The phrase, “Irreconcilable Differences,” generally refers to a legal term found in family law. The term is used to express the reason for seeking a divorce or dissolution of a marriage or civil union. Essentially, when a couple files for divorce or dissolution, they must cite the legal grounds for doing so. 

Although it depends on the state laws of where a couple is filing for divorce or dissolution, irreconcilable differences is just one of the several options available that a couple may select as their legal reason for wanting a divorce.  

Irreconcilable differences is often cited as the basis of a no-fault divorce. A no-fault divorce is described as a divorce where neither party is “at fault” for the marriage or civil union failing, but for various reasons, such as the parties simply still cannot seem to get along with each other. 

How is “Irreconcilable Differences” Generally Defined?

The definition of “Irreconcilable Differences” is somewhat vague, but includes many types of disputes and conflicts. The term is used to describe the overall state of a marriage or civil union. It does not refer to a particular incident that occurred during the marriage or civil union, such as abuse or infidelity/adultery. 

In basic terms, irreconcilable differences means that the couple does not believe they can save their marriage, even with counseling. They are breaking up because a fundamental piece of their relationship is preventing them from being happily married together. 

How is “Irreconcilable Differences” Legally Defined?

When a couple files for divorce or dissolution based on irreconcilable differences, the parties may encounter language in legal documents that resembles the following:

“Both parties agree that the breakdown of the marriage is a result of irreconcilable differences. It follows that further efforts at reconciliation would not be in the best interest of either party.”

As demonstrated by the example above, the phrase is typically accompanied by specific legal terms, such as “irretrievable breakdown of marriage”, “irremediable breakdown”, and “incompatibility”. Which essentially means that the marriage is not fixable. 

Another legal definition that is commonly associated with “Irreconcilable Differences” is this next sentence:

“…Differences between the parties that are severe enough to make legal marriage difficult, or nearly impossible.” 

It should be noted, however, that courts rarely inspect the details of what those differences actually are, especially if the state follows the rules of a no-fault jurisdiction. As of 2019, every state offers no-fault divorce and 17 states only offer no-fault divorce (as in it is not possible to specifically state why they are divorcing). 

What are Some Examples of Irreconcilable Differences?

There are several reoccurring reasons that exist when a divorce is granted due to irreconcilable differences. Some examples that couples repeatedly mention include:

  • Finances: This may refer to how the parties prefer to handle money, or one spouse makes more money than the other, which might create tension in the marriage.
  • Communication: The couple cannot seem to communicate well or at all, and this could lead to daily arguments between the spouses.  
  • Work Life: Sometimes work may interfere with a relationship. It may mean that one spouse has long hours or travels often, which can cause a breakdown in the marriage. 
  • Life Goals: If a couple got married young or did not discuss their long-term life goals prior to getting married, they could have different views on what they want in their futures, such as:
    • Whether or not to have children;
    • Where they want to live;
    • What their long-term career goals are; or
    • When and where they want to retire.

These are not required reasons for getting a divorce based on irreconcilable differences, but are just basic examples to demonstrate the vagueness of the term and the types of conflicts that might fall under its meaning. 

What are the Requirements for a Divorce or Dissolution Based on Irreconcilable Differences?

The requirements for filing for divorce or dissolution based on irreconcilable differences varies widely from state to state. For instance, some states impose waiting periods, while others may require that the couple be living separately first (usually, for at least six months), before the couple is allowed to file for a divorce based on irreconcilable differences.

Other frequently cited requirements include:

  • The couple was married for less than a specific time frame (e.g., less than eight or ten years);
  • The couple must have lived in the state where the divorce is being filed for a certain amount of time;
  •  The couple did not have any children together during the marriage, and the wife is not currently pregnant;
  • The couple’s total joint income must be less than a certain amount;
  • The parties may be required to give up their rights to spousal support
  • Each partner must disclose all assets obtained, along with any tax returns filed during the marriage; and 
  • Finally, in a minority of states, the parties must both explicitly agree that irreconcilable differences is the basis for why they are filing for divorce or dissolution. 

Thus, citing irreconcilable differences is not always available as grounds for granting a divorce. 

Do I Need a Lawyer If I Have Questions or Concerns Involving “Irreconcilable Differences”?

Getting a divorce can be a painful and stressful life experience. Aside from the emotional toll it may take on you and your family, a divorce may also impact your finances, property, and disrupt your normal, daily routine.

Additionally, divorce or dissolution can involve some complicated legal procedures. If you are seeking to get a divorce based on irreconcilable differences, you should contact a local divorce attorney for assistance. 

An experienced divorce attorney can provide excellent guidance and will be able to represent your best interests throughout the legal process. As a reminder, be sure to ask your attorney about the specific rules that apply to your particular state’s jurisdiction.