Yesterday the Senate passed a bill that would finally bring New York State divorce law up to speed with the rest of the country. Forty-nine states in the Union permit residents to pursue no-fault divorces, but New York still doesn't accept "irreconcilable differences" as grounds for ending marriage; one spouse must prove in court that the other is guilty of adultery, cruel and inhuman treatment, or withholding sex for a year.
The new legislation (which has not yet been taken up by the Assembly) would permit couples to separate by mutual consent. After years of inaction (South Dakota was the 49th state to pass no fault divorce, in 1985), the Senate's passage of the bill is a major milestone; as one source in Albany told the Daily News, New York's current divorce law "is bread and butter to [divorce lawyers]. If you have no-fault, you cut the time and cost in half, so you're cutting their bread and butter in half."
Now an unholy alliance is forming between the divorce lawyers, the Roman Catholic Church, and the National Organization of Women [NOW]. In a statement, New York State Catholic Conference Executive Director Richard E. Barnes said, "The Bishops of New York State are disappointed with the Senate action today. Increasingly, society has come to view marriage as disposable and temporary...New York State has one of the lowest divorce rates in the country. While we see that as a cause for state pride, some sadly may see it as a problem to be corrected."
And according to the Times, women’s advocates worry that no-fault divorce would deprive financially disadvantaged women of "leverage they needed to obtain fair alimony or child support agreements from husbands seeking to divorce them." Marcia Pappas at NOW writes, "No-fault takes away any bargaining leverage the non-moneyed spouse has. Currently she can say, 'If you want a divorce I’ll agree, but you have to work out a fair agreement.' That is not 'blackmail' as has been claimed by some no-fault proponents. Negotiating the terms of the breakup of a partnership is the way partnerships are dissolved in the business world. Women should have the same protection."