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Assembly passes no-fault divorce bill

Legislators and lobbyists talk outside the Assembly chamber

Legislators and lobbyists talk outside the Assembly chamber in Albany. (June 14, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

ALBANY - The Assembly gave final passage Thursday to no-fault divorce, clearing the way for New York to become the nation's last state allowing couples to end a marriage quickly when one spouse believes the union is finished.

The historic measure, approved 113-19, is the final piece of a legislative package enacting the most sweeping changes to the state's divorce laws since the 1960s, lawmakers said. Of Long Island's 21 assembly members, 17 voted for it, while Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) opposed it. Three members didn't vote immediately.

The Senate two weeks ago passed an identical series of bills, which also upended the system for deciding alimony and provided attorney fees for poorer spouses.

Under New York's current laws, couples must agree to one year of separation, or assign fault to each other for the marriage's problems. That requires them to accuse each other of adultery, abandonment or cruelty, often in long and expensive court battles.

The no-fault legislation allows one spouse to push for a final divorce after stating under oath that the marriage had been "irretrievably broken" for at least six months.

Similar language has been the law of the land in 49 states, many for more than four decades.

"This was an awfully long and hard battle," said Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), a member of the Judiciary Committee and supporter of no-fault. And it's not over yet. "I will not believe this until I see it actually signed by the governor," he said.

The bills await the signature of Democratic Gov. David A. Paterson, whose spokesman Morgan Hook Thursday would say only that the bills will be reviewed when received.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) said Thursday he had not received a pledge from Paterson to sign the bills, "but I assume he will."

Opposed for years by feminists concerned about poorer women, and by conservative Catholics who oppose making divorce easier, no-fault legislation died every year in the State Senate under Republican control.

But the issue gained new momentum when Democrats took over this year, and on June 15, the bill passed the Senate, 32-29, with no GOP support. Anti-domestic violence activists rejoiced at its passage.

"For those who are living with abusers, it certainly significantly impacts them in terms of not having to get permission from their abuser in order to be divorced," said Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson (D-Mount Vernon), the Senate sponsor.

Though the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women opposed no-fault, some of its concerns were addressed by the creation of a formula for alimony and the provision on attorney fees, both favorable for poorer spouses. And other advocates said no-fault would stop couples from inventing false allegations and causing unnecessary family conflict.

With James T. Madore

 

No-Fault Divorce Legislation

 

No-Fault Divorce: Allows a judgment of divorce to be granted without assigning fault to either spouse. The divorce could not be finalized until after resolution of marital property, alimony, child support, counsel fees and custody.

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