Discontinuities can appear in different fields of mechanics. Some examples where discontinuities arise are more obvious such as the formation of cracks. Other sources of discontinuities are less apparent such as interfaces between different materials. Furthermore continuous fields with steep gradients can also be considered as discontinuous fields. This work aims at the inclusion of arbitrary discontinuities within the finite element method. Although the finite element method is the most sophisticated numerical tool in modern engineering, the inclusion of discontinuities is still a challenging task. Traditionally within finite the framework of FE methods discontinuities are modeled explicitely by the construction of the mesh. Thus, when a fixed mesh is used, the position of the discontinuity is prescribed by the location of interelement boundaries and not by the physical situation. The simulation of crack growth requires a frequent adaption of the mesh and that can be a difficult and computationally expensive task. Thus a more flexible numerical approach is needed which leads to the mesh-independent representation of the discontinuity. A challenging field where the accurate description of discontinuities is of vital importance is the modeling of failure in engineering materials. The load capacity of a structure is limited by the material strength. If the load limit is exceeded failure zones arise and increase. Representative examples of failure mechanisms are are cracks in brittle materials or shear bands in metals or soils. Failure processes are often accompanied by a strain softening material behaviour (decreasing load carrying capacity with increasing strain at a material point). It is known that the inclusion of strain softening material behaviour within a continuum description requires regularization techniques to preserve the well- posedness of the governing equations. One possibility is the consideration of non-local or gradient terms in the constitutive equations but these approaches require a sufficiently fine discretization in the localization zone, which leads to a high numerical effort. If the extent of the failure zone and the failure process to the point of the development of discrete cracks is considered it seems reasonable to include strong discontinuities. In the framework of fracture mechanics the inclusion of displacement jumps is intuitively comprehensible. However, the modeling of localized failure processes demands the consideration of inelastic material behaviour. Cohesive zone models represent an approach which is especially suited for the incorporation within the finite element framework. It is supposed that cohesive tractions are transmitted between the discontinuity surfaces. These tractions are constitutively prescribed by a phenomenological traction separation law and thus allow for the modeling of different inelastic mechanisms, like micro-crack evolution, initiation of voids, plastic flow or crack bridging. The incorporation of a displacement discontinuity in combination with a cohesive traction separation law leads to a sound model to describe failure processes and crack propagation. Another area where the existence of discontinuities is not as obvious is the occurence of material interfaces, inclusions or holes. The accurate modeling of such internal interfaces is important to predict the mechanical behaviour of components. The present discontinuity is of different nature: the displacement field is continuous but there is a jump in the strains, which is denoted by the expression weak discontinuity. Usually in FE methods material interfaces are taken into account by the mesh construction. But if the structure exhibits multiple inclusions of complex geometry it can be advantageous if the interface does not have to be meshed. And when we look at at problems where the interface moves with time, e. g. phase transformation, the mesh-independent modeling of the weak discontinuities naturally holds major advantages. The greatest challenge in the modeling of discontinuities is their incorporation into numerical methods. The focus of the present work is the development, analysis and application of a finite element approach to model mesh-independent discontinuities. The method shall be robust and flexible to be applicable to both, strong and weak discontinuities.