Saturday, March 11, 2006


Opposition arises to no-fault divorce

Leaders of women's, men's rights groups fear changes in law would be harmful

First published: Sunday, March 5, 2006

ALBANY -- With key support in the Legislature, backing from the state's chief judge and lobbying by the 72,000-member state bar association to change the law, many people believe New York will soon follow the nation's 49 other states in enacting no-fault divorce.

Why, then, are some pivotal women's and men's groups insisting that amending the Domestic Relations Law would be devastating?

New York now requires a couple to wait a year after filing for divorce before a judge can dissolve their relationship, and that can occur only after a finding that one or both parties is at fault. No-fault divorce, on the other hand, allows one spouse to claim irreconcilable differences to end the marriage without the other's consent.

Activists for women's rights and fathers' rights, who often have little in common when looking at divorce and child custody issues, agree that no-fault is bad. Their reasons differ.

"If we have no-fault, then the nonmonied spouse, most often the woman, is already at a disadvantage," said Marcia Pappas, state president of the National Organization for Women.

"We all know that whoever has the money wins in court."

Either way, she said, custody, support payments and property division issues must be resolved in court, where she said women experience gender bias. NOW wants any change in the law to provide for attorney and expert witness fees, with a particular eye on stay-at-home moms with no income.

Gloria Jacobs, co-chair of NOW's Domestic Relations Task Force, said horror stories abound of judges refusing to hear the facts of a case, including physical and emotional abuse. The system gives men rights without responsibility, particularly in custody and child support, said Jacobs, a retired matrimonial attorney.

"The whole thing is stacked," she said.

While New York NOW chapter is fighting to keep fault-divorce in place, just last year Washington State NOW supported a quick and dirty divorce for pregnant women, meanwhile the Pennsylvania NOW chapter is currently fighting to KEEP no-fault divorce in place.

In essence it appears that the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing in one of the most prominent womens groups in our country. They are just chasing their tails in a great big circle and going nowhere fast.

If fault-based divorce is a good for women because courts are friendly to money and men generally have more of it, common sense would tell us that this is the case in every courtroom across the nation. Thus all groups that hold themselves out to be concerned about women should be on the same page with this issue. Not as is currently happening, with a differing point of view depending upon the state.

Let’s make up our mind here and cut out the inconsistency of positions.

It is a good for women to allow no-fault divorce? Or does it, as the New York based NOW chapter holds, cut our bargaining power down to nothing leaving women with no negotiating tools to use in a divorce court, which is unfortunately overly friendly to money.


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