Senator Savino's Opening Remarks at Hearing on Matrimonial Laws

May 07, 2010

Senate Majority Works to Reform Antiquated Matrimonial Laws Enhance the Integrity and Efficiency of Courtrooms, Facilitate  Equitable Settlements, Reduce Acrimony and Tension between Divorcing Partners,Protect the Emotional Well-Being of Children and Improve Support for Domestic Violence Victims (Albany, NY) Yesterday, Senator Diane J. Savino joined her colleagues in the New York State Senate Majority, in a hearing on matrimonial law reform. The hearing focused on: •         No-fault divorce•         The treatment of martial assets specifically the examination of post-martial income guidelines•         The award of interim counsel fees to non-monied spouses in matrimonial matters Testimony was given by leaders of New York’s Matrimonial Bar, State and local Bar Associations, leading advocates for victims of domestic violence and the public. Today’s testimony revealed the following: No-Fault Divorce:New York is the only state that has failed to adopt provisions allowing no-fault divorce, the divorce reform that swept the country in the 1970s. Today, most states allow divorce if one person says the marriage is irretrievably broken. In New York, however, you still must establish fault grounds, like adultery or cruelty to end a marriage. Under current New York law, divorces can only be granted on six grounds: (1) cruel and inhuman treatment that endangers the safety of the person seeking the divorce; (2) the abandonment of the person seeking the divorce by his or her spouse for at least a year; (3) a person’s spouse has been confined in  prison for three or more years; (4) adultery; (5) the spouses have lived apart for at least a year following a separation decree; or (6) the spouses have lived apart for at least a year following a written separation agreement.  Although grounds (5) and (6) are technically no-fault divorces, the onerous requirements for a legal agreement prior to the commencement of the separation means that, in practice, one spouse can prevent the other from attaining a desired divorce.The fault requirements of New York State’s current divorce law have significant financial and emotional costs, and unnecessarily force couples in deteriorating relationships to rehash the bitter, painful and embarrassing reasons for divorce.  Requiring a finding of fault traps individuals in failing relationships and exacerbates hostility and resentment between couples who have already indicated their desire to separate. These consequences are even more pronounced and enduring in cases involving children, who are often caught in the middle of their parents’ bitter exchanges throughout the process.  Further, trial proceedings to establish fault costs litigants thousands of dollars in legal fees each year, and places great strain on an already overburdened court system. In instances involving domestic violence, no-fault divorce is crucial because it allows a quicker end to the marriage without the need for the abusive spouse’s cooperation.  Under current New York law, a spouse who has been emotionally or physically abused has two options.  He or she can involve the abusive spouse in separation proceedings that do not discuss fault, but keep them legally married for at least a year after the separation is finalized and require the cooperation of the abusive spouse.  Or, he or she can file for a divorce on the grounds of cruel or inhuman treatment, which requires confronting the abusive spouse with detailed allegations and then arguing for the truth of those allegations in a courtroom whenever they finally make it to the top of the docket. Providing a no-fault option after a six month separation without a separation agreement would simplify and speed the process for domestic violence survivors, and potentially increase their safety.Legislation (S3990), sponsored by Senator Hassell-Thompson and co-sponsored by Senator Savino, would bring New York State in line with every other state in the country by permitting marriages to end without the condition of assigning blame or enduring a lengthy and cumbersome separation process. Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson (D-Mt. Vernon) said: “Under New York State’s current law, couples in deteriorating relationships are forced to assign blame or fault in order to validly end their marriages.  By implementing a policy of no-fault divorce, this prolonged and often destructive process would be eliminated.” Senator Diane J. Savino (D-Staten Island) said:  "I commend Senate Majority Conference Leader John L. Sampson and Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson for holding today's hearing, studying our antiquated state's divorce laws, which may be a barrier for thousands of spouses who are trapped in abusive marriages.  Currently, virtually every other state permits marriages to end without the condition of blame, forcing a victim of domestic violence to enter a costly court proceeding, where they must confront their abusive spouse.  Providing a no-fault option would simplify the process for domestic violence survivors and potentially increase their safety." ###