When you hear that you’re in a “no fault” jurisdiction, what that means for divorce purposes is that the state’s statute does not require any findings of fault in order to grant a divorce.

In other words, while you still need to allege a basis or ground for divorce, you do not need to allege any fault as the basis or ground for your divorce.

D.C. is a no-fault jurisdiction. The only grounds for divorce in D.C. are: (1) mutual and voluntary separation for at least 6 months, or (2) separation for at least one year.

As of October 1, 2023, Maryland repealed all of its many fault based grounds and became a no-fault state. The only grounds for divorce in Maryland now are (1) a 6-month separation, (2) irreconcilable differences, and (3) mutual consent.

Is “no-fault” a misnomer?

Even if you are in a no fault jurisdiction, this does not mean that the Court does not consider fault. That is to say, just because your jurisdiction may have no-fault grounds for divorce, other laws of the jurisdiction may require consideration of fault.

While both D.C. and Maryland are both no fault states (because none of their grounds for divorce require consideration of fault), both jurisdictions require consideration of fault in determining other issues in divorce.

Both D.C. and Maryland Courts determine (1) whether to award alimony, and if they do for how long and in what amounts; and (2) the equitable division of marital property, based on consideration of multiple factors.

In D.C., the Court determines the distribution of debt accumulated during the marriage based on the same factors it uses to determine the equitable distribution of marital property. Among those required factors for determining alimony and the equitable distribution of marital property in both D.C. and Maryland, and distribution of debt in D.C. is the circumstances that contributed to the estrangement of the parties. In addition, the Courts can also look at other potential “bad acts” or fault. For example, the D.C. Court, in determining the equitable distribution of marital property and debts accumulated during the marriage is also required to consider each party’s contribution to the dissipation or depreciation in value of the assets subject to distribution.

And, in Maryland, in determining the equitable distribution of marital property the Court is required to consider any other factor that the court considers necessary or appropriate to consider in order to arrive at a fair and equitable result. In addition, in both D.C. and Maryland, the Court can consider fault as it affects the children and the parents’ ability to co-parent when determining the best interests of the child, which is the standard for determining custody.

Remember: Just because you’re in a no-fault jurisdiction, does not mean that fault doesn’t matter.

Erin Kopelman is a divorce attorney who handles cases involving domestic relations and family law. For more information, contact Erin at [email protected].