A Contested No-Fault Divorce?

March 3, 2012
Louis Sternberg


On October 12, 2010, New York passed their version of “no-fault” divorce.  Prior to this controversial, statutory change, New Yorkers had to prove grounds in order to obtain a divorce.  In situations in which one party asserted grounds for divorce but the other party successfully defended such a claim at trial, the divorce would not be granted and the parties would remain married.  After the new no-fault divorce option was added, instead of asserting grounds, those seeking a divorce could instead state that their marriage was “irretrievably broken” for a period of six months.  However, the question remained as to whether a court had to simply accept one party’s contention that the marriage was irretrievably broken or if the court had the power to order a trial in order to make such a determination.

That question was recently answered on January 12, 2012 by Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice James F. Quinn, in the case of Sorrentino v. Sorrentino.  Judge Quinn ordered a trial on the issue and ultimately ruled that the 56-year marriage had deteriorated to such a poor condition that the marriage was irretrievably broken.  As a result, the court granted the divorce.

In contrast, in an earlier case, a Monroe County Judge ruled that the court had the authority to grant a divorce without a trial even if the Defendant-spouse refuted the claim that the marriage was irretrievably broken.

At this point, it is unclear how New York’s appellate courts will rule on this issue and whether trials on the grounds of the divorce must be ordered when a spouse claims that the marriage is not irretrievably broken.