Eager Clients Embrace N.Y.’s New No-Fault Divorce Law
But not all attorneys expect to see a rise in business
New York Law Journal
October 13, 2010
Spouses seeking to be among the first to file for divorce under New York’s new no-fault statute flocked to law offices Tuesday.
David M. Siegal, a partner at the high-volume matrimonial firm of Assaf, Mackenzie & Siegal, said men were lined up Tuesday outside his Albany firm’s office before it opened to finalize their divorce petitions.
“It’s like the Oklahoma land rush,” Siegal said. “You should see what is going on in my office. It’s like a Bruce Springsteen concert. I am busier than hell.”
Siegal’s office had filed three divorce petitions by midday Tuesday and expected to file four or five others before court closed for the day. His office planned to file a similar number today and Thursday in surrounding counties.
In the past, Siegal said some of his clientele who lacked proper grounds for divorce would opt to move 50 miles to Vermont for one year before qualifying for a divorce in that no-fault state.
“I think the Vermont landlords are in mourning today,” Siegal said.
Earlier this year, Governor David A. Paterson signed three bills that sponsors said would make divorce easier and less painful for the families involved.
A divorce can now be granted where one spouse declares that the marriage has been “irrevocably” broken for at least six months — presuming that all financial, child custody and visitation issues have been resolved.
New York was the last state in the union to adopt no-fault divorce. And it is the first substantial change to the grounds-based divorce law since 1966, when other grounds were added to adultery, the sole ground since 1787. The other grounds include cruel and inhuman treatment, abandonment and the imprisonment of one spouse for three years or more.
See the court system’s Divorce Resources website.
Two other new divorce-related laws also went into effect Tuesday: the standardization of criteria for temporary and permanent maintenance payments to a spouse and the payment of the lawyer fees of the “non-monied” spouse by the “monied” spouse.
Taken together, the new laws were designed as a compromise between those who claimed the previous statute set too high a hurdle to getting a divorce while protecting the financial interests of the “non-monied” spouse — typically the wife.
“It was basically, ‘We’ll give the guys their divorce and we’ll give the girls more money,'” said attorney Kenneth B. Wilensky of Vessa Wilensky in Uniondale.
Wilensky said his office filed only a handful of divorce petitions Tuesday in Nassau and Suffolk counties. But he said he has been talking to clients who inquired about the new no-fault option for weeks and advised several who did not have grounds under the previous law to wait until Tuesday to finalize their petitions.
Attorney Susan Bender of Bender Rosenthal Isaacs & Richter said that she noticed no change in business on the first day of no-fault divorce and expects to see little in the future.
“We don’t have a large practice, we have a very elite clientele,” she said. “No-fault will affect 2 percent of our cases. In our practice, the grounds for divorce are rarely the issue, it is custody and financial issues.”
With the other issues so hard-fought, Bender said her firm’s litigants almost do not care about the grounds.
“The divorce cannot be finalized until everything else is done,” she said. “By that time, the clients are so litigation-weary that you say, ‘Adultery?’ They say, ‘Fine.’ ‘Cruel and inhuman treatment?’ ‘Fine.'”
Sondra M. Miller, a former New York Appellate Division justice who has lobbied for no-fault divorce for years, said she thinks the new law will achieve its primary purpose: to avoid as much as possible the “misery and nastiness and expense and delay caused by having to find fault as a factor.”
But Miller, who is now of counsel at McCarthy Fingar in White Plains, said she sees potential for legal challenges to no-fault if, for instance, a spouse files a cross-claim alleging one of the grounds-based causes against a partner who is trying to invoke the no-fault provision.
And Wilensky said it will take time to see how judges apply the new laws.
“If you factor in the appellate process, you’re probably talking about two or three years,” he said.
Also under the new law, the state Law Revision Commission will study the setting of maintenance levels statewide to determine if courts are failing to take into account financial factors that could unfairly disadvantage a spouse.
That five-member commission is to submit a preliminary report to the Legislature and governor by June 2011 and make a final report by the end of next year.
People I hope you understand what is going on here. This is not your ordinary legislative law. This is very detrimental to families and most importantly, displeases God.
31It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: 32But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery (Matthew 5:31-32).
Not too long ago I posted the proposal for this bill to be passed in NY and the NY Governor waisted no time in signing this into existence. Now this means that, someone who is unhappy can go to a lawyer and ask for a divorce with no consent from their spouse. Have we lost it? SMH