No-fault divorce poised to be the law of the land

A bill instituting no-fault divorce in New York State, which cleared the state Senate last month, passed the Assembly yesterday with wide margins. When Gov. Paterson signs it -- which he's promised to do -- New York will join the 49 other states that allow married couples to divorce without claiming wrongdoing by either party.

Though support for no-fault divorce has been fairly broad, the measure shares some critics that don't always see eye to eye on social issues. Among the opposed groups, a New York Times feature notes, are the Catholic Church and the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women.

Here's a quote from NY-NOW's Marcia Pappas, who contributed an essay to the NYT feature:

With “divorce on demand,” not only can the more-moneyed spouse begin hiding assets (which happens even under our current laws), but this spouse can proceed quickly with legal actions before the other spouse, with limited means, even has the time to find and hire an attorney.

We must look at the socioeconomic standing of women in our society. Women clearly continue to be the non- or lesser moneyed spouse, as women continue to give up careers and financial independence for the role of housewife and mother. For this reason alone we must look closely at how divorce affects the lives of women and children and the role that the state should play to ensure that homemakers and children not be left destitute after divorce.

But economist Betsey Stevenson thinks no-fault divorce has benefits for women on the bottom end of an unequal marriage:

In further research we uncovered evidence of a large decrease in domestic violence among states that adopted unilateral divorce laws, relative to those (like New York) which did not. This decrease was not just because abused women (and men) could more easily divorce their abusers, but also because potential abusers knew that they were more likely to be left. We found a 30 percent decline in domestic violence — an effect that could only occur if violence decreased in marriages that stayed together.

We also found that women were less likely to commit suicide when they were able to leave their marriages unilaterally. In short, we found that the adoption of these laws benefited the most vulnerable women substantially. New York can anticipate similar benefits if their no-fault divorce law passes.