NYLAG Ensures Women Get Fair Treatment Under Divorce Reform Laws of 2010

On October 12, 2010, New York became the last state in the U.S. to enact no fault divorce. Since that day, provided all economic and parenting issues are resolved, if one spouse swears that the marriage is irretrievably broken, the judge must grant a divorce.

It is no longer required that those seeking divorce obtain the spouse’s consent or prove abandonment, cruelty, adultery, or other grounds for divorce. NYLAG’s matrimonial clients rarely faced difficulties obtaining a divorce, as almost all could claim cruelty, but they and their children were often forced into poverty immediately after the separation. “Maintenance (formerly alimony) was completely unpredictable, inconsistent, and unfair,” explains NYLAG attorney Antoinette Delruelle, who began working in 2007 with a coalition of legal service providers which authored and lobbied for the newly passed temporary maintenance bill. “Judges, from county to county and even within the same county, would grant different maintenance awards in divorces with remarkably similar facts.”

The new law sets a formula for determining how much the lower-income spouse should receive from the higher-income spouse as temporary maintenance, due while the divorce is pending. Until the reforms, many low income spouses who could not afford an attorney or were not lucky enough to obtain free legal representation from NYLAG or other free legal service providers, were forced to give up legitimate claims of maintenance. Thanks to the new temporary maintenance laws, these individuals are now able to obtain support even without the services of an attorney.

Assemblywoman Amy Paulin noted: “When I first met with members of the coalition, it was clear to me that reform was long overdue. For me, ensuring equity for the less-monied spouse in a marriage that was ending was a far more important issue to be addressed. The less-monied spouse is typically a woman who has sacrificed her career and given up her financial independence for her husband, children, and the functioning of the household. When the marriage ends, the woman is at a severe disadvantage in establishing financial stability for herself, having been out of the workforce for years. Existing law simply failed to secure protection for these women.”