What are Irreconcilable Differences?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Irreconcilable differences are differences between the partners in a marriage which make it impossible for their marriage to continue. When marriages start to break down over differences, the spouses are usually encouraged to seek counseling and assistance in an attempt to reconcile, but if this fails, they can petition for divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. The divorce would fall under a heading of no-fault divorce, which means that neither partner needs to be proved in the wrong in order for the petition to be granted.

Irreconcilable differences are grounds for a no fault divorce.
Irreconcilable differences are grounds for a no fault divorce.

People can develop irreconcilable differences over a wide range of things. Many things such as lots of time away from home, financial strain, arguments about how to raise children, and religious conflicts can put strain on a marriage. Sometimes, people simply find that their partners change over time, and that their feelings about their partners change as a result. In other cases, personality conflicts emerge when people transition from unmarried to married life and find that they are not as compatible as they thought.

Irreconcilable differences make continuing in a marriage impossible for both parties.
Irreconcilable differences make continuing in a marriage impossible for both parties.

To divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences, the partners usually just need to petition. They do not need to show proof or to provide evidence. The judge will grant the divorce and work with both parties to achieve an amicable split of assets and to make agreements about custody of children. If the partners have difficulty working together, many of the arrangements can be conducted through their lawyers.

People in the process of a divorce often like to work with a lawyer who specializes in family law. These legal specialists are intimately familiar with the divorce process, and can work to make the process go as smoothly as possible while negotiating the best terms on behalf of their clients. People who are unsure about which lawyer in their community to use may consider contacting a professional association of family law specialists and asking them for a list of regional members; lawyers on that list will have met the basic standards for membership in the organization and have a reasonably high standard of experience and competency.

Once the divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences between the partners is finalized, both partners are free to remarry, if they wish. Remarrying can trigger a review of child support and alimony payments, under the argument that the newly married spouse is no longer as dependent on financial support from his or her ex-spouse.

Irreconcilable differences often have a root in communication issues.
Irreconcilable differences often have a root in communication issues.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


I have always wondered if you had to let the court know your specific irreconcilable differences or show proof of these differences, as it seemed like such a personal matter to have to air in such an official manner.

In North Carolina you will have to be sure of your irreconcilable differences in a way - you have to be separated for a *year* before you can divorce. I think then it is the same as discussed in the article; in that you do not have to show any specifics of your irreconcilables but can use that as a reason.

I found it interesting when I moved to North Carolina, that this was the law as it is so easy to get married but quite difficult (or maybe it is better described as time-consuming) to get divorced. But as I mentioned I guess that would really prove if after a year the differences were still not reconciled they were truly irreconcilable.


It can be simpler and less expensive for a couple wanting a no-fault divorce to share an attorney. But each person must make sure that all their ducks are in a row.

When one attorney is hired, he/she is assuming that the couple has worked everything out to each party's satisfaction. The attorney is there to answer any questions and to draw up the papers.

If you realize you have issues you didn't know about before, it would be a good idea to hire your own attorney.


Using irreconcilable differences as a basis for divorce is very common these days. I think that most couples realize that both partners have a part in the deterioration of the marriage. If it is clearly one-sided, and the partners each have to hire a separate attorney and go to court, the divorce can be messy and costly.

In community property states, the family assets have to be awarded evenly to both parties. Then awards for child support and spousal support are considered.

The divorce laws are really quite fair these days compared with several decades ago. Getting a good lawyer is a real plus.


Going through a divorce can be a very unsettling and scary thing. When I realized my marriage was at a point where this needed to be done, I didn't even know the first thing about how to file for divorce.

A friend of mine gave me the name of an attorney she had used, and I called and made an appointment. The rest was pretty simple as far as the paperwork goes. The emotional distress lasts much longer.

When I saw the term irreconcilable differences on the paperwork I didn't realize that this was a fairly common term used in most cases. Now that several years have gone by, and life as settled in to a new normal, I can see that this term really does cover a wide range of issues.


Almost anybody I have ever known that has been divorced has irreconcilable differences listed as the reason. Our son and his wife were married young right out of high school and were divorced within a few years.

Their irreconcilable differences were able to worked out, and they married again a few years later. When they went through the divorce proceedings, they used one family attorney between the two of them.

This helped keep things simple and also saved them quite a bit of money. I know this is not possible for many people who are going through a divorce, but it is something that worked for them.


I think the term irreconcilable differences is a very common term written in many divorce decrees. This term is used in both mine and my husband's divorce papers.

The reasons for divorce may be wide and varied, and this term puts most of those in this category.

Our state is also a no-fault state, and once someone files for divorce it takes 90 days for the process to be complete.

I have seen some places where you can get a divorce online. This sounds crazy, but I can see where some people would go this route if they were able to work things out between the two of them.


@sunnySkys - You're right. People who divorce over irreconcilable differences were often fighting over everything before they got divorced. It doesn't seem reasonable to expect them to stop just because of legal proceedings!

Sometimes people divorce over irreconcilable differences when one of the parties was at fault. I know someone who got divorced from his wife after she cheated on him. However, he chose not to drag her through the mud during their split and just cited irreconcilable differences as the reason. I thought that was very big of him.


I'm glad this reason for divorcing legally exists. Divorces aren't always one person's fault! Marriages don't always end because of cheating, or abuse, or something like that. Sometimes people really do change and grow apart.

I think in cases where it's neither parties fault, they should be able to have a no fault divorce! Although, I understand that even when it isn't one persons fault, divorce can still be messy. I knew a couple that divorced over irreconcilable differences and their divorce was quite the spectacle. It doesn't always have to be like that though.


My understanding is that no, a stepparent’s income on either side is generally not considered in child support. Stepparents do not have a legal obligation to support the child.

My problem with “no-fault” divorce is that it doesn’t allow for blame, and sometimes it is someone’s fault. My sister’s husband was cheating on her left and right, and he still got his “share” of the marital assets. And he’s trying to get custody of their children, and since he has a more expensive lawyer, he might succeed.


I get that alimony would change after remarriage (or, in some cases, "open cohabitation"). But would child support really change?

My understanding is that alimony is provided for the support of the former spouse and might cease when the former spouse no longer needs it. But child support isn't just because you need it - it's also because it's the other parent's responsibility to pay it.

Post your comments
Forgot password?