Definition of an Involuntary Marriage Separation

by Jae Allen

When you have decided to end your marriage and file for a divorce, there are various "grounds" upon which to file. State laws vary somewhat regarding the different grounds for a divorce, but all states differentiate between "no-fault" divorces, and situations in which one person is alleged to be at fault. "No-fault" means that neither party is to blame for the divorce, and involuntary separation is one type of reason for a "no-fault" for divorce. In at-fault divorces, state laws dictate various reasons considered valid grounds for a divorce.

Separate Living

Involuntary separation is based on the couple having lived apart for a consecutive period of time. Laws in different jurisdictions vary as to the minimum length of involuntary separation required for a divorce to occur. Maryland stipulates a minimum of 24 months, while in the District of Columbia, only one year of involuntary separation is required.

Sexual Relations

During the period of involuntary separation, the couple must not have had sexual relations with each other.


The person filing for the divorce must prove to the court that the couple have not lived together and have not had sexual relations for the number of months stipulated by state law as a requirement for divorce to be granted on grounds of involuntary separation.


Involuntary separation and any subsequent divorce do not need to be mutually agreed upon between the two parties. If the couple have been living separately for the state-required minimum separation period, one party can field for divorce without the other party's agreement.


In a divorce based on involuntary separation, there is no need for either party to prove that the other was at fault. In this respect, a divorce based on involuntary separation may be less emotionally fraught than a contested divorce in which fault must be proven.


One situation in which involuntary separation can be used as grounds for a divorce is if a spouse is incarcerated for a period longer than the state-required minimum separation period. If one party wanted to file for divorce from an incarcerated spouse on grounds of involuntary separation, it would be necessary to prove that no sexual relations (i.e., no conjugal visits) occurred during the spouse's incarceration.

Military Deployment

When a spouse in the military is deployed abroad or at sea for an extended period of time that equals or exceeds the minimum requirement of a particular state's divorce law, this is considered to constitute involuntary separation and, therefore, can be used as grounds for a no-fault divorce.

About the Author

Jae Allen has been a writer since 1999, with articles published in "The Hub," "Innocent Words" and "Rhythm." She has worked as a medical writer, paralegal, veterinary assistant, stage manager, session musician, ghostwriter and university professor. Allen specializes in travel, health/fitness, animals and other topics.

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