Skip to Content

Fault Can Still Be a Factor in a No-Fault Divorce


Seventeen states and Washington, D.C. allow only no-fault divorces. Rhode Island is among the states offering the option of filing either a no-fault or fault-based divorce. Even if the divorce is technically no-fault, marital misconduct can still be considered in a divorce judgment or settlement in Rhode Island.

The Ocean State has offered no-fault divorces since the mid-1970s.

Most Rhode Island Divorces Are No-Fault Divorces

When a marriage breaks down, most spouses file a no-fault divorce even if misconduct led to the split. They make this decision because the process is typically simpler, more cost-efficient, and less antagonistic. If a divorce is fault-based, the burden is on the plaintiff (the person filing the divorce) to prove in court that the other spouse (the defendant) is guilty of committing that behavior.

Fault-based divorces can be filed on any of the following grounds:

  • Impotency
  • Adultery
  • Extreme Cruelty
  • Willful Desertion
  • Continued Drunkenness
  • Habitual and Excessive Use of Opium, Morphine, or Chloral
  • Neglect
  • Any other Gross Misbehavior and Wickedness

Instead of a court fight about who did what to whom, a no-fault divorce enables spouses to focus on the various terms of their divorce. No fault does necessarily mean uncontested. The two parties can disagree about aspects of the divorce:

It is important to remember that adultery, neglect, or any other fault can play a role in a no-fault divorce. This is true whether the case is argued before a judge or negotiated between attorneys.

Family Court Judges Can Consider Spousal Conduct

When Rhode Island judges evaluate how to determine alimony or divide property, the law outlines specific criteria for them to consider.

When dividing marital property, judges use the principle of equitable distribution. The goal is to split the property in a fair – not necessarily even – manner. If one spouse used marital funds to conduct an affair, for example, the judge might determine that the wronged spouse should receive a greater distribution of the assets. This decision is not due to the affair itself; the judges are not making moral judgments. Rather, the uneven split gives the injured spouse their share of the marital money spent in the commission of adultery.

In addition to the conduct of the spouses, other factors impacting property division include the following:

  • The length of the marriage
  • Contributions to the acquisition, preservation, and appreciation of the property
  • The health and ages of the spouses
  • Contributions of either spouse as a homemaker
  • Each spouse’s employability and occupation
  • Contributions either spouse made toward building the other spouse’s career (education, training, etc.)
  • A spouse’s wasting of assets
  • The best interests of the children, particularly in regard to the marital home
  • Any other factor the court deems relevant

Many of the same factors, including conduct, are considered when the judge decides whether to award alimony and how much. The judge can choose to use an alimony award to create an equitable divorce judgment.

Severe Misconduct Can Affect Child Custody

A cheating spouse will not be denied access to their children because they were unfaithful. However, a parent who abuses alcohol or drugs could be limited to only supervised visitation. The state believes children are best served by having a relationship with both parents. Eliminating all contact with a child is only ordered in extreme situations.

Understand How Fault Can Impact Your Divorce

Divorces are comprised of many interconnected layers. Decisions on custody, property, alimony, and other elements are not made in silos.

To better understand your divorce options, you should schedule an evaluation with one of our skilled attorneys at McIntyre Tate LLP. We look at the details of each case to strategize how to best support our client’s goal. Contact us online or call (401) 351-7700.