Sorrentino Divorce: No-Fault

In the early part of 2012, a Long Island judge ended a 56-year marriage that he determined was “irretrievably broken,” in the first trial of a contested no-fault divorce in New York state.

Although the state’s 2010 no-fault divorce law, signed by Governor David Paterson, was intended to reduce lengthy litigation, Acting Supreme Court Justice James F. Quinn of Suffolk County, New York ruled in the case Sorrentino v. Sorrentino that Gloria Sorrentino was not entitled to a divorce from Sebastian J. Sorrentino “on her word alone.” Justice Quinn added that the evidence he heard at trial in the fall of 2011 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.

Justice Quinn noted that Mrs. Sorrentino had testified at trial that she and her husband had “not had sex for five years” and, although they live in the same house on Long Island, New York, “they [slept] in separate bedrooms and never [had] meals together.”Mrs. Sorrentino testified that she had a relationship with her children but Mr. Sorrentino didn’t, and they “have no common friends.” Also,  she said that her husband had not taken her to the doctor for five years nor had he asked about her health in ten or more, although she “[had] serious medical problems.” She also testified that Mr. Sorrentino had “denied her access to her jewelry for 25 years, did not pay for her dental bills and failed to repair the air conditioner or the refrigerator,” Justice Quinn wrote.

Mrs. Sorrentino told Justice Quinn that “she [had] no hope for the marriage, that [Mr. Sorrentino] failed to live up to his obligations and that her only wish “[was] for a divorce so that she [could] have one-half of the marital assets and leave them to her four children” after she died.

Mr. Sorrentino denied the allegations of his wife and a daughter who testified that her father was “argumentative” and had been arrested once after assaulting his wife. He insisted that he “took his vows of marriage seriously” and “worked hard to acquire everything they had,” and that only after his wife had an abortion he “no longer had a relationship with her.”

The New York Domestic Relations Law added the no-fault divorce option as a ground for divorce to six existing fault-based grounds (abandonment, cruel and inhuman treatment, adultery, imprisonment, and a one-year separation by court judgment or agreement), the last state to do so. The no-fault divorce provision can be used where “the relationship between husband and wife has broken down irretrievably for a period of at least six months, provided that one party has so stated under oath.” The statute also requires that “all outstanding financial issues and other matters between the spouses, such as child custody and visitation, be settled before they can terminate their marriages.”

But Justice Quinn wrote in the Sorrentino case that the state legislature’s approval of the no-fault divorce option “did not necessarily settle the issue raised when only one party wants a divorce,” and “it is interesting to note that the legislature wanted to create a no-fault provision, but maintained all six other grounds for divorce in the statute,” he wrote in the Jan. 12 ruling. “It appears that New York is a quasi-no-fault divorce state based upon the availability of grounds, and no-fault divorce provisions.” Later a Nassau County, New York  judge ruled that a spouse’s declaration that a marriage is “irretrievably broken” is all that is needed to trigger the no-fault divorce divorce statute.


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