No-Fault Divorce Finally A Reality In New York

It was announced today (August 16, 2010) by Governor Paterson’s office that Governor Paterson signed into law a package of four bills that would bring significant reform to New York’s outdated divorce laws. In particular, the Governor signed into law A.9753A/S.3890, which would make New York the last State of the fifty to adopt no-fault divorce. The bill would end the requirement that a party seeking a divorce had to claim one of a limited set of reasons as the basis for doing so, a rule that forced parties to invent false justifications, and that prolonged and aggravated the painful divorce process.

The reform package also included legislation that would revise the process for setting awards of temporary maintenance while a divorce is pending, by creating a formula and list of factors that would presumptively govern such awards (A.10984/S.8390 and A11576/S.8391). This would allow for speedy resolution of the maintenance issue, and prevent less well-off parties to divorce proceedings from falling into poverty during litigation, because they lack the resources to obtain a temporary maintenance order. Another bill (A7569-A/S4532-A) would create a presumption that a less monied spouse in a divorce case is entitled to payment of attorneys’ fees.

Under current law, a party that cannot afford to secure representation in a divorce proceeding must make an application for fees at the end of the process, which can force a poor individual to proceed without a lawyer, or to surrender on important issues due to lack of means. These bills received strong support from women’s groups, advocates for victims of domestic violence and legal aid organizations.

“Finally, New York has brought its divorce laws into the twenty-first century,” Governor Paterson said. “These bills fix a broken process that produced extended and contentious litigation, poisoned feelings between the parties and harmed the interests of those persons – too often women – who did not have sufficient financial wherewithal to protect their legal rights. I commend the sponsors on providing a real and effective legislative solution to a problem that has for too long bedeviled ordinary New Yorkers.”

We will provide you with more updates concerning the effect of these important new laws as they become available.