New York is the only state that does not currently permit no-fault divorce. But as lawmakers take steps to fall in line with the rest of America, the merit of no-fault legislation has come under question.
No-fault divorce laws allow an unhappy couple to end a marriage after six months or more without forcing them to provide evidence of wrongdoing on either side. This enables one spouse to end a marriage without needing to identify a fault, like adultery or abandonment. The first no-fault law was passed in 1969 in California, and since then, this has become the national standard. However, after the New York State Senate approved legislation on Tuesday evening that could introduce some version of no-fault divorce, several women's rights advocates have come forward to point out the problems with the seemingly freeing change.
Although some have called New York's restrictive divorce laws archaic, Betsey Stevenson, an assistant professor from the University of Pennsylvania, says that they may have an unintended effect on marital life. In a series of articles on the no-fault laws, published on the New York Times blog, Stevenson argues both sides. First, no-fault divorce may help reduce domestic violence rates by allowing battered spouses easier access to divorce. However, the legislation could also cause many women, who have given up their careers to support their husbands, to lose a substantial amount of income. Though it may be good for some, no-fault divorce could leave less-educated spouses high and dry. Unfortunately, this often means that the woman will be overcompensated for her sacrifices.
Another argument against no-fault divorce comes from Marcia Pappas from the National Organization for Women. Like Stevenson, Pappas believes that the economic disparity between men and women may end up making the new legislation work out better for one sex than the other. She writes:
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.
No-fault divorce laws can end up favoring the spouse with more money, often at the detriment of their poorer half. Currently, New York laws encourage both parties to come to an agreement, which gives the less-moneyed spouse a valuable bargaining chip. Unfortunately, more often than not, the "poorer spouse" is the woman.
So, will no-fault divorce be better for women? Yes and no. Some women will benefit, while others may be left destitute. New Yorkers have yet to decide; the package still has to pass through the State Assembly before it will be put into action. For now, one thing is clear: either way, women are at a disadvantage. As long as we make less money, have fewer career opportunities, and make up the majority of domestic violence victims, divorce will remain a fraught issue.
Is New York Ready For No-Fault Divorce? [New York Times]
NOW-NYS Says No-Fault Divorce Vote Threw Women Under The Bus [NY Daily News]