By John Sanidopoulos
Believe it or not, no-fault divorce has its origins in early 20th century Soviet Russia. Shortly after the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks ratified the 1918 Decree on Divorce, which outlawed religious marriage and replaced it with civil marriage sanctioned by the state. Where prior to the revolution Orthodox Ecclesiastical Law made it extremely difficult to obtain a divorce, the 1918 decree only required couples to file a mutual consent document with the Russian Registry Office.
It wasn’t until the 1970's that the U.S. followed suit. Before then, a divorce could only be obtained through a showing of fault by one of the parties in the marriage. This meant that one spouse had to prove that the other had engaged in adultery or abandonment for the judge to approve a divorce.
In cases where neither the husband nor the wife had participated in a culpable act, attorneys often encouraged couples to stage such acts, thereby providing the grounds for a divorce. It was these “legal fictions” that prompted lawyers and judges to push for no-fault divorce laws.
The first such law, enacted in California on January 1, 1970, made it possible for couples to divorce because of mere “irreconcilable differences.” Since then, every state except New York (where both parties must notarize a separation agreement and live separately for one year before the divorce will be approved) has adopted a no-fault divorce law. Divorces today are easier to get than ever, which in part explains why marriage has become such a fragile and precarious institution.
It should be noted that if one is married in the Orthodox Church, the couple should be divorced by the Church, since the sacred union is still ecclesiastically united although violated if only a legal divorce is obtained. Being a member of the Church you profess that the Church alone has the authority to bind and to loose in the person of the bishop. And the bishop can only grant a legitimate divorce where legitimate fault is found.
See also these articles: