New York Adopts No-Fault Divorce Law

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New York became the last state in the country to adopt no-fault divorce, as New York Gov. David Paterson signed the controversial measure into law Sunday.

The new law allows New York couples to divorce by mutual consent and does not require a spouse to accuse the other of misdeeds, including adultery. Conservative family groups and feminists are among the critics of no-fault divorce.

The controversy began in the 1970s when California became the first state to adopt no-fault. Before then, any person filing for divorce had to prove the other spouse was at fault.

Family law expert Lynn Marie Kohm said that rule led to trauma in the courtroom.

"Judges don't want to hear everyone's dirty laundry in the courtroom and people would like to maintain their privacy," she explained.

Still, there's great disenchantment with no-fault divorce.

Marcia Pappas, president of the National Organization for Women in New York warned that under no-fault, "the moneyed spouse (usually the husband) would have freedom to shelter the marital assets, hire an attorney, and start divorce proceedings before his wife ever suspects what is happening."

Conservatives add that no-fault also weakens the marriage contract and makes it easier for the divorcing spouse to avoid financial obligations.

"We are really changing the definition of marriage from no longer 'till death do us part' but 'until I feel differently,'" said Jason McGuire, executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms. "Marriage is the only contract in the entire country that you can get out of just by your choice, without any consequences," Kohm added.

Even as New York adopts no-fault divorce, a number of states are rethinking the law.

"Many states are considering going back to looking at mutual consent laws, which says it has to be bilateral action between the marriage parties. Both of them have to agree to a no-fault divorce," Kohm said. "That person now in a bilateral agreement can say 'you want to leave--great. Then I need these kind of damages.'"

No-fault opponents say there are other possibilities for states looking to strengthen marriage, like required pre-martial counseling and pre-divorce counseling.

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Heather Sells

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Heather Sells enjoys reporting on a variety of issues for CBN News. Some of her recent stories have focused on religious liberties, technology, AIDS, overseas missions, domestic trafficking, and politics.  Follow Heather on Twitter @SellsHeather and "like" her at Facebook.com/HeatherSellsCBNNews.