As reported by Crain’s and New York State Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson’s website, on May 8 New York legislators began tackling a number of controversial family law issues, including no-fault divorce, guidelines for treating post-marital assets, and providing financial support so that low-income New Yorkers can retain family law counsel.
Seen by proponents as a means to allow quick, relatively amicable and less costly divorces, no-fault divorce was introduced in 1969 by California’s then-Governor Ronald Reagan, and spread throughout the country through the 1970s — except to New York.
The reason? New York legislators worried that no-fault divorce would usher in an era of difficult, inhumane and unfair divorces — particularly for women. Instead of allowing women to argue that their spouse was “at fault” and therefore appeal to the courts for a better settlement, no-fault divorce would take the issue of fault completely out of the picture.
Currently, divorcees in New York must formally separate for a year before divorce is established. Potential legislation discussed on May 8 would change that to a 6-month period, and forgo the requirement of a formal separation agreement. (To learn more about No-Fault Divorce, read our article “No-Fault Divorce Turns 40” by clicking here.)
Post-Marital Income Guidelines (PMI)
New York legislators also debating changes to how income earned by a married couple should be treated after marriage. Some legislators argue that, currently, lower-income individuals are unfairly penalized by the court system because, while they may have not earned income/revenue during the marriage, they nevertheless contributed to their spouse’s ability to earn money.
Under proposed legislation, a supporting would have her or his investment of time and energy calculated fairly when it comes to allocating assets upon divorce. Furthermore, that supporting spouse would be protected from having to accept a quick and unfair settlement, simply because she or he — unlike their “working” spouse — lacks the financial reserves to tolerate what could be a lengthy (i.e. costly) litigation process.
Interim Counsel Fees
In addition, New York legislators began tackling the issue of interim counsel fees. Currently, low-income New Yorkers can apply to have some of their divorce legal fees defrayed by the state. However, this reimbursement is available near the end of the divorce process; a flaw that some legislators argue is unfair to individuals who, by virtue of having to wait for funds, cannot litigate a divorce in the first place, and are therefore vulnerable to accepting unfair and inequitable settlements — one that rewards the other spouse (the “breadwinner” in the family).
Under the proposed legislation, funds would be provided during litigation, so that both spouses would be on a “level playing field” from the beginning. The belief is that this will lead to more fair and equitable settlements and court resolutions.
Divorce Magazine will stay on top of these issues debated in the New York legislature, and publish updates as they become available.