Since our last blog was published, the New York State Assembly gave final passage on July 1st to no-fault divorce, clearing the way for New York State to allowing couples to end their marriages quickly when one spouse believes the union is over. The new measure, which requires one spouse to swear under oath that the relationship has broken down irretrievably for at least six months, is the final piece of a legislative package enacting the most sweeping changes to the state’s divorce laws in 40 years. This final legislative approval comes after what one member of the Assembly called “an awfully long and hard battle.” The bills now await Governor Paterson’s signature.
No-fault divorce has long been opposed by the Catholic Church, with the view that the legislation would make divorce easier; feminists argued that no-fault did not address the concerns of poorer women. The National Organization for Women of New York State has found itself on the same side of the issue as the Church, although the New York City chapter of NOW supports the legislation.
Marcia Pappas, president of the New York State chapter of NOW, has written recently, “No-fault can take away the bargaining leverage of the non-moneyed spouse—and that is usually the woman….In fairness, any partner to a marriage should be provided with notice that the other partner wants a divorce and given an opportunity to negotiate the terms for the divorce. Often, there is fault with ‘divorce on demand,’ not only can the more moneyed spouse begin hiding assets (which happens even under our current laws), but this spouse can proceed quickly with legal actions before the other spouse, with limited means, even has the time to find and hire an attorney.”
Until 2004, the Women’s Bar Association has also objected to no-fault divorce. But as Annette G. Hasapidis, co-chairwoman of the association’s legislation committee has said, “We came to the realization that forcing one party to either admit or be found at fault in the deterioration of a marriage provides no economic or other advantage to either party. And more importantly, it harms the children of the marriage.” The concern of advocates for women that there would be difficulty receiving appropriate alimony or child support was considered unsupportable by the Women’s Bar Association.
Both supporters and opponents have concerns regarding the creation of a formula that computes alimony. This mechanism, however, is intended to alleviate the conflict and legal jockeying commonly associated with the determination of spousal maintenance.
The Honorable Sondra Miller, currently Chief Counsel of the White Plains law firm McCarthy Fingar, has been advocating for an amendment to allow no-fault divorce for many years. Recently, we had the opportunity to interview Judge Miller for our podcast on this historic legislation. Some of the key questions she thoughtfully addresses include: Why is no-fault divorce still a hot-button issue for politically liberal groups, religious groups and even among certain members of the legal community? Why has it been such an uphill battle for New York legislators to simplify New York State's divorce laws? Is it possible to measure the impact on children without no-fault divorce?
Please visit our Web site www.msgcpa.com to hear our edifying podcast interview with the Honorable Sondra Miller.