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Conjugal Rights & Grounds for Divorce

Updated October 30, 2018

While most states now have some form of no-fault divorce, many still offer spouses the option of obtaining a divorce by proving "fault grounds," such as cruelty or adultery, against the other spouse. While state laws don't specifically allow one spouse to divorce the other due to a failure to have a normal sexual relationship, conjugal rights, there are laws that provide for divorce or annulment in cases where a marriage has not been consummated or one spouse is unavailable to the other.

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In a divorce, a couple's marriage is dissolved, their legal ties to each other are severed, continuing obligations such as child support are established, and their property and debts are divided between them. After divorce, both parties are free to remarry other people. Grounds for divorce differ in each state and may involve issues of conjugal rights.


An annulment is the declaration by a court that a marriage between two people never existed. If a spouse wishes to have the marriage annulled, that spouse must prove to the court that the marriage was somehow invalid. Grounds for an annulment vary from state to state, but usually include bigamy, one spouse was married to someone else at the time of the wedding; one partner is underage; or the failure of the couple to consummate the marriage.

Non-Consummation of Marriage

The non-consummation, failure to have sexual intercourse, of marriage is in many states grounds for an annulment. In some states, it is also grounds for a divorce although the language used to describe the non-consummation of a marriage can vary. For example, Alaska law explicitly states that non-consummation of a marriage is grounds for divorce. In Illinois, on the other hand, "natural impotency" at the time of the marriage that has continued throughout the marriage is also grounds for divorce.

Related Grounds

In some states a married person can sue for divorce on the basis of abandonment or long-term imprisonment. In both cases, the divorcing spouse is unable to enjoy a normal sexual relationship with her absent spouse.

Denial of Conjugal Rights

While the denial of conjugal rights during a marriage (assuming that the marriage has already been consummated) is not grounds for divorce under any state law, all states, with the exception of New York, offer a spouse the option of a "no-fault" divorce. In a no-fault divorce, one spouse simply needs to tell the court that she wants a divorce on the basis of incompatibility, irreconcilable differences or the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage (each state has its own language for no-fault grounds).

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About the Author

Lainie Petersen writes about business, real estate and personal finance, drawing on 25 years experience in publishing and education. Petersen's work appears in Money Crashers, Selling to the Masses, and in Walmart News Now, a blog for Walmart suppliers. She holds a master's degree in library science from Dominican University.

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