When a marriage breaks down, it most often occurs simply because the couple is no longer compatible. That is to say, neither spouse is necessarily at fault (or both are equally culpable – whichever way you want to think of it).
All 50 states now offer no-fault divorce, which removes the need to blame one spouse for the breakdown of the relationship. When filing for divorce, couples can cite “irreconcilable differences” as the reason for divorce rather than having to allege (and prove) that one spouse was adulterous, abusive, or committed some other specific act that ended the marriage. This tends to make the divorce process much smoother and less contentious. But things weren’t always this way.
Special divorce laws of the rich and famous
Henry Flagler is a name that many in South Florida will recognize. As an influential railroad baron in the late 1800s, he brought both economic prosperity and national recognition to this part of the state. In addition to his influence in business, he was also influential in politics.
In 1896, he was able to convince his friend, a doctor, to diagnose his second wife with incurable insanity. A few years after the diagnosis, he successfully lobbied state legislators to pass a law making it legal to divorce someone who was incurably insane.
The timing of his legislative push was convenient, considering that he was already dating the woman who would become his third wife and newspapers were beginning to speculate that the two were having an affair. He married the woman just 10 days after divorcing his wife.
The divorce law Flagler helped pass was repealed in 1905, but the system of fault-based divorce lasted for quite some time after that, in Florida and around the country.
Problems with fault-based divorce
When fault was the only available grounds for divorce, it immediately set up the divorce process as adversarial. One spouse needed to accuse the other of wrongdoing (sometimes falsely), then needed to prove that their spouse was guilty. This could ruin reputations and result in unfair property settlements.
In America today, all 50 states allow no-fault divorce. In fact, Florida is one of 17 states that only allows couples to file no-fault. Other states give the option of alleging fault, but most couples still file no-fault because it is easier and faster.
Although divorce is not an easy or pleasant process, we can hopefully all agree that things are much better than they used to be.