Long ago, if a spouse wanted to end a bad marriage, he or she had to prove in court that the other spouse had engaged in some form of misconduct, such as adultery, cruelty, or abandonment.
Today, however, every state has some form of “no-fault” divorce, where a spouse can dissolve a marriage based on nothing more than “irreconcilable differences” between the couple.
But just because you no longer have to prove fault to get a divorce doesn’t mean that fault is irrelevant. Depending on the state and the circumstances, a spouse’s misconduct could result in losing child custody, paying the other spouse’s attorney fees, or a lopsided alimony or support award in the other spouse’s favor.
“Misconduct” can include any sort of behavior that undermines the marital relationship. Examples might include adultery, abandonment, physical or mental abuse, or alcohol or drug problems.
Misconduct can also include hiding or wasting marital assets, using income to support a gambling or other addiction, fraudulently selling or transferring possessions, or doing anything else to prevent property from being divided fairly with the other spouse.
Often, a judge can take this kind of behavior into account when making decisions about support and property division.
Keep in mind, too, that misconduct can include things that a spouse does after the couple has separated and a divorce petition has been filed. Even after you’re no longer living together, you still have a responsibility to make sure that your joint assets can be divided fairly.