No-Fault Divorce: New York

On August 15, 2010, Governor David Paterson signed no-fault divorce into law in New York state, rounding out all fifty states with that provision. A no-fault divorce gives couples an option for severing their marriage quickly, at lower cost, and with much less heartache that a drawn-out divorce court proceeding.

Before 2010, New York only recognized divorces upon fault-based criteria, though the spouses could agree to enter into a separation and have the separation agreement or judgment be the further basis for a divorce after living apart for a year. They might also agree to an uncontested divorce as long as one of the parties were willing to allege, or claim, one of the fault based grounds or if  the required separation agreement or judgment were obtained. Governor Paterson made no-fault grounds law, but it was several months before it was implemented.

Early this year, an 79 year-old Long Island woman past her Golden Anniversary was granted what is  commonly regarded as the first New York no-fault divorce ever granted.

Gloria Sorrentino said she wanted out of her 56-year marriage to Sebastian J. Sorrentino on the grounds their marriage was “irretrievably broken.” But her husband insisted he wanted to remain married, and claimed that two of their four children were pressuring Mrs. Sorrentino to seek a divorce, according to a story in the New York Post.

Although the state’s 2010 no-fault divorce law was intended to reduce lengthy divorce cases, acting New York Supreme Court Justice James F. Quinn in Suffolk County initially ruled that Mrs. Sorrentino was not entitled to a divorce from Mr. Sorrentino “on her word alone,” but Justice Quinn added that the evidence he heard at trial last fall had convinced him that the marriage was “beyond redemption.”

“It is this Court’s determination that the parties’ relationship has so deteriorated irretrievably for a period in excess of six months and that the defenses of fraud, and undue influence, and incapacity were without merit, and that all other economic issues having been previously resolved by way of agreement and on file with the court, the plaintiff is entitled to a judgment of absolute divorce,” Justice Quinn wrote in Sorrentino vs. Sorrentino.

Mrs. Sorrentino, Justice Quinn wrote, testified that they “have not had marital relations in excess of five years, and although they live in the same house, they sleep in separate bedrooms, and never have meals together.” The Dix Hills, Long Island couple also “[spent] no holidays together and [shared] no common friends,” and only the she socialized with their children, Mrs. Sorrentino testified. And even though she was “in poor health,” her husband, she testified,  “[had] not taken her to her doctor’s appointments in the last five years, nor [had] he asked about her health for the past ten years.”

“The plaintiff testified that she has no hope for the marriage … and that her only wish is for a divorce so that she can have one-half of her marital assets and leave them to her four children before her demise,” according to court papers.

Sebastian Sorrentino said he “worked hard to acquire everything the parties had” and didn’t want to lose it in a divorce.

The case is regarded as a landmark, as it’s the first time the no-fault divorce provision was used to dissolve a marriage in New York state.


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