Last week, New York’s State Senate approved a bill that puts New York on track to become the 50th state to adopt no-fault divorce. Supporters of the bill feel it’s about time. California was the first state to pass no-fault divorce legislation nearly 40 years ago, and since then, all states except New York have done the same.
So what is no-fault divorce? And what kind of societal impact could the adoption of a no-fault divorce law have in New York?
No-fault divorce gives married couples the ability to end their marriage without having to prove that one spouse or the other is to blame. Currently, in order to obtain a divorce in New York, one party must prove that the other is “at fault,” even if both parties agree that they want the marriage to end. In fact, one spouse must “consent” to the divorce by accepting blame for something like adultery, or abandonment, or cruel and inhuman treatment of their partner. The only other way to secure a divorce in New York is to be legally separated for a year.
But if the no-fault divorce legislation passes in the State Assembly, all of this will change. In the shift from consent-based divorce to unilateral divorce, proof of wrongdoing will no longer be required to end a marriage, making a divorce easier and less expensive (litigation-wise) to obtain.
And how does this help victims of domestic violence?
There is evidence that passing no-fault divorce legislation could have a significant impact on levels of domestic violence. In The New York Times, economist Betsey Stevenson writes of her research with colleague Justin Wolfers: “…we uncovered evidence of a large decrease in domestic violence among states that adopted unilateral divorce laws, relative to those (like New York) which did not. This decrease was not just because abused women (and men) could more easily divorce their abusers, but also because potential abusers knew that they were more likely to be left. We found a 30 percent decline in domestic violence – an effect that could only occur if violence decreased in marriages that stayed together.”
To learn more about divorce laws and domestic violence, read Stevenson and Wolfers’ full paper. For information on divorce laws on a state-by-state basis, visit WomensLaw.org.