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NYers react as divorce law awaits guv's signature

With the no-fault divorce package now needing just the governor's signature to become law in New York State, an array of stakeholders - including women's advocacy groups, lawyers and the Catholic Church - expressed a mix of reactions.

Some heralded the development as a liberation for those trapped in bad marriages; others as evidence that traditional institutions are under threat. Still others reject some parts of the package but welcome others.

Marcia Pappas, state president of the National Organization for Women, said she supports the new legislation on legal fees and maintenance guidelines but remains opposed to no-fault because it will make it easier for men to end marriages to financially dependent wives. "I get calls from women who are terrified of this law going through," she said, "because their husbands are going to file for divorce and leave them in the lurch."

On the other hand, Annette G. Hasapidis, co-chair of the Legislation Committee for the Women's Bar Association of the State of New York, said no-fault would permit victims of domestic violence to get out of dangerous situations faster and make it less likely they'll have to testify in court against their abusers.

Also, she said, issues of monetary support will be dealt with more quickly.

Many trial lawyers enthusiastically support the no-fault legislation, which they have argued would simplify the divorce process. However, they have concerns about the spousal support element of the package to which it is linked. The legislation sets up new guidelines for interim temporary support pending the results of a study by the state Law Revision Commission. Lee Rosenberg, a Garden City matrimonial lawyer, said the other parts of the package "need to be reviewed and studied on their own merits."Without that he predicted the changes to current law would engender confusion and more litigation.

Allan D. Mantel, immediate past president of the New York chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, said he feared any formula for spousal support would unduly constrain the discretion that judges now have to consider a range of factors in each case.

Kim Lurie, president of the Nassau/Suffolk County chapters of the Alliance to Restore Integrity in Divorce, said her members oppose no fault: "The only place they ever get to say what is going on is when they file the grounds paper: Here is what this person did or did not do to me, and this is how I feel," she said. "And if they take this away, there will be no place. My members are already unhappy because they feel their voice is not heard, and passage of this bill will close that door completely."

The Catholic Church in the state remained firmly against no fault. "We feel that it sends the wrong message regarding marriage," said Dennis Poust, spokesman for the New York State Catholic Conference, "that somehow it is easily disposable, as opposed to a lifelong institution."

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