There are many reasons one or both parties may choose to end an marriage. Not surprisingly, most of the time one or both of the parties points to the other’s behavior as the main reason the marriage cannot continue. Affairs, drug and alcohol dependency, addictive behaviors, intra-family violence, poor money management skills … the list is long and all of the items on it are legitimate causes or effects of a deteriorating relationship.
There is a disconnect, then, between the fact that these are very significant issues to parties going through a divorce, yet they have no legal significance when it comes to granting the divorce and dividing the parties’ property. Minnesota is one of the vast majority of states that does not consider “fault” at all when undertaking the business of separating households pursuant to a divorce. Certainly there are cases in which this provides an unfair outcome for a faultless party who nonetheless is required to bear an equal burden for his or her spouse’s wrongdoings. Yet, it is clearly the better option overall for the court system to set aside the issue of fault, to create a policy by which parties who are married to one another share equally in gains and losses until the time of the divorce and to ensure that an already arduous divorce process doesn’t further bog down the overburdened court system.
While “no fault” makes sense from a property perspective, there is one area of divorce and family law where “fault” is an important part of Minnesota’s jurisprudence. Custody and parenting time issues require the court to make a decision that is in the “best interests” of the child. To do this, the court must consider the ability of each parent to provide a safe and caring environment for the child. If one parent has a serious drug addiction problem, for example, that parent will likely not be well-suited for substantial custody and parenting time rights. On the other hand, simply because one parent had an affair doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is in any way an unfit parent. In the limited setting of custody and parenting time, “fault” only plays a role if it affects a party’s ability to parent.