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No-Fault Divorce Doesn’t Necessarily Mean No-Trial

When the New York legislature passed a no-fault divorce statute (Domestic Relations Law §170) last summer, one of its goals was to cut down on lengthy and expensive litigation. Apparently one Essex County judge didn’t get this memo.

Judith A. Strack filed for divorce from her husband Jeremiah this winter, claiming that their 47-year-marriage had “broken down irretrievably.” Mrs. Strack stated that there was “no emotion” in the relationship in addition to the facts that the couple had lived apart throughout the winter and had different interests and social schedules. When her husband disputed these claims, Justice Robert J. Muller ordered an immediate trial to determine whether the marriage had, in fact, broken down irretrievably.

Justice Muller acknowledged that the legislature intended to “lessen litigation” when it enacted the no-fault divorce statute, but noted that it’s “not a panacea for those hoping to avoid trial.”

The statute currently says that a husband or wife can procure a judgment for divorce if the relationship “has broken down irretrievably for a period of at least six months, provided that one party has so stated under oath.” One critic, however, argues that the statutory language referring to “one party” is clear in its purpose to “avoid litigation” — not “to avoid litigation on fault grounds only to substitute litigation upon the ground of irretrievable breakdown.”

With any new statute, each judge has the opportunity to interpret it differently. Even with no-fault divorce finally here, this just goes to show that nothing’s ever as easy as it seems.

**This is not legal advice. If you or someone you know is considering getting divorced, contact The Mandel Law Firm today for a free consultation to review your options.

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