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NY becomes 50th state with no-fault divorce

Gov. David Paterson talks to reporters about the

Gov. David Paterson talks to reporters about the state budget at the Capitol, Wednesday. (June 23, 2010) Credit: AP

Unhappy New York couples who want to get divorced fast will no longer have to persuade a court that they have been abused, abandoned or cuckolded to be released from their bonds.

Gov. David Paterson announced Sunday that he has signed a bill making New York the last state to enact some version of no-fault divorce, meaning that people trying to leave a marriage will be spared the painful task of attacking their estranged spouse in court.

Previously, under a system the governor called “outdated,” New York judges could only grant a divorce quickly on grounds of cruelty, adultery, abandonment or imprisonment. In other words, somebody had to be blamed for the breakup.

An alternative was to legally separate for a year and get a divorce later by consent, but critics derided the system as expensive and time-consuming.

Because of the rule, some New York judges would occasionally refuse to grant divorces, forcing couples to stick together against their wishes.

In one extreme case in 2007, a jury refused to grant a divorce to a Brooklyn couple who so hated each other, the court had authorized the construction of a wall through the center of their home to keep them apart.

The new measure requires only that one spouse swear under oath that a relationship has broken down for at least six months.

The change had been opposed by the New York Catholic Conference, which had said it made marriage disposable, and the state chapter of the National Organization of Women, which worried that it could make it easier for wealthy men to hide assets during a divorce proceeding.

The bill passed the Assembly with a substantial margin of support, then squeaked by the Senate by just three votes.

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