Fault or No-Fault?

Aug 8, 2012 by

It can take a long time to get to New York from California, especially in the case of no-fault divorce laws. California became the first state in the country to adopt no-fault divorce law back in 1969. In the decades that followed, most other states in the nation adopted similar laws. That is, most states except for New York, the last state in the union to require at-fault divorce grounds.  It took over 40 years, but the situation finally changed when the New York Senate and Assembly put no-fault divorce laws on the books in that state this summer.

No-fault divorce laws that permitted one spouse to terminate a marriage without a specific fault being assigned to either party were seen as a remedy to the bitter court battles that often resulted when blame for the split was legally assigned to one spouse or the other . No-fault divorce laws were thought to be progressive reform that would reduce the conflicts of divorce that were harmful to both spouses and destructive to the emotional well-being of the family and children.

Advocates of no-fault laws in New York have been happy to see a system that they thought fostered expensive, contentious divorces, go away. Proponents of no-fault had claimed New York’s old set-up forced divorcing couples into attorney-assisted court contests that were needlessly complicated and costly for all parties. Couples that were in basic agreement about their divorce were denied the ability to split based on grounds of irreconcilable differences or an irretrievably broken union. Instead, they were forced to choose a specific marriage fault and assign it to one spouse or the other. If the marriage lacked a real fault, couples had to invent one just to complete the divorce. The situation meant divorce in New York was harder to accomplish than in most other states and often appeared to benefit divorce attorneys far more than it benefited those getting divorced.

Now that no-fault divorce is finally on the books in New York, critics of the law have surfaced claiming it will have definite negative consequences including pushing the overall divorce rate up and ultimately costing the state’s taxpayers more money than ever before. Critics of the law say that New York had one of the lowest divorce rates in the nation due to their laws that encouraged couples to work out their differences unless one spouse was guilty of a major marriage fault like adultery or abuse. Critics of no-fault laws point to a Heritage Foundation study that said each divorce in the nation actually ends up costing taxpayers about $20,000 in welfare and other subsidies. The critics claim that New York’s adoption of no-fault divorce will push its divorce rate up to that of neighboring states like Connecticut where the divorce rate is close to 60 percent, compared to New York’s 40 percent figure, one of the lowest in the nation. If New York’s divorce rate matched that of Connecticut it would translate to an additional 30,000 annual divorces at a cost of over $700 million, 38 percent of which would be borne by the state. Critics contend that the effect of passing no-fault divorce laws in New York is that the state legislature actually voted to double the state’s divorce rate.

It is apparent that both sides of the argument will probably continue to disagree on the merits and results of the passage of no-fault divorce laws in New York. Repeal of the law is unlikely though. It took New York 40 years to adopt no-fault divorce law, and with the rest of the nation in agreement, it is highly unlikely the decision will be reversed any time soon.


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