This month marks the third year of no-fault divorce in New York, marking the passage of historical legislation that made this state the last in the union to pass such a measure.
The intent of the law is to make it easier for couples to divorce, without having to ascribe blame to one party or another. It's not been without its hitches. Ultimately, however, it's an option that many soon-to-be-former couples are embracing, as it is generally cheaper, faster and less contentious than a traditional split.
While we don't have updated figures for 2013, we do know that the Business Review in Albany reported that in the first year since the passage of the law, divorce filings in New York spiked 8 percent, for a total of nearly 65,000 filings. Figures for 2012 surpassed that.
Prior to the passage of this law, couples who wanted to dissolve their marriage in New York had to accuse the other of some egregious offense like cruelty, imprisonment, abandonment or adultery. Those who had simply fallen in love were forced to lie, a phenomenon referred to in the New York Times as "institutionalized perjury." Some spouses had to falsely testify to wrongdoing of the other just to make the proceedings final.
The old law forced one spouse to legally take the blame in a case. It eliminated the possibility of mutual consent, of two people who had simply made the adult decision to move on.
The only other alternative was to legally separate for at least one year. For many couples, that proved a unique hardship.
In the end, legislators came to the conclusion that forcing one side to take the blame offered no advantage to either party. In fact, it usually ended up harming children, as it tended to escalate conflict within the proceedings.
For most divorce-seeking couples, the law has generally worked as intended. However, issues have arisen.
There had been an issue for a while with some judges who interpreted the law differently than others. In cases where couples had cited that the union was simply "irretrievably broken," some judges called for a jury trial. That meant that those in different jurisdictions were sometimes facing different standards than those in other areas of the state. It also meant that the process continued to be drawn out, despite the reform efforts.
However, in June of last year, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Laura Drager ruled that parties were not entitled to jury trials in these instances and that due process rights were not infringed upon in the event such a trial was not granted.
A state assembly bill, A4269-2013, was introduced earlier this year that would have amended domestic relations law to exclude jury trials in no fault divorce actions. However, the bill has been sidelined in judiciary since February.
In the meantime, there have been instances in which judges allowed some no-fault divorce claims to be contested, forcing parties to testify on the stand to a series of personal questions they likely hoped to avoid by filing a no-fault action in the first place. One example was a 79-year-old woman who was made to testify - for hours - as to the length of time since she and her husband had engaged in sexual relations, why she was dissatisfied with his refusal to fix things around the house and his estrangement from their children.
That's exactly the kind of thing legislators had hoped to avoid when they first passed the law.
To ensure your rights are protected, call us today.
If you are contemplating a no-fault divorce in New York City, call our offices at (718) 864-2011.
Divorces Drag on Even After Reform, May 6, 2012, By Sophia Hollander, The Wall Street Journal
More Blog Entries:
Uncontested Divorce in Brooklyn With Children for Lowered Fee of $499, Sept. 24, 2013, Brooklyn No-Fault Divorce Lawyer Blog