the New York Law Journal reported that the Supreme Court in Suffolk
County recently concluded the first grounds trial in New York in which a
defendant-spouse challenged a plaintiff's claim that the marital relationship
was "irretrievably broken." The fact
that a trial as to the existence of irreconcilable differences occurred at all
has, itself, engendered considerable controversy among New York divorce lawyers. After all, the passage of a no fault basis
for divorce by the New York legislature was specifically intended to avoid the
type of lengthy and costly court proceedings that previously occurred when a
spouse claimed that the party seeking divorce had not established sufficient
"fault." Such proceedings were widely
viewed as anachronistic and embarrassing, and it was widely anticipated by
divorce attorneys that the passage of no fault divorce would usher in a modern
era, in which the sole emphasis by litigants and the courts would be upon
financial issues (such as equitable distribution, maintenance, etc.) that arise
in connection with the dissolution of a marital relationship.
some courts have held (correctly, in my opinion) that the sole requirement for
establishing the existence "irreconcilable differences" is a declaration, by
one spouse in his or her complaint, that there are such differences. The conclusion that the New York legislature
specifically intended to eliminate even the possibility that a defendant-spouse
would be able to challenge the existence of irreconcilable differences is,
quite simply, inescapable. In fact,
when the legislature announced its enactment of no fault divorce, it explicitly
stated in a press release (dated June 15, 2010) that it intended precisely that
result, stating, "The requirement under current law to determine who is at
fault for causing the divorce has significant financial and emotional costs,
and unnecessarily forces couples in deteriorating relationships to rehash the
bitter, painful and embarrassing reasons for divorce." The legislature's
pronouncements, and the language of the law, could not possibly have been
clearer: New York litigants would no longer be required to litigate the
underlying reasons for their divorce.
It is has
been approximately one and a half years since New York became the last state in
the United States to enact no fault divorce.
Nonetheless, contested divorce cases continue to be expensive,
stressful, and prolonged proceedings.
Because New York's courts have been forced to enact massive budget cuts,
the waiting period for trials and decisions has become longer. Quite simply, the process of divorce is
generally slower than it was before the passage of the no fault statute. Given the clear purpose and language of the
no fault statute, and the overwhelming inefficiency and delays afflicting state
courts throughout New York, the continued occurrence of grounds trials is,
quite simply, incomprehensible.
of some courts in New York to adhere to the language and intent of the no fault
statute mandates further action on the part of the legislature. Specifically, the legislature should amend
Section 170(7) of the Domestic Relations Law with the addition of language
stating that a spouse's declaration, under oath, that a marriage is
"irretrievably broken" constitutes sufficient and incontrovertible proof of
such irreconcilable differences. With
the addition of that single sentence, grounds trials will finally be relegated
to the dustbin of divorce history.