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The No-Fault-Divorce Nation

Aug 17 2010
As New York becomes the last state to legalize no-fault divorce, will Americans see a new chapter in our national marriage crisis?

No-fault divorce is now legal in every state, making filing for divorce in America—whether both parties agree or not—simply a matter of getting the proper paperwork.

New York just became the last state to adopt the legislation, passing a bill in early July that was signed into law this week by Governor David Paterson.

According to New York Law Journal, the law lets mutually consenting couples divorce "within six months of stating under oath their unions are 'irretrievably' broken." Proponents say such laws free couples from needing to prove that one spouse caused the divorce by adultery or abuse. But to suggest ugly divorce battles are a thing of the past would deny the devastation of divorce itself. There are plenty of reasons why making it easier to get a divorce is a bad idea. Opposition to the legislation has created unlikely allies out of the Roman Catholic Church, the New York chapter of the feminist group National Organization for Women (NOW), and the nonprofit Marriage Savers, founded by evangelical Mike McManus.

Marcia Pappas, president of New York's NOW, echoed the Catholic concern for the potential economic inequality for women caused by sanctioning "divorce on demand":

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."

Robin Fretwell Wilson, an alumni professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law, also noted that no-fault laws erroneously overlook the fact that sometimes, one spouse is at fault:

By bypassing mutual agreement, S3890 would treat nearly all divorces alike. Under current New York law, fault matters in property distribution and alimony only in rare instances, when "so egregious" as to be "a blatant disregard" of the marriage. Beating one's wife with a barbell until she is unrecognizable would count, but verbally abusing and striking one's wife and child while intoxicated would not, even if the abuse required a physician's care. Not all reasons for divorcing are equal. Often someone is at fault and that should matter if the law is to do justice.

In defense of no-fault divorce, Bonnie Erbe argued in U.S. News & World Report:

The longer we mollycoddle women, the less well women are going to fare economically. Women must realize that marriage is an economic partnership as well as a romantic one, and if women want to give up working to stay home to raise children, they are also giving up their financial futures as well.

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