Following up on our recent blog post addressing how marital fault is not of particular relevance in New Jersey divorce litigation, a front page news story in the August 3, 2008 Long Island edition of Newsday entitled Lawmakers are Split on Divorce focused on New York as the only state without a no-fault divorce option. The article notes that despite support from many New York legislators to develop a no-fault option in New York and the fact that many ordinary couples cannot afford the nasty drawn out divorce proceedings resulting from New York’s archaic law, such laws still face resistance from the Catholic Church and the National Organization for Women-New York State.
A no-fault divorce bill recently introduced to the New York State Senate was not even voted on during the most recent session, but expects to be reintroduced next year for consideration. If enacted, the bill would allow couples to divorce without assigning fault to either party when a marriage is irretrievably broken for at least six months. Prior to obtaining a no-fault divorce, the parties would be required to resolve beforehand issues including equitable distribution, spousal support, child support, legal and other fees, child custody, and visitation.
This proposal would provide couples with an option similar to that seen in New Jersey, which allows parties to obtain a divorce without unleashing the sort of embarrassing testimony revealed during Christie Brinkley’s battle with her ex-husband, Peter Cook. In a similar fashion to New Jersey, the fault grounds would still be available. Based on what has transpired in New Jersey, however, it is likely that parties would more likely turn to the no-fault option as a means for achieving the same end as they previously achieved via fault grounds – namely, a divorce.
It is most certainly time for New York lawmakers to dust off its divorce legislation and provide couples with what is ideally a more amiable and cost effective option for ending a marriage.
EDITORS NOTE: Since I was a college student in Albany in the 1980s, and probably even before then, the issue of bringing no fault divorce to New York was raised, but never passed.
Further, while New Jersey seems to be cited as beacon, the irreconcilable differences option in New Jersey is less than two years old. Prior to that, New Jersey’s no-fault option required couples to live separate and apart for 18 months with no reasonable prospect of reconciliation. Since most people did not want to wait, the majority of cases were filed under the fault ground of "extreme mental cruelty." Aside from airing dirty laundry and causing anger and anguish, it really had little effect. The reason for this is that at the divorce hearing, the party was asked if the allegations were correct when the Complaint was filed and if they had to testify about them, their testimony would be substantially the same. Put another way, at the end of the day, it didn’t really matter and the "fault" ground caused unnecessary upset. Eric Solotoff