“No Fault” Divorce Means No Trial

In the short time that New York has had “no fault” divorce there has been precious little caselaw on the subject.  However, the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, has recently rendered a decision that may have significant impact on “no fault” divorces.

In Palermo v. Palermo, 2012 N.Y. Slip Op. 07528 (Nov. 9, 2012), the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, unanimously affirmed, without any discussion, the trial court decision in which the Court held that there is no right to dispute an allegation of an irretrievable breakdown of a marriage under the new no-fault divorce ground that is set forth in Domestic Relations Law section 170(7).  This means no trial on grounds.  However, there still could be a trial on what relief to grant as part of the divorce.

In reaching this conclusion the trial Court reviewed the history of New York’s no fault divorce laws.  The Court noted that in enacting these new laws the legislature recognized “that it is socially and morally undesirable to compel a couple whose marriage is dead to remain subject to its bond” and that these laws are to allow couples to “extricate themselves from a perpetual state of marital limbo.”

After reviewing the legislative history and the complete absence of any mention of a need for a trial to establish the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage, the Court concluded that the legislative intent was to eliminate trials on fault in divorce cases.  So that with an alleged irretrievable breakdown of a marriage the grounds cannot be disputed.  Either a party swears the marriage is irretrievably broken or they do not.  The Court held that “The grounds are established by the oath; there is no legislative requirement of a judicial finding on the reliability or veracity of the oath.”  The Court went on to say that to require a trial would be “counterproductive, if not absurd.”

So the bottom line appears to be that “no fault” means “no trial” on grounds for divorce.

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