In 2020, the Supreme Court of Nebraska heard a unique argument by a husband in a divorce case. Mr. Dycus — a resident of Hastings, Nebraska — asserted that the state’s no-fault divorce law violates his rights to due process and equal protection under the Nebraska Constitution.
No-fault divorce is the law in every state, meaning that a court may grant a divorce without requiring proof that at least one of the spouses committed marital fault such as cruelty, abandonment or adultery.
What is no-fault divorce?
In Nebraska, the legislature adopted no-fault divorce in 1972 and is one of 17 states with no-fault as the only divorce option, according to the Associated Press. There is widespread acceptance that people should not remain married after the marriage has “irretrievably broken” down, which is the standard by which a judge grants a divorce in Nebraska. Requiring proof of legally recognized marital fault could keep people in unhappy and dysfunctional marriages.
In no-fault divorces, Nebraska courts have held that marital fault is also not relevant to the decision whether to award alimony or spousal support. Decisions about spousal support are now based solely on the parties’ relative economic needs and abilities.
What did the husband argue in Dycus v. Dycus?
In Dycus v. Dycus, Mr. Dycus argued that the no-fault divorce statute violated his religious beliefs about the sanctity and permanence of marriage. The Hastings Tribune reported that this is consistent with religious organizations that oppose no-fault divorce for weakening marriage as an institution and making divorce easier, which they believe harms children.
The Tribune also quoted the husband’s legal brief as noting that the U.S. Supreme Court cases that legalized same-sex marriage also held that the right to marriage is a liberty interest and fundamental right protected by the constitution; therefore, due process of law must be applied to dissolve a marriage. Dycus argued that no-fault divorce does not provide due process to a spouse fighting to stay married.
Marital misbehavior still has some relevance
Even in a Nebraska no-fault divorce, marital misbehavior has relevance to how some issues are resolved. For example, in the 2019 case of Schnackel v. Schnackel, the Court of Appeals said that an award of $1.4 million to the wife was appropriate to represent her portion of the money that the husband had dissipated from the marital estate when he made purchases for his paramour.
Misbehavior that could show a tendency toward poor judgment, abandonment, substance abuse, violence or domestic abuse could have a negative impact on that spouse’s child custody rights.