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Irreconcilable Differences: A Simple Way to Understand What it Means

In divorce, everyone talks about irreconcilable differences. Yet not everyone going through a divorce understands what “irreconcilable differences” means.

To understand what “irreconcilable differences” are, you have to start by understanding a little bit about divorce.

To get divorced, you need a legally recognized reason. (The reason for your divorce is called “grounds” in legal speak.) “Irreconcilable differences” is one of the legally recognized reasons for getting divorced. Other grounds (or reasons) for divorce vary from state to state. Normally those grounds include things like adultery, abandonment, mental cruelty, physical violence and more.

The grounds for divorce that will be available to you will depend on where you live. At this point, however, every state allows you to get divorced based on irreconcilable differences. (The requirements for what you have to do to use irreconcilable differences varies, though. If you have questions about what your state requires, talk to a good divorce lawyer in your area.)

What Does Irreconcilable Differences Mean?

Heart broken in two halves, with man's and woman's footsteps walking through it and going in different directions

In divorce, the term “irreconcilable differences” basically means that you and your spouse don’t get along. To put it simply: your marriage, like Humpty Dumpty, has fallen apart and can’t be put back together again.

For the most part, “irreconcilable differences” doesn’t have a lot of special requirements. You don’t have to prove that your marriage is a disaster.  All you have to prove is that your marriage is broken and you believe it can not be fixed. That’s it.

What happens if you think your marriage has broken down, but your spouse disagrees? The truth is that you don’t have to agree. As long as either you OR your spouse believes that your differences are “irreconcilable,” your marriage can be dissolved. (Presumably the fact that you and your spouse can’t even agree that you have irreconcilable differences proves that you have irreconcilable differences!)

What Do “Irreconcilable Differences” Have to Do With No-Fault Divorce?

Getting divorced based upon irreconcilable differences means you are getting a “no-fault” divorce.

A “no-fault” divorce is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a divorce where neither party admits to doing anything wrong. Neither party admits they caused the marriage to break down. Essentially, they just say to the court, “This didn’t work out. Please divorce us.”

Since 2010, all states in the U.S. have had some type of no-fault divorce.

Don’t We Have to Be Living Separately to Get Divorced?

Irreconcilable differences: Man walking away from distraught woman on the beach in the sunset.Depending upon the state you live in, you may have to live separately from your spouse for a certain period of time before you can get divorced. That amount of time can range from a few weeks to several years.

In some states, living “separate and apart” also requires you to live in separate houses. In those states, the clock doesn’t start ticking on your separation date until one of you moves out.

Other states, however, allow you to “live separately” even if you are still living together. You just can’t live together “as man and wife.”

Check with a divorce attorney in your state to find your state’s separation requirements.

Irreconcilable Differences in Illinois

Illinois used to have many different grounds for divorce. As of January 1, 2016, the only ground for divorce in Illinois is irreconcilable differences. It is now a pure “no-fault” state.

What’s more, if you and your spouse agree that you have irreconcilable differences, you don’t have to wait to get divorced in Illinois anymore.

In the past, Illinois had a two-year separation requirement. That meant that you and your spouse had to live separately two years before you could get divorced based upon irreconcilable differences.  (If you agreed on your divorce, however, you could reduce that waiting time to six months.) Now, however, all of that has changed.

In Illinois now, if you and your spouse agree, you can get divorced immediately. You don’t have to wait two years. You don’t even have to wait six months. If you and your spouse agree that you have irreconcilable differences, you can get divorced anytime.

If you don’t agree, then you need to live separate and apart for a period of six months. But, unlike before, after you’ve been separated for six months, the court will presume you and your spouse have irreconcilable differences.

In other words, after you’ve been separated for six months, you can’t stop your spouse from divorcing you, even if you would prefer to stay married.

Photo of man and woman in bed facing opposite directions torn in two down the middle.Other Grounds for Divorce

Each state has its own list of grounds for divorce. Those lists usually include things such as adultery, bigamy, excessive drug or alcohol abuse, mental or physical cruelty, and desertion. There may also be other grounds for divorce as well.

Each ground for divorce has certain requirements. You must satisfy the requirements in order to get a divorce based upon that “ground.”

Some grounds have specific separation requirements. (In other words, you need to be separated for a certain period of time before you can use them.) Others have no separation requirement.

Each state also has different rules for what you have to prove in order to qualify for a divorce.

Before you file for divorce, it’s important that you know the laws of your state. That way you can file for divorce using one of the grounds for divorce that your state recognizes.

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