The wedding day is supposed to be the start of years of marital bliss. Unfortunately for many couples, what starts out as a happy union ends up in divorce court.
New York was the last state without a 'no-fault' divorce law. Couples had to claim cruelty, abandonment, or adultery in order to split up. According to attorney Patrick C. O'Reilly at Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria LLP in Buffalo, those limited options led many couples to use extortion type techniques - such as refusing to agree to divorce terms unless they were paid more.
For poor spouses, lack of financial resources made the prospect of leaving an unhappy marriage impossible.
That's why New York State made changes to the domestic relations law. Unhappy couples can now apply for a 'no-fault' divorce. "If you can state under oath that your marriage is irretrievably broken down - in effect it is a dead marriage for the past 6 months - you are entitled to a divorce", says O'Reilly.
The law took effect on October 12th.
Over seventeen -hundred people filed for divorce in Erie County this year. Now with the new changes, court officials are bracing for a flood of divorce applications. "I'm still waiting to see if the tsunami is going to come. If we are like other states, they predict we might see a double digit increase in filings", says Supervising Matrimonial Judge Janice Rosa from the 8th Judicial District.
According to Judge Rosa, the new law also provides protection for "non-money" spouses. The state legislature added these safeguards after women's groups complained that poor women would be unfairly hurt in 'no-fault' divorce cases.
"The other two changes involve orders to provide counsel fees to even the playing field in a divorce action and to provide guidelines for temporary maintenance during the court action", says Judge Rosa
Critics of 'no-fault' divorce claim that the law makes it too easy for a couple to split up. However, court officials say change was long overdue.
"I think it will make it much cheaper and much faster", says attorney Patrick O'Reilly.
"It should take us immediately to the important issues of parenting and the division of assets and support", says Supervising Matrimonial Judge Janice Rosa.