What Is the Most Common Reason for Divorce?

May 11, 2021

Understanding the Most Common Reasons for Divorce in the US

The attorneys at the Johnson Law Group have handled countless divorce cases for Colorado clients, and our experience has shown that no two divorce cases are entirely alike. However, there are a few common trends involving divorce. In particular, we have found that patterns emerge when you ask people why they have chosen to file for divorce.

Some divorcing couples experience many different marital issues that reflect several of the most cited reasons for divorce. Other couples experience a single glaring problem or event that leads to the complete breakdown of their marriages. Before you initiate divorce proceedings, it is helpful to determine the root cause behind the breakdown in your marriage so you can evaluate whether you believe your marriage is worth saving, or if it is even possible to save it at all. To help, we have developed a list of the most common reasons for divorce.

Lack of Commitment

Myriad studies and surveys have reported that “lack of commitment” is the most cited reason for divorce in the US, applying to more than 70% of cases in many studies. While the term is somewhat vague, lack of commitment generally refers to situations in which individuals feel as though their spouses no longer put forth effort into maintaining the relationship. Some couples will experience diminished intimacy, others may begin to feel more like friends or roommates than romantic partners, and still others feel as though attempts to maintain the relationship ended once the marriage became legal.

Ultimately, “lack of commitment” can apply to many different situations, but the common thread among all of them is that one partner feels the other has stopped emotionally investing in the marriage. As a result, many of the other marital issues described below can also be loosely defined as lack of commitment.

Extramarital Affairs

Infidelity is the second most reported reason for divorce. While, as indicated above, this type of behavior can technically qualify as a “lack of commitment,” infidelity comes with an additional set of concerns. In fact, most individuals regard infidelity as more emotionally devastating and intentionally harmful than a general lack of commitment. Some extramarital affairs are isolated incidents while others are long-term affairs that can involve entire campaigns of lies and half-truths. However, even a solitary incident of betrayal can be incredibly devastating for the faithful spouse.

When it comes to extramarital affairs leading to divorce, the faithful spouse may believe that their spouse’s bad behavior will lend them some advantage in legal proceedings. However, this is not necessarily true. Colorado is a no-fault state when it comes to divorce, so there is no need to cite a specific reason for filing for divorce other than that the marriage is irreparably broken beyond any hope of reconciliation. The reason for the marriage reaching this state is immaterial to the divorce process. However, infidelity and other bad behavior may influence divorce proceedings if the spouses had a valid prenuptial contract in place that includes provisions regarding such bad behavior. For example, a prenuptial contract may include a provision that bars a spouse from seeking alimony if they were unfaithful during the marriage.

Overt bad behavior like infidelity is likely to complicate divorce proceedings due to the emotional distress such actions cause. A spouse who feels as though they have been seriously wronged or victimized by the other’s behavior may be less likely to be willing to compromise in divorce negotiations. In addition, they may have difficulty preventing their emotional distress from interfering with their objective interpretations of the situation. An extramarital affair may also cause problems for the unfaithful spouse and their relationship with any children.

Excessive Conflict

Another of the most cited reasons for divorce is excessive conflict, arguing, or fighting in the marriage. While it is perfectly natural for married couples to argue occasionally, a consistent pattern of conflict is indicative of incompatibility and unwillingness to compromise. Small arguments can lead to larger conflicts and become a pattern of conflict over an extended period that is incredibly stressful for both spouses. If the pattern persists, the spouses will become each other’s primary source of stress.

Many couples choose to explore counseling and spiritual guidance to help them develop their ability to compromise. In some cases, marital counseling can be incredibly beneficial and allow married spouses to overcome the communication blocks that prevent them from having more civil discussions about critical issues. It is also possible to arrange a trial separation as a “cooling off” period before the couple decides how to approach their marriage more definitively. Unfortunately, some couples discover over time that they are truly incompatible and decide to end their marriages.

Getting Married Too Young

Another commonly cited reason for divorce is that one or both spouses believe they got married too young. In previous generations, it was commonplace for people to marry and start families in their early 20s. However, society has changed over the past few decades and people are waiting longer than ever before marrying. When a married person begins to wonder if they have married too young, they may feel as though they missed certain opportunities or did not gain enough relationship experience to commit fully to their marriage. Eventually, if the couple does not work through these feelings, the situation may escalate to divorce.

Financial Struggles

While every couple is different when it comes to how they manage their finances, it is common for married couples to pool their resources and handle responsibilities like debt and bill paying on a joint basis. However, some married couples maintain completely separate finances and contribute to shared financial obligations as necessary. No matter the arrangement, most married couples experience the occasional financial struggle. However, when financial mismanagement occurs on a frequent or severe basis, it can take its toll on a married couple. Eventually, the situation may escalate to intense arguments, mistrust, and emotional strain on the part of both partners.

When financial problems start to affect other areas of the marriage, the couple should consider exploring budget counseling and professional financial advice. Debt consolidation, refinancing, and even filing for bankruptcy can potentially provide the economic fresh start a married couple needs to start handling financial matters as a team. Unfortunately, this does not always happen, and financial disagreements can eventually lead to divorce.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse can manifest in many ways, all of them destructive. Some people develop substance abuse disorders from legitimate medical issues. For example, one of the major contributing factors to the ongoing opioid crisis in the United States is prescription opioid medications, most of which are prescribed in response to severe medical complications. Other substance abuse disorders develop from patterns of social behavior such as social drug use and high-functioning alcoholism.

Most people believe married partners should do as much as they can to support one another and help their spouses face their problems. Eventually, however, a spouse who has dealt with their partner’s substance abuse for an extended period will reach a breaking point. Substance abuse also commonly causes financial problems and may even lead to domestic violence.

Determining Whether It Is Time to Divorce

If you and your partner are experiencing issues that cause you to wonder whether your marriage will last, it is crucial to take time to consider divorce and other solutions. If any part of you believes your marriage is worth saving and your spouse feels the same way, there are many options you can explore to expose and address the root cause of your marital problems.

Marital counseling is one of the best steps you can take when you are considering divorce. You and your spouse can meet with a neutral counselor and discuss any issues you have experienced with their objective analysis. In many cases involving lack of commitment, communication breakdown, and financial problems, ongoing counseling can help a married couple overcome these issues and grow closer together as a result. However, counseling is not always an option for every couple experiencing marital problems.

Potential Alternatives to Divorce

Divorce is the formal ending of a marital contract and the legal process of distributing ownership of the couple’s shared assets. While the dissolution process can effectively end a marriage and allow the divorced spouses to carry on with their separate single lives, this may not be the best option for every married couple. For example, the legal separation process can offer some of the advantages of divorce without ending the marriage.

Legal separation offers many of the benefits of both marriage and divorce while the couple remains legally married. For example, legal separation is often used as the initial phase of divorce, allowing separated spouses to continue sharing a health insurance plan and maintain specific employment or military-related benefits that would end with divorce. A legally separated couple can also continue to take advantage of tax benefits reserved for married couples.

It is also possible to initiate a trial separation that prepares the spouses for the formal separation process. The spouses may live separately and test the waters before heading to court for permanent legal separation or divorce.

In Colorado, the process for filing for legal separation closely mirrors the process for filing for divorce. Spouses must meet all applicable residency requirements and must wait at least 90 days before the court will take any action regarding their case. Once the court approves the legal separation, the spouses are free to begin living independently from one another. Their legal separation will persist until one of them decides they want to remarry. However, the separated couple cannot begin the process of divorce until at least six months after the approval of their legal separation.

Beginning the Divorce Process in Colorado

If you have already separated from your spouse and believe divorce is the best course of action, then it is time to start exploring the divorce process with the help of an experienced attorney. It is important to remember that divorce informally begins once a couple decides to end their marriage, but the formal process only begins when one of the spouses files a divorce petition with their local family court. Contrary to popular belief, it does not matter which spouse files the divorce petition. While some people believe filing first offers a legal advantage, this is not true—even if the other spouse’s behavior is the direct cause of the divorce.

It is essential to have reliable legal representation on your side when you commit to the divorce process. Many people make the mistake of believing they can handle their divorce proceedings alone, only to encounter unexpected legal issues they cannot address on their own. Hiring an attorney at the earliest stages of your divorce offers you enhanced legal protection as you navigate your divorce proceedings.

Prenuptial Contracts and Infidelity

Modern couples develop prenuptial contracts before marrying for several reasons. Primarily, these contracts provide financial protection to both spouses, effectively shielding them from one another’s debts and liabilities. Prenuptial contracts also establish legal guidelines for both spouses’ rights and responsibilities during the marriage. While these contracts primarily pertain to financial issues, they can include provisions for other marital issues, namely infidelity.

Many people believe that the mere suggestion of a prenuptial contract is an indication one partner lacks faith in the marriage. When prenuptial contracts introduce an infidelity clause, this can further exacerbate any misgivings about the contract as the other spouse may feel as though unjust suspicion has been cast upon them. When a prenuptial contract includes an infidelity clause, the terms of the contract will typically stipulate that the non-cheating spouse will receive some financial award as compensation for the other spouse’s infidelity. For example, if the faithful spouse was the one most likely to pay alimony in divorce, their spouse’s infidelity may release them from their alimony obligations under the terms of the prenuptial contact. Conversely, if the faithful spouse was most likely to receive alimony, they may receive a larger alimony award under the terms of the contract after infidelity.

Prenuptial Contracts and Other Marital Issues

Prenuptial contracts can also include additional provisions for other issues that commonly cause marital strife. For example, if a spouse develops a substance abuse disorder or gambling problem, the contract may stipulate that they alone remain responsible for the financial costs of treatment and hold sole liability for any related debts. The contract may also stipulate that the substance using spouse owes their partner compensation for any marital property or shared income used to fund such activities.

Enforceability is a major concern whenever a prenuptial contract comes into play in a divorce case. If there is any reason to question the validity of your prenuptial contract, it is essential to consult an experienced Colorado divorce attorney as soon as possible. Your legal team can review the terms of your contract and ensure they are viable under Colorado law. For example, if a prenuptial contract includes any unconscionable or illegal terms, a judge will likely throw it out during divorce proceedings. As a result, neither spouse can rely on the enforcement of any other part of the contract during the divorce case.

Litigation Versus Mediation in Divorce

Many divorcing couples throughout the US take advantage of alternative dispute resolution to avoid the expense, time, and stress that divorce litigation typically involves. Divorce mediation is particularly advantageous for several reasons:

  • Mediation allows the divorcing spouses to negotiate their divorce in a low-pressure atmosphere, typically in a mediator’s office or conference room. This alone can be enough incentive for a divorcing couple to want to take advantage of mediation. The neutral setting allows couples to avoid the pressure and stress the courtroom environment can easily create.
  • Divorce mediation is a more expedient option for handling the dissolution process. Many couples can successfully mediate their divorces within a few weeks or a month or two. Litigation, by comparison, can easily last for several months or even longer than a full year depending on the complexity of the case. Both spouses can save time and money on legal fees by taking advantage of divorce mediation.
  • Couples who mediate their divorces maintain much greater control over the outcomes of their divorces than couples who litigate. When your divorce case goes to court, the judge has the final say on its terms. This can be incredibly disempowering, especially if you feel as though your spouse’s behavior is responsible for causing the breakdown of your marriage. If you and your spouse mediate, you are more likely to reach a divorce settlement that suits both of your best interests.
  • If you have a prenuptial contract in place, the mediation process will allow its enhanced application. Both your and your spouse’s respective legal teams can review the contract and determine which provisions, if any, apply to the reasons behind your divorce. For example, if your prenuptial contract included some type of infidelity clause and infidelity was the reason for your marriage deteriorating, the mediation process would allow you to negotiate terms that honor the contract’s stipulations.
  • It is still possible to take advantage of mediation even if you and your spouse cannot stand to be in the same room with one another. Your attorneys can relay communications and handle negotiations on your behalf, and each of you will have the opportunity to work one-on-one with your chosen mediator during the process.

No matter what your reason for seeking divorce, the mediation process offers significant benefits that you should not overlook. Even if your marriage has broken down because of deeply personal and emotionally distressing issues, mediation is a much better alternative to litigation in almost every Colorado divorce case.

Can My Spouse’s Bad Behavior Influence Child Custody Determination?

Colorado is a no-fault state for divorce. While this means that an individual filing for divorce does not need to explicitly cite a definitive reason for filing for divorce, the other spouse’s behavior can certainly influence the outcome of the divorce. This is especially true when it comes to child custody and child support.

If a spouse’s bad behavior had any negative impact on the couple’s children, it is highly likely that these factors will influence child support and child custody determinations. For example, if one spouse was abusive toward their spouse or their children, this will not only significantly limit their ability to argue for custody but also potentially lead to criminal prosecution.

Domestic violence is, unfortunately, another commonly cited reason for divorce, and the process of dissolving a marriage involving domestic violence is extraordinarily complex. This type of divorce case also requires careful and responsive legal representation. Your attorney can help you secure orders of protection against an abusive spouse and gather the evidence you need to secure full custody of your children and keep them safe.

No matter how you decide to approach the divorce process, it is vital to understand how the Colorado family court system handles child custody determinations. The court has a legal duty to ensure that any divorce agreement suits the best interests of the divorcing couple’s children. When divorcing spouses mediate, they cannot make any firm decisions regarding custody. Instead, they must leave this decision up to a family court judge. They can negotiate a proposal for a parenting plan, but a judge still needs to review and approve it.

The Financial Implications of the Most Common Causes of Divorce

When it comes to lack of commitment, infidelity, conflicts, substance abuse, and the other most cited causes of divorce, the spouses facing such circumstances are likely to wonder how these issues could financially impact their divorce resolutions. Common causes of divorce may have the following financial implications:

  • Lack of commitment in and of itself is unlikely to have any bearing on the financial aspects of the divorce. However, lack of commitment is often coupled with other causes for divorce.
  • Infidelity has the potential to cause a substantial financial impact for the unfaithful spouse if the couple had a prenuptial contract with infidelity provisions. It is also possible that a family court judge may assess the cheating spouse’s behavior as severe enough to warrant a financial award to the faithful spouse. For example, the judge may order a greater alimony award than they would have otherwise.
  • If a couple constantly fights and their attempts at counseling and reconciliation have proven fruitless, the most likely financial impact of divorce will involve the cost of ongoing counseling sessions.
  • When one spouse’s substance abuse disorder has led to the breakdown of their marriage, the court may determine that their wasting of marital funds or increased debt is justification for a greater financial award to the other spouse.
  • When domestic violence leads to divorce, the spouse responsible for the violence will likely face criminal prosecution in addition to financial consequences during the civil divorce process. For example, if the abusive spouse completely loses the right to argue for child custody or visitation due to the severity of their actions, they remain responsible for child support without any rights to visitation.

These are just a few examples of how the root cause of a divorce can impact the financial results of the divorce agreement. If you are unsure whether your situation will involve any significant financial issues as you begin the divorce process, consult an experienced Colorado divorce attorney as soon as possible.

Why Do I Need a Divorce Lawyer?

When you analyze the most cited reasons for divorce, it should be easy to see that no two divorce cases are quite the same. For this reason, even if you believe your divorce is a relatively straightforward matter, you will still benefit from hiring legal representation to guide you through the process. The need for an attorney especially applies if you know your spouse has hired their own divorce attorney. If they have legal counsel and you do not, you are at an extreme disadvantage, whether you litigate your divorce or participate in alternative dispute resolution.

If you believe your marriage has broken down due to the behavior of your spouse, it is vital to gather the evidence you need to prove the severity of their actions. An experienced divorce attorney will be invaluable if you believe your spouse’s actions have had a material impact on your life, especially if you have a prenuptial contract in place. Your attorney can secure expert witness testimony on your behalf and can even coordinate a private investigator to uncover details for use in your upcoming proceedings.

Call on the Johnson Law Group

The attorneys at the Johnson Law Group can provide the detail-oriented and compassionate divorce representation you need as you navigate one of the most difficult experiences of your life. Even if you are certain your marriage needs to end, the actual process of dissolving your marriage can be complex, stressful, and expensive without the right attorney on your side. If you are ready to discuss your legal options for your divorce case with an experienced Colorado family law attorney, contact the Johnson Law Group today and schedule a case evaluation with our team.

Written by Family Law Attorney Myles S. Johnson
Divorce doesn’t have to be dramatic. For the litigants, losing your spouse is significant enough. But you can choose the way it affects your daily life. The only guarantee I can give is that the feeling that you have right now will not be the feeling you end with. This is a season in your life, and it must be approached that way.
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