History of No Fault Divorce

February 17, 2023
Louis Sternberg
No fault divorce in new york

As we begin 2023, New York’s No-Fault Divorce law (New York Domestic Relations Law §170(7)) can now call itself a “teenager.” With its passage in 2010, New York became the fiftieth and final state to enact a No-Fault Divorce statute, allowing for a spouse to file for divorce upon an “irretrievable breakdown” of the marital relationship. Prior to passage of Domestic Relations Law §170(7), a party could only seek a divorce for “cause,” such as cruel or inhuman treatment, abandonment, imprisonment, adultery, or living apart for more than one year pursuant to a separation agreement.

Despite New York’s late adoption of No-Fault Divorce, the campaign for legal recognition of the need for a vehicle to end loveless, and often abusive, marriages seriously began some 70 years prior to the enactment of New York Domestic Relations Law §170(7) through the efforts of the National Association of Women Lawyers. Formed in 1899, the National Association of Women Lawyers originally organized to promote the role of women in the legal profession, but from its inception the organization also took up the mantle of fighting for gender-equality in the law.

A recent article details the evolution of no fault divorce and how it has gone from a scandalous notion to a legal mechanism deeply ingrained in our culture. In 1947, the National Association of Women Lawyers introduced the first No-Fault Divorce draft legislation in the United States. Undeterred by the undoubtedly uphill battle of bringing the plight of suffering spouses to the halls of state legislatures, it was not until California’s adoption of No-Fault Divorce in 1969 that the National Association of Women Lawyers saw its first success on this front. Over the course of the next 41 years, the National Association of Women Lawyers continued the struggle, marching through the remaining 49 states, passing No-Fault Divorce Legislation along the way.

With Governor David Paterson’s signature on August 15, 2010, New York’s enactment of Domestic Relations Law §170(7) formally recognized and granted a remedy for the people being held prisoner by broken marriages. Rather than forcing a party to prove the misdeeds of their spouse, divorce matters in New York have largely been expedited to issues of custody, finances, assets, and spousal maintenance – rather than first getting past the hurdle of cause, divorce matters can now move from initial court filing to judgment of divorce in a fraction of the time it took before 2010. If not for the National Association of Women Lawyers, such would not be the case.