The Three Legal Reasons for Divorce

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Can a spouse file for divorce for just about any reason? In legal terms, the reasons for divorce are called grounds. What grounds are allowed, and are they the same for both spouses? 

What the Law Says About Reasons for Divorce

Spouses can get divorced, but for only one of three reasons:

  1. The spouses have been living apart for at least a year.
  2. One spouse committed adultery (cheated).
  3. One spouse treated the other with physical or mental cruelty to the point that living together is no longer possible for the spouse who was mistreated.

The spouses don't have to be legally separated before filing for divorce.

Reason for Divorce #1: Living Apart at Least One Year

Living apart means the spouses don't intend to live together anymore or be part of each other's lives.

The spouses' intention to live apart is easier to show if they don't live under the same roof anymore.

However, a spouse can file for divorce even if the spouses live under the same roof by proving the intention to live separately. For example, the spouse can show that they

  • live in separate rooms,
  • have no sexual relationship,
  • talk to each other very little or not at all,
  • don't do any household chores together (e.g., prepare meals or do each other's laundry),
  • buy their groceries separately,
  • don't eat together, and
  • have separate social lives.

The judge decides whether the spouses have actually been living apart for at least a year.

Reason for Divorce #2: Adultery (Cheating)

Committing adultery means having a sexual relationship with someone who is not your spouse.

It is not considered adultery if one spouse meets with someone behind the other spouse's back. The spouse must be in a sexual relationship for the other spouse to claim adultery.

  • Only the spouse who was cheated on can use adultery as a reason to file for divorce. Chances are that a joint request for divorce based on adultery will be refused.
  • If the spouse who was cheated on forgives the other spouse's adultery, then adultery can't be used as a reason for divorce.

Reason for Divorce #3: Physical or Mental Cruelty

Physical cruelty means physically harming a person.

Examples:

  • beating your spouse
  • hurting your spouse
  • sexually abusing your spouse

Mental cruelty means hurting someone in a way that is not physical.

Examples:

  • harassing or insulting your spouse
  • humiliating or treating your spouse badly
  • threatening your spouse or your spouse's family
  • having an affair

For cruelty to be used as a reason for divorce, the acts of cruelty must make it intolerable for the victim of the cruelty to continue living with the other spouse. The judge usually considers these factors when deciding whether the cruelty has become intolerable:

  • characteristics of each spouse (e.g., age, socio-economic condition, personality)
  • actions of the spouse who is being cruel
  • whether the actions are intentional
  • how often they happen
  • impact on the victim
  • Only the spouse who has been mistreated can use physical or mental cruelty as a reason for filing for divorce. Courts usually refuse joint requests for divorce based on physical or mental cruelty.
  • If the spouse who was mistreated forgives the other spouse's cruelty, she can't use cruelty as a reason for divorce.

Either Spouse Can Use Any of These Reasons

In Canada, both spouses are considered equal. Either spouse can claim one of the three reasons for divorce.

Also, one spouse does not need the agreement of the other to file for divorce.

Comparing the Reasons for Divorce

 

Living Apart at Least One Year

Adultery (cheating)

Physical or Mental Cruelty that Makes Living Together Impossible

Advantages to the spouse claiming this reason for divorce

You don’t have to go into the details of your private life in the divorce request or in front of a judge.

Sometimes you can get divorced faster.

Sometimes you can get divorced faster.

Disadvantages to the spouse claiming this reason for divorce

You have to wait a year.

A spouse can file for divorce as soon as he or she no longer has the intention of living with the other person. However, the judge can’t finalize the divorce unless a year has passed.

You have to go into the details of your private life in the divorce request or in front of a judge.

Proving adultery can be difficult if the other spouse does not admit to it.

Even if adultery is proved, this doesn’t benefit the spouse who was cheated on because the judge can’t punish the other one for the adultery.

You have to go into the details of your private life in the divorce request or in front of a judge.

Proving cruelty can be difficult if the other spouse does not admit to it.

Even if cruelty is proved, this doesn’t benefit the spouse who was mistreated because the judge can’t punish the other one for being cruel.

 

Important !
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.