hidden asset – which is a type of punitive damages.
It is critical that our clients be and feel heard by us. Understanding the history of your relationship helps us to recognize imbalances of power between you and your former spouse (i.e., ‘giving in’ or ‘withdrawing’ coping strategies that tend to damage your financial interests) and how to better protect your legal interests from this day forward.
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