Despite what you see on day-time television, most family court judges don’t want to hear about your spouse’s infidelity or communication issues when it comes to divorce. It’s understandable that you might want others to know your spouse caused your divorce, possibly due to abuse or an affair during your marriage, but in Minnesota courts, the only relevant inquiry is whether either spouse can fix the broken relationship.
In the past, courts only allowed fault divorces, where the spouse asking for a divorce would need to prove to a judge that the other spouse committed some bad act or a specific type of martial misconduct, like adultery or abandonment, which caused the breakdown of the marriage. Proving this type of fault-based behavior was often difficult, especially if the spouse asking for the divorce could not afford an attorney.
Some states continue to allow parties to allege fault grounds, but today, the majority of states, including Minnesota, offer only a “no-fault” divorce process. This means that either spouse can file for divorce, without having to prove fault to the court, and the other spouse can’t prevent the divorce by objecting to it.
Living in a no-fault divorce state doesn’t mean that a judge will grant an “on-demand” divorce—or, grant it “just because”—so you must demonstrate to the court why a divorce is necessary, even if both spouses agree to the divorce.
In Minnesota, you only need to allege and prove there's an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, which means there is no chance the couple will get back together, and the marriage is broken beyond repair. You can do this by showing the court either:
You may be wondering “how can I prove to a stranger that my marriage can’t be fixed” or that it’s “irretrievably broken with no reasonable prospect of reconciliation?” Fortunately, it’s not difficult and the law says that your testimony alone is enough to convince a judge there's an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. For example, if you’ve tried therapy and/or a temporary separation, but you still can’t get along, the court will grant your divorce.
In one Minnesota case, a wife filed for divorce citing an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. The husband didn’t agree with the divorce, so he filed a motion to object and asked the court to deny the petition. His argument was that his marriage was a contract, and a court didn’t have the authority to dissolve it if he didn’t agree. The court didn’t see it his way, and after a review of the facts and the wife’s testimony on the status of the marriage, it granted the wife’s motion for a divorce.
Sometimes, a person can ask the court to consider fault during property division or alimony decisions. In Minnesota, however, the only time a judge considers fault or other misconduct is if a spouse wasted marital assets, or if a spouse created a situation where the other couldn’t financially support him or herself after the divorce. For example, if a spouse had a gambling problem throughout the marriage and lost a large amount of money from the joint bank account, a judge may allow the other spouse to recoup some of those funds through the property division process.
Additionally, if one spouse is financially-dependent after the divorce because of something the other spouse did, a judge may use alimony to make things fair. For instance, if a wife was so extremely physically abusive to her spouse, that she inflicted long-term injuries or disabilities which prevent the abused spouse from working, a judge may award temporary spousal support until that spouse can renter the workforce.
Divorce is a complicated and emotional process and may involve property and debt division, custody, or alimony, so don’t expect it to end as soon as you file the paperwork. In some cases, divorce can take as little as 30 days from start to finish, but in most cases (especially those involving children), you might be waiting for the final judgment of divorce for 6 months or longer.
Before you can file the petition for divorce, at least one of the spouses must be living in the state for at least 180 days before starting the case. If you can’t prove residency with an electric bill, lease, deed, driver’s license, or another document, you will need to wait until you meet the residency requirement before you can file.
Don’t waste your money: the court will accept a petition for divorce even if you don’t meet the residency requirement, but when the court realizes you don’t meet the 180-day requirement, the judge will deny your petition, and you may lose your filing fee.
If you’re contemplating divorce, or if you’ve received a divorce petition from your spouse, it’s always best to contact an experienced, local family law attorney to discuss next steps.