State Senate Passes No-Fault Divorce Law

Law aims to bring New Yorkers up to speed with the rest of the country

By Juan DeJesus
|  Wednesday, Jun 16, 2010  |  Updated 1:45 PM EDT
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State Senate Passes No-Fault Divorce Law

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New York state may finally join the ranks in terms of divorce law.

It's not my fault. And it's not yours either. (Potentially.)

The State Senate’s Democratic Majority took a major step this week in passing a legislative package that seeks to end New York’s status as the only state in America lacking the No-fault divorce legislation.

The Senate voted 32-29 Tuesday to pass the No-Fault Divorce bill, which restructures the state's matrimonial law to streamline the process and improve the outcome of divorce for all New Yorkers.

The proposed legislation allows individuals to seek a divorce without assigning fault. It particularly focuses on women and children, who are often the most vulnerable when marriages are dissolved.

Under the current law, courts are required to determine who is at fault for causing the divorce as well as having the couple live separately for one year after signing a written separation agreement. Such an arrangement leads to significant financial and emotional costs, and unnecessarily forces couples in deteriorating relationships to rehash the bitter, painful and embarrassing reasons for divorce.

However, the bill is not to be considered, “divorce on demand,” legislators caution. The Senate Majority’s reforms would allow a divorce after a marriage has irrevocably broken down for six months or more and all financial and custody issues have been resolved.

The proposed law is coupled with two other bills passed to ensure a smooth process. The Senate unanimously passed a bill that requires post-marital income guidelines for any monetary awards or alimony, which the bill renames "maintenance," obtained during the proceedings. Another bill passed by a 60-1 vote seeks to ensure that all parties can afford legal representation from the onset of divorce proceedings.

In a press conference preceding yesterday’s session, Staten Island Senator Diane J. Savino said, “Virtually every other state permits marriages to end without the condition of blame. Under current law, even victims of domestic violence who are seeking to end their marriages, must enter into a costly court proceeding, where they must also confront their abusive spouse. Providing a no-fault option would simplify the process for domestic violence survivors and potentially increase their safety.”

Supporters of the no-fault divorce bill say it will be particularly helpful to domestic violence survivors, who spend up to seven years trying to obtain a divorce from their spouses under New York’s current fault system.

The bill has even garnered support from the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York -- a group that switched its support in favor of no-fault divorce after historically opposing the concept. In a statement, the association noted, “ The enactment of this No Fault divorce bill would not prevent a spouse from presenting facts of domestic violence or other egregious fault in matters relating to custody, child support and Spousal maintenance.”

Opponents of the bill contend it will deprive women of the legal clout needed to obtain fair child support agreements or interfere with alimony payments.  

The New York State Catholic Conference, which represents New York State’s bishops in matter of public policy, released a statement noting, “Increasingly, society has come to view marriage as disposable and temporary. We urge the state Assembly to reject this proposal and, failing that, we call on Gov. Paterson to veto it.”

The issue is sure to divide many in the state. However, the bill seems to have garnered momentum in the Senate and could possibly pass in the State Assembly.

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