April 24, 2007 - A Nassau, NY, divorce judge recently made some waves when he refused to rule on a pending New York divorce until state legislators act on a proposed no-fault divorce law.
When hearing the pending New York divorce of Jeffrey and Paula Molinari during a one day trial on April 9th, Judge Robert A. Ross decided that he could not rule on the case until some action in the legislature is taken. In the process of his unusual decision, Ross took current New York State divorce laws to task and indicated in his disgust how the state needs to adopt a no-fault divorce law.
A no-fault divorce allows a divorce to be granted based on one party's assertion that the marriage has broken down. With that said, a Newsday.com story relayed Ross' comments that 49 states currently have no-fault divorce laws and that New York is the only one which does not.
So how can a couple get a divorce in New York? Divorce law in New York requires one party to blame the other by using one of several "fault grounds." In this specific case, Jeffrey Molinari had filed for New York divorce based on the grounds of "constructive abandonment." In other words, Jeffrey Molinari had claimed that his wife Paula refused to have sex with him for at least one year. The Newsday.com story added that this is one of the most commonly used grounds for divorce in New York.
If one party does not file for divorce based on one of several "fault grounds," New York divorce law requires both parties to agree to a complicated separation agreement and thus live apart for at least one full year.
With Jeffrey Molinari's divorce claim on grounds of "constructive abandonment" in mind, Ross said that this New York divorce case truly reveals the problems with the state's current fault-based statute. Specifically, Ross said that he would have been able to grant Jeffrey Molinari a divorce in the 49 other states without question. The Newsday.com story reported that Paula Molinari had contested her husband's divorce on several other grounds, which further complicated the matter.
Ross also indicated how this case reveals how current New York State divorce laws can lead to drawn-out divorce processes that should be resolved more quickly and would actually be so in any other state. Ken Koopersmith, Jeffrey's Molinari's New York divorce lawyer, called the marriage "dead" in the story and alleged that his client's wife was using other grounds for a divorce in New York as a means to get more money from her husband.
The proposed New York no-fault divorce law is currently pending before the judiciary committee. In his decision, Ross reserved the right to rule on this New York divorce if the state legislature fails to act on this proposed no-fault divorce law. Ross said that other issues, including financial matters, would move on in the case. He also acknowledged that his decision was intended to send a message to the legislature about the need for them to pass the pending New York no-fault divorce law.
Jeffrey Molinari's New York divorce lawyer applauded Ross' unusual decision while other legal experts called it "surprising but not unheard of" in the story. Specifically, Hofstra University Law Professor Andrew Schepard agreed with Ross' assertion that New York State divorce laws need to be changed. While describing Ross' decision to delay ruling on this New York divorce case as being "unprecedented" in the story, Schepard noted how other divorce judges have written in their decisions about the need for a no-fault divorce law in the state.
The Newsday.com story reported that calls were made to Assemblywoman Helene Weinsetin, who sponsored this year's proposed New York no-fault divorce law, and Dominic Barbara, who is Paula Molinari's New York divorce lawyer. Those calls were not returned.