What Does it Mean When a Marriage Is Irretrievably Broken?

An irretrievably broken marriage means that one or both parties are claiming the relationship can’t be fixed and must end in divorce.

Couple in matching blue shirts arguing

Divorce is a stark reality for many couples in Florida who feel their lives would be better if they were to dissolve their marriage.

Since Florida is a no-fault divorce state, many people think divorce proceedings can be easier since neither spouse needs to prove abuse, infidelity, abandonment, or any other specific reason they need to be divorced.

Though this is somewhat true, even with no-fault in place, both parties in the marriage must either agree or one party must prove that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.”

An irretrievably broken marriage means that one or both parties in a marriage are claiming the relationship cannot be fixed in any way. When filing for divorce, a statement must be listed as the reason for the divorce. If there is no other reason for the divorce, such as adultery or abandonment, then couples can simply put irretrievably broken as their reason.

Though it seems easy enough, as often happens with divorce cases, other issues and burdens can arise, causing the divorce proceedings to drag on longer than anticipated. Let’s discuss some of the finer points.

When a Couple Files for Divorce and Agrees the Marriage Is Irretrievably Broken

When filing for divorce in Florida, for example, that petition for dissolution requires a statement as to why the marriage must end. In simple divorce cases, a statement of “irretrievably broken” and a specific reason does not necessarily need to be proven. This is made easy when both parties agree that the marriage is irretrievably broken, they are able to split their assets up themselves, and there are no children involved. In these cases, the courts will usually take this statement as proof the marriage cannot be fixed in any way and grant the divorce.

However, typically there are more nuances at play, such as the alimony one spouse is seeking. Even if both parties agree the marriage is irretrievably broken, if they cannot agree out of court to a simple dissolution, the court must decide these matters for them – including the division of assets and liabilities, division of property, or who will take custody of any children they may have under the age of 18. In such cases, even though both spouses agree they cannot fix their marriage, they will still require help from a divorce lawyer to help prove their case and divide up the remnants of their marriage.

What Happens when One Spouse Contests this Ground for Divorce?

Divorce proceedings are further complicated if one spouse contests this statement that the marriage is irretrievably broken. The burden of proof is then placed on one spouse to prove that nothing can be done to fix the marriage. So, even though Florida is a no-fault state, there are still cases where one spouse must prove the other was engaged in acts that make the marriage intolerable. These acts can include:

  • Abandonment is when one spouse has physically (or financially) left the other for at least 6 months before filing for divorce. 
  • Physical or emotional abuse of one spouse unto the other. Proof must be provided that the marriage is unsafe for one party.
  • One spouse is using drugs and/or alcohol in an addictive manner that makes the marriage intolerable.
  • Infidelity and/or adultery outside of the marriage.
  • Proof your spouse has been mentally incapacitated for 3 or more years before the divorce filings.

Who Decides if a Marriage Is Irretrievably Broken in the End?

If both parties originally agreed the marriage could not be fixed, the irretrievably broken statement will usually hold in court, and the divorce will be granted. If one party contests this, then it must be argued in court, and again, the courts will decide what is to be done. 

In some cases, the court will order the couple to attend marriage counseling with a psychologist, minister, or someone who is qualified to help the couple figure out their differences. This can delay the divorce proceedings for up to 3 months. During this time, the court may order one spouse to pay alimony and child support. If, at the end of the 3-month period, the couple can still not reconcile their marriage, even if one spouse still contests, the courts may decide to grant the divorce as irretrievably broken.

This is done in one or more hearings, where a judge or mediator hashes out the division of assets and liabilities, and custody of children.

What Happens After a Divorce Where Irretrievably Broken Is Decided?

Once the hearings are complete, the final settlement is provided in a document officially marking the end of the marriage. This document is also known as a “divorce decree” and officially lists all the information that was hashed out in the hearing(s). This decree can sometimes be agreed upon by both parties amicably, especially if both spouses agree to all the terms.

However, even if the marriage was decided to be irretrievably broken, a judge must sometimes write the decree on behalf of both partners based on the evidence presented at the hearings.

Consulting a family lawyer to help navigate the divorce process can help reduce stress and make sure the final divorce decree is satisfactory – or equally unsatisfactory – for both parties.

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