The New York State Senate passed a bill June 15 that aims to significantly change the state’s divorce laws by removing the currently required grounds or finding of fault, such as adultery, cruelty or abandonment, and eliminating the requirement for couples to live separately for more than a year before divorcing.
The Senate passed the bill, S3890A, June 15 with a 32-29 vote, and the New York State Catholic Conference issued a statement of opposition to the bill the same day.
"The bishops of New York State are disappointed with the Senate action today," according to a statement from Richard Barnes, executive director of the Catholic conference, which represents the state’s eight bishops in matters of public policy.
Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, D-Mount Vernon, sponsored the bill, which would allow a judgment of divorce to be granted to either a husband or wife without assigning fault to either party, provided that either the husband or wife states under oath that the marriage has been irretrievably broken for a period of at least six months and provided that all financial and custody issues have been resolved. In a statement, Hassell-Thompson maintained that removing the requirement of finding fault will benefit spouses in deteriorating relationships and their children, as well as victims of domestic violence.
The Catholic conference, however, said the change would bring about more harm than good. In recent years society has begun to view marriage as disposable and temporary, Barnes noted in his statement.
"However, empirical evidence shows that children of divorce tend to suffer many negative consequences throughout their lives, from lower educational achievement rates to higher rates of substance abuse, criminal behavior and imprisonment," he said.
Not all marriages can be permanent, Barnes acknowledged, but the law provides for quick divorces when there are such serious reasons as abuse, adultery or abandonment.
"In cases where no such grounds are present, so-called ‘no fault’ cases, a couple may divorce following a one-year legal separation," Barnes said. "The state has a legitimate interest in such a waiting period, where reconciliation is still a feasible possibility, because of the important place of marriage in society, particularly as it relates to the stable rearing of children."
Barnes urged the state Assembly to reject the bill, also known as A9753A, and for Gov. David Paterson to veto the proposal if it is approved by the Assembly.
The package of legislation approved by the Senate June 15 also included a bill that would establish post-marital income guidelines for maintenance awards (S7740A) and another that would ensure all parties can afford counsel from the beginning of divorce proceedings (S4532A).