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Family Law and Divorce

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No-Fault Divorce Not as Easy as Imagined in New York

On August 15, 2010, New York Gov. David Paterson signed a bill allowing New York to join every other state in the U.S in allowing no-fault divorce. Legislators, judges and family law attorneys had realized for some time that the need to prove fault in divorce was a drain on the court system’s resources, taking valuable time away from other issues that arise in divorce, such as child custody and property divisions.

Allowing couples the option of no-fault divorce was supposed to reduce the time divorces in the state took and the arguing between the spouses. Additionally, allowing no-fault divorce would eliminate the need for couples to invent fault-based reasons for divorce in order to end their marriages, as some couples had done in the past. However, in the time that has passed since the law took effect, some ambiguities in the wording of the law have limited the effectiveness of the reform.

Different Counties, Different Standards

When the no-fault law went into effect, New York couples finally had the option of reporting that the marriage was “irretrievably broken” when filing a divorce petition rather than having to allege fault. In most cases, the couples who use no-fault divorce have avoided trials over the issue. However, some judges in a few counties across the state have made couples go through trials to determine whether the marriage is actually “irretrievably broken.” As such, couples are being held to different standards for obtaining a divorce depending on where they live.

In one notable example, a 79-year-old woman who had waited for years for the state to pass a no-fault divorce law so she could obtain a divorce without the public spectacle of a trial was forced to go to court to prove that her marriage was not salvageable. The judge in her case ruled that her husband had a right to contest her claim and ordered a trial. The woman testified for hours about intimate details of her marriage before she was able to obtain a divorce.

Attempts at Reform

Some lawmakers have made steps to correct the language of the law in order to eliminate trials in no-fault divorce cases. Some attorneys point out that the initial law should have clarified in the definition of no-fault divorce that there are no trials in such divorces. A proposed bill in the Assembly would ban trials by jury in no-fault divorces. However, critics argue that the bill does not go far enough to fix the law, as it would still allow bench trials, in which a judge makes all the decisions.

Divorce is never easy, whether a person is alleging fault or not. If you are facing divorce, talk to a seasoned family law attorney who can help advise you.