ALBANY — For almost four decades, “no fault” divorce has existed in the United States. Since California adopted it on January 1, 1970, it has been possible to get a divorce in the U.S. without having to officially accuse the other spouse of adultery, abuse, or any other wrong. By the mid-1980s, 49 out of 50 states had legalized no-fault divorce in some form. New York State remains the only U.S. state which requires fault-based grounds: there, the closest equivalent to “irreconcilable differences” is if both parties notarize a separation agreement and live apart for one year.
You would think that a populace as (relatively) liberal as New York’s would have been among the first to follow in California’s footsteps. But these days, it turns out that many liberals oppose no-fault divorce as much as conservatives do. In fact, the NY chapter of the National Organization of Women has become an outspoken opponent of it — and they regularly oppose Legislature bills that attempt to legitimize it.
Rachel Allen, a member of NOW’s California chapter, recently explained to Newsday that since wives often have less financial security than their husbands do, it negatively affects their success in negotiation. “It’s not the catcall approach to divorce that people thought it might be,” Allen told the magazine, “and it’s really dangerous for women and their children.”
Another common argument against no-fault divorce, according to the Newsday report, is that victims of physical abuse shouldn’t have to negotiate with their abusive spouses regarding their children or finances. However, abused spouses would be under pressure to present proof of their abuse in order to get a fault-based divorce, and this prolongs divorce proceedings along with the anger and animosity that often accompany them. And a recent study from the University of Pennsylvania revealed that no-fault divorce has reduced spousal abuse in marriage by one-third.
In other states (such as Texas and Rhode Island), the NOW chapters have opposed and lobbied against the conservative movement to make divorces more difficult to get.
Outside of New York State, you can usually get a no-fault divorce by claiming irreconcilable differences, incompatibility, or irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.
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