No-Fault(y) Towers: New York Ends the Need to Prove Grounds for Divorce
Thankfully, the day has finally arrived where New York State has emerged from the dark ages of divorce law and joined the other 49 States by enacting no fault divorce. Finally, our citizens do not have to remain in marital purgatory simply because outdated law says they must.
A divorce case, and the relationship which underlies it, is fraught with angst, disagreement, turmoil and sometimes violence. The “Sturm and Drang” often reeks of pettiness, hatred, and disgust– all that remains of two people, once in love. It then spills beyond– to children who are affected for years to come as their formative and adult relationships are molded by the dysfunction of what they grew up to view as “normal”. What then has been the benefit of adding a battle over “grounds” to this mix, where the horrific and salacious details of a marriage’s demise is required to be set forth in writing and proven in a court of law, merely because one party decides to contest? The answer is “none”. Even where there was no “War of the Roses”, if statutory grounds for divorce did not exist or were tenuous, allegations needed to be conjured or embellished. A perjurious fiction often resulted. Did this aid society or the interests of justice? Of course not. Adding to the already acrimonious atmosphere surrounding the marriage’s destruction (economic dissolution, custody and parenting battles, support litigation, etc.) by mandating the pleading of marital fault, was archaic, inane, and counterproductive; throwing the proverbial gas on an already blazing inferno.
For far too long, the elimination of the fault ground mandate has been successfully fought by a disproportionately small, but powerful variety of institutions– clergy stepping over the demarcation between church and state; misguided advocates believing that fault protected disadvantaged women more than it chained them to remain with men who refused to let them go; legislators pandering to special interests in slavish devotion to re-election. Then there are the sincere– those who truly believe that no fault makes it “too easy” to be divorced; that the “sanctity of marriage” is paramount. While it is hard to argue with another’s belief system, questions must still be posed and answered. Isn’t an individual’s own determination of the state of their personal happiness, when it has no bearing, import or impact on their neighbor’s view of it, more important? Does being forced to remain in a state of perpetual disharmony, in full view of the children affected by it, venerate the marital institution and help to raise healthy children? Is requiring a spouse who cannot sustain grounds to “buy” their way out of the marriage by way of an otherwise onerous settlement an acceptable solution? Is it more honorable to leave a litigant with a choice between perjuring him or herself to gain a divorce on “sexual abandonment” grounds or be left bound to a loveless and damaged life ‘til death do they part?
As a matrimonial attorney of over 23 years, I can state unequivocally that the passage of no fault divorce is a welcome relief. Most of my brethren and sistren would say the same; the major bar associations were in favor of its passage. The flames of conflict in a contested matrimonial case have been fanned, stoked, and drenched with lighter fluid to the point that a Viking funeral pyre would be envious of its white-hot blaze. Let us all be thankful that one very large log has been removed from the fire.
Wait...did I forget to mention the counterclaim? Can't we bask in the glow just a little while longer?