On August 15, 2010, Governor Patterson signed No Fault Divorce into law in New York State. The law became effective on October 12, 2010. Prior to the enactment of the law, New York had the dubious distinction of being the only state in the union without a basis for a pure no-fault divorce option. For example, where Connecticut and New Jersey would permit a party to pursue a divorce based on irretrievable breakdown, New York had no comparable law, requiring couples to divorce generally based on constructive abandonment, cruel and inhuman treatment, adultery or a separation agreement. Without a cooperating spouse, the party seeking a divorce would have to prove grounds for divorce at trial. If the party seeking the divorce did not successfully prove the allegations, the divorce would be denied and the woefully unhappy pair would be sent away to live in a state of misery until new grounds were developed or negotiations yielded results.
Now, under the new law, couples may divorce without assigning blame for the demise of the marriage. It is thought that no-fault divorce law would help reduce extended and contentious litigation concerning the issues of fault and blame which often poisoned the feelings between the parties creating roadblocks to meaningful and calm settlement discussions.
However, because New York did not repeal the grounds statute, the prior statutory grounds continue to be effective and continue to permit parties to seek divorce on the usual grounds of constructive abandonment; cruel and inhuman treatment; or adultery. It appears that if the facts constituting irretrievable breakdown are refuted by the opposing party who asserts a counterclaim, Courts will again find it necessary to conduct grounds trials. Further, no divorce will be granted until the ancillary issues are resolved. Does the new law fulfill its stated purpose? Too soon to know for sure. But the way the law is written, together with the companion statutes dealing with temporary spousal maintenance and counsel fees, disgruntled parties may need Court intervention more than ever.