Fault-based divorce is a type of divorce where one spouse alleges that the other’s wrongdoing was the cause of the marriage breakdown. Unlike no-fault divorce, which does not require proof of wrongdoing by either party, fault-based divorce relies on demonstrating the existence of grounds recognized by Texas law as sufficient to justify the termination of the marital relationship.
Fault-Based Grounds for Divorce in Texas
Texas recognizes several fault-based grounds for divorce, including the following.
Adultery occurs when one spouse engages in extramarital affairs or sexual relationships outside the marriage without the consent of the other spouse. To establish adultery as grounds for divorce, the aggrieved spouse must provide evidence of the adulterous conduct, such as eyewitness testimony, photographs, or other corroborating evidence.
Cruelty encompasses physical, emotional, or mental abuse inflicted by one spouse against the other, resulting in physical harm, emotional distress, or the deterioration of the marital relationship. Cruelty may include acts of violence, threats, intimidation, verbal abuse, harassment, or other harmful behaviors directed at the spouse seeking divorce.
If one spouse has been convicted of a felony offense and sentenced to imprisonment for at least one year without pardon, the other spouse may seek divorce on grounds of felony conviction. The felony offense must constitute a violation of criminal law punishable by imprisonment in a penitentiary or state prison.
Abandonment occurs when one spouse willfully and without justification leaves the marital residence and refuses to return, with the intent to abandon the marital relationship. The abandoned spouse must demonstrate that the other spouse left the marital home with the intent to end the marriage and has been absent for a continuous period of at least one year.
Confinement in a Mental Hospital
If one spouse has been confined to a state mental hospital or similar institution for at least three years due to a mental disorder, and there is no reasonable expectation of improvement, the other spouse may seek divorce on grounds of confinement in a mental hospital.
Relevant Law: Texas Family Code Chapter 6.
Legal Process of Fault-Based Divorce in Texas
The legal process of fault-based divorce in Texas involves several steps.
Filing of Petition
The spouse seeking divorce (the petitioner) files a petition for divorce with the appropriate county court, alleging one or more fault-based grounds for divorce and providing supporting evidence and documentation.
Service of Process
After filing the petition, the petitioner must serve a copy of the petition and other required documents on the other spouse (the respondent) through formal legal notice, known as service of process. Service of process ensures that the respondent has notice of the divorce proceedings and an opportunity to respond.
Response and Counterclaims
Upon receiving the petition, the respondent must file a formal response with the court, admitting or denying the allegations raised in the petition and asserting any counterclaims or affirmative defenses they may have regarding the grounds for divorce.
Discovery is the pre-trial process through which parties gather information, evidence, and documents relevant to the issues in dispute, including evidence of fault-based grounds for divorce. Discovery methods may include interrogatories, requests for production of documents, depositions, and subpoenas.
Mediation and Settlement Negotiations
In many fault-based divorce cases, spouses are required to participate in mediation sessions facilitated by a neutral third-party mediator, who assists them in reaching mutually acceptable agreements on contested issues outside of court. Mediation provides an opportunity for constructive dialogue, negotiation, and compromise, intending to resolve disputes amicably and avoid costly litigation.
Trial and Final Judgment
If mediation fails to produce a settlement or if the parties are unable to reach agreements on contested issues, the case proceeds to trial, where the judge hears evidence, evaluates arguments, and issues a final judgment resolving the disputed matters of the divorce. The judge’s decision is legally binding and establishes the grounds for divorce, as well as the terms and conditions of the divorce decree.