It has long been rumored that the divorce rate in America has reached an all-time high with a predicted 50% of marriages ending in divorce. In New York State, the process of divorce has been especially renowned to be complicated, emotionally and financially damaging, and torturously long. This characterization seems well deserved considering, as NBC New York points out, New York was the only state in America lacking no-fault divorce legislation. However, this has now come to an end with the passing in the Senate on June 15th and in the Assembly on June 30th of the No-Fault Divorce bill and two other coupled bills regarding divorce.
Previous N.Y. legislation required couples to live separately for one year after signing a written separation agreement. Following this period of time, one party must then establish fault grounds in court under such claims as adultery, cruelty, imprisonment or abandonment. This method forced many couples to relive bitter, painful and embarrassing reasons for the divorce, increased legal expenses and even put victims of domestic violence in dangerous circumstances in which they had to face their abusive spouse or spend up to seven years to finalize their separation. Additionally, as a result of these requirements many individuals lacked the resources to afford a divorce or due to lack of good legal representation ended up worse off financially.
This new law directly streamlines the process of divorce and improves the outcomes of divorcees, specifically for women and children.
- According to the NY Senate website, the Protecting Women with No-Fault Divorce bill allows a unilateral “divorce after a marriage has irretrievably broken down for six months or more and all financial and custody issues have been resolved” without having to provide fault.
- An additional bill addresses New York’s inconsistency and unpredictability regarding monetary awards or alimony by establishing a post-marital income guideline across jurisdictions. It, therefore, improves financial situations after divorce of a spouse who had sacrificed the ability to earn money in order to be able to care for children or elderly parents.
- Another bill was included that concentrated on affording legal representation. Formerly, judges were authorized to require the more “monied” spouse to pay the legal fees of the less “monied” spouse, but these fees were inconsistently awarded and often not until the trial begun, reducing the efficiency of such help. Under this new provision though, awarding counsel fees would be required at the beginning of the divorce process, allowing “more equitable representation for both parties.”
Most receive this legislation with open arms, including the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York who had historically opposed it switching sides. Advocates note that it will allow an amicable way to end a marriage, end “an epidemic of perjury in divorce courts” of spouses who falsely testified to wrongdoing in order to finalize a divorce, and make divorce accessible to lower-income individuals and victims of domestic violence. Opponents like the Roman Catholic Church worry that the bill will increase society’s view of marriage as disposable and temporary and subsequently, increase divorce rates. Despite the varying opinion, it appears that New York is modernizing their approach and it will be interesting to see what outcomes lay ahead.
*Written with assistance from Merika Wilson