Albany, NY - Lawmakers Approve No-Fault Divorce to Make It Faster and Less Expensive
Albany, NY - New York will join the other 49 states permitting no-fault divorces to make it faster and less expensive for uncontested breakups under legislation given final approval tonight.
Perhaps more significant, the deal updates and makes more uniform the way in which maintenance — or alimony — is awarded, ending a current system that some lawmakers say forces some people to stay in abusive or empty relationships because of economic conditions.
Besides the no-fault and alimony components, the three-part legislative package also calls for the “monied” spouse in a couple with “greatly unequal financial resources” to pay lawyer fees of the other spouse in a divorce proceeding — a move intended to level the legal playing field between a divorcing husband and wife.
“Taken together as a package, and it’s very important that they be enacted together, will make a real difference in helping families in New York state,” said Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein, a Brooklyn Democrat who chairs the Assembly’s Judiciary Committee.
Under current law, New York judges can grant divorce only on grounds of cruelty, adultery, abandonment or getting sent to prison for at least three years. They also can grant a divorce one year after a couple file a separation agreement when both sides consent.
The new measure would require one spouse to swear under oath that the relationship has broken down irretrievably for at least six months. Property division, alimony, child custody and support would have to be resolved first.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, whose house passed it 113-19, says he believes Gov. David Paterson will sign it. Paterson spokesman Morgan Hook has said the governor will review the bill when it reaches his desk.
The Senate voted 32-29 two weeks ago to approve the change, which would take effect on signing.
“Without having to go through the process of determining which party’s at fault, it will certainly reduce the cost of divorce to a number of people in the state,” said Assemblyman Jonathan Bing, a Manhattan Democrat who sponsored the bill. For some it will likely be faster, he said.
This would make New York the 50th state to enact some version no-fault divorce, sponsors said.
Bing said experience in other states shows that change in the law reduces domestic violence and the suicide rate among women. Current New York law requires determining one spouse was a bad person, creates animosity, encourages perjury and makes it difficult for women in long-term marriages to get a divorce on grounds of cruelty, he said.
The New York Catholic Conference and the state chapter of the National Organization for Women opposed the measure. The conference said it made marriage disposable. NOW said it could make it easier for wealthy husbands who initiate divorce to hide assets and make it harder for abused women to get courts to recognize the abuse.
Advocates for abused women said it will make it easier for them to divorce men who don’t want to let them go.
Both houses also passed bills authorizing judges to require the wealthier spouse pay the other’s legal fees early in the process and to establish guidelines for setting temporary and post-divorce maintenance payments.
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