New York is considered a progressive state, but it has always been a bit backward in its divorce law. The state that was home to “Sex & the City” is the only one in the U.S. that doesn’t accept no-fault divorce.
As a result, in order to get divorced in New York State, couples have to play the blame game, which can escalate the nastiness and destroy the possibility of rebuilding the family post-divorce.
Judges have realized this is counterproductive. Families have realized it is counterproductive. Even some lawyers acknowledge it is counterproductive.
In interviews conducted by New York Newsday, more than a third of Long Island state lawmakers from Long Island say they favor a process allowing couples to split without blaming each other.
Many point to the Christie Brinkley spectacle, with its pricey lawyers and tales of infidelity, as the motivation for change.
Assemblywomen Michelle Schimel (a Democrat from Great Neck) and Ginny Fields (a Democrat from Oakdale) have co-sponsored a no-fault divorce bill by Assemblyman Adam Bradley (a Democrat from White Plains).
"I think we have intelligent people in New York that once they make up their minds that they don't want to be married anymore, let them be unmarried," Fields said.
Bradley said he has the necessary sponsor in the State Senate and will reintroduce the bill next year.
"All we do right now with this fault system is throw gasoline on an already flammable situation," Bradley told Newsday.
The New York Bar Association, Women's Bar Association of the State of New York, New York City Bar Association and New York Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers all support no-fault divorce.
Robert Ross, supervising judge of Nassau County's divorce courts, was part of a commission in 2004 that listened to concerns about divorce throughout the state.
"One of the most common complaints was the length of time and the cost in obtaining a divorce," Ross said. Another concern was that couples used the issue of grounds as leverage to get a better financial settlement.
So what is holding reform back? The Catholic Church and the National Organization for Women-New York State oppose no-fault laws. Marcia Pappas, president of NOW-NYS, contends that Bradley's bill has a loophole that in some situations would exempt spouses from settling child and financial issues.
Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick (a Catholic Republican from St. James) opposes no-fault divorce.
"We've become a culture when the going gets tough, the tough go quitting," he said. "Does my Catholic upbringing influence my thinking on this? My answer is absolutely yes."
But a Republican Assemblyman from East Port who is also a practicing Catholic, Andrew Raia, also supports the bill.
"The thing that the Bradley bill takes into account is that sometimes it's no one's fault," he said.
Progressive divorce laws allow both parties to win, and creates the opportunity for the couples to break-up without terrible battle scars. There can’t be any fault in that.