Posts Tagged ‘no-fault’

Statute of Limitations and No-Fault Divorce

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

Since no-fault divorce became law in New York State almost 2 years ago, it was still unclear whether a statute of limitations would apply to to a cause of action under Domestic Relations Law §170(7), specifically, allegations that the relationship between the parties was irretrievably broken. Basically, this question can be asked in this way: from what date does the clock begin to run on this cause of action and when does the clock expire?  The answer was recently given by the Appellate Division, Fourth Department.

In a recent case, Tuper v. Tuper, 2012 N.Y. Slip Op 04467 (4th Dept. 2012), the Appellate Division held that the statute of limitations under DRL §170(7) does not begin to run while the relationship between the parties remain broken.  Specifically, the court held that a cause of action for divorce under the no-fault statute should be treated similarly to a cause of action for divorce based upon imprisonment of a spouse (DRL §170 (3), which is also governed by the five-year statute of limitations set forth in section 210).  In holding so, the Fourth Department relied upon the Court of Appeals’ decision in Covington v. Walker, 3 N.Y.3d 287, 291 (2004), which held that a cause of action for divorce based on imprisonment “continues to arise anew for statute of limitations purposes on each day the defendant spouse remains in prison for three or more consecutive years’ until the defendant is released.” The Appellate Division stated that “[l]ike a spouse serving a life sentence, an irretrievable breakdown in a married couple’s relationship is a continuing state of affairs that, by definition, will not change. After all, the breakdown is “irretrievable.” It thus stands to reason that a cause of action under the no-fault statute may be commenced at any time after the marriage has been “broken down irretrievably for a period of at least six months”.

I think that this is the correct result.  Alternatively, a contrary ruling would force a spouse to unwillingly remain in a dead marriage. If the accrual date of a no-fault cause of action were to be determined to arise only on the day that the relationship initially became irretrievably broken, assuming that an exact date could even be identified, the only couples who could get divorced under the no-fault statute would be those whose relationships irretrievably broke down within the past five years but not within the last six months. Couples whose relationships irretrievably broke down more than five years ago would have to remain married.  Clearly, the New York Legislature did not intend such result in passing the no-fault statute.

Can a Divorce on No-Fault Grounds Be Opposed?

Saturday, April 9th, 2011

One question that so far has not been resolved with any degree of certainty by the courts is whether in a divorce action brought pursuant to the new no-fault divorce statute requires specific proof that the parties’ marriage was irretrievably broken for a period of six months or longer. It is an important question since in the past divorce attorneys were able to challenge grounds for divorce and force plaintiffs to establish that there were adequate grounds for divorce. In a significant number of cases, grounds trials were held for economic reasons, i.e., the monied spouse did not want to divide assets and/or pay spousal maintenance.

Six months after the no-fault statute was enacted by the New York’s legislature, we are learning that the courts are divided on this issue, with some courts requiring proof that the marriage was actually irretrievably broken for a period of six months or longer, and with some courts holding that there is no defense to the no-fault grounds.

In Strack v. Strack, 2011 N.Y. Slip. Op. 21033 (Sup. Ct. Essex Co. 2011), the court held that the question of whether the marriage was irretrievably broken was a question of fact requiring a trial.

The facts in Strack are as follows. The parties were married on May 25, 1963 and plaintiff sought a divorce based upon the no-fault grounds contained within Domestic Relations Law §170 (7). Defendant moved to dismiss the complaint, contending (1) that the complaint lacked specificity; (2) that the conduct alleged in the complaint was barred by the five-year statute of limitations; and (3) that the complaint failed to state a cause of action for divorce under Domestic Relations Law §170 (7).

Effective relative to actions commenced on or after October 12, 2010, Domestic Relations Law §170 (7) permits divorce where “[t]he 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.” This additional ground for divorce has given parties the option of securing a divorce without alleging fault.

Here, the allegations in the complaint were as follows:

The relationship between husband and wife has broken down such that it is irretrievable and has been for a period of at least six months. For a period of time greater than six months, Defendant and Plaintiff have had no emotion in their marriage, and have kept largely separate social schedules and vacation schedules. Each year Plaintiff and Defendant live separately throughout most of the winter months. Though they share the residence for several months out of the year, Plaintiff and Defendant have not lived as husband and wife for a period of time greater than six months. Plaintiff believes the relationship between she and Defendant has broken down such that it is irretrievable and that the relationship has been this way for a period of time greater than six months.

Having decided that the above allegations stated a cause of action and were not barred by the statute of limitations, the court stated that Domestic Relations Law §170 (7) is not a panacea for those hoping to avoid a trial. Rather, it is simply a new cause of action subject to the same rules of practice governing the subdivisions which have preceded it. By referring to Domestic Relations Law §173 which provides that “[i]n an action for divorce there is a right to trial by jury of the issues of the grounds for granting the divorce” and, here, the Legislature failed to include anything in Domestic Relations Law §170 (7) to suggest that the grounds contained therein are exempt from this right to trial.  The court further held that since the phrase “broken down such that it is irretrievable” is nowhere defined in the statute, the determination of whether a breakdown of a marriage is irretrievable is a question to be determined by the finder of fact.

In a more recent decision, A.C. v. D.R., 2011 N.Y Slip. Op. 21113 (Sup. Ct. Nassau Co. 2011), the court held that once the plaintiff makes a sworn allegation that the marriage had irretrievably broken down, a trial not required, and there is no defense to the action. The court held that the only requirement to satisfy the no-fault ground for divorce is a party’s sworn statement alleging that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. Specifically, the court stated:

It is sufficient that one or both of the parties subjectively decide that their marriage is over and there is no hope for reconciliation.  In other words, a plaintiff’s self-serving declaration about his or her state of mind is all that is required for the dissolution of a marriage on grounds that it is irretrievably broken.

As the no-fault statute requires, in order for a judgment of divorce to be entered, all the issues relating to the divorce, including equitable distribution, maintenance, child custody and support need to be resolved before a party can be granted a divorce.

While I am not aware of the court decisions on this issue here in Rochester, I hope that the courts will grant divorce solely on the party’s subjective allegation that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. Since the trial courts are split on the issue, it is likely that appellate courts will have to address this issue eventually.  I hope that the holding of the more recent case will be widely adopted follwint he Legislature’s intent in creating a true no-fault divorce in New York.

Another Update On No-Fault Divorce In New York

Monday, July 5th, 2010

I have previously written about the slow progress of no-fault divorce legislation though New York’s Senate and Assembly here and here. Finally, it appears that New York is on the cusp of passing no-fault divorce law and joining the rest of the country.

On July 1, 2010, the Assembly passed no-fault divorce bill, which previously was approved in the Senate. If signed by Gov. David Paterson, New York would no longer be the only state that doesn’t allow no-fault divorce.

Under no-fault divorce, couples would be allowed to divorce after six months and the resolution of all financial issues. They would not have to prove fault, such as abandonment or adultery, or develop a separation agreement and live apart for at least a year in order to get divorced. Proponents said the changes would save time and money and court resources.

The Assembly and Senate previously approved two other bills related to no-fault divorce. One would require counsel fees to be awarded at the beginning of a divorce process and the other would address issues related to spousal support. The measure dealing with spousal support would establish temporary spousal maintenance while the divorce proceeding is pending, revise factors for final maintenance awards and require the Law Revision Commission to study the economic consequences of divorce and maintenance actions.

While the elimination of marital fault is extremely important and would greatly benefit people seeking divorce here in Rochester and elsewhere in New York State, it is the bill dealing with temporary spousal support that is likely to present some significant legal issues if it becomes law.

The bill is interesting since unlike the existing law regarding temporary spousal support, it utilizes a formula to calculate a temporary spousal support award. The amount of spousal support and its duration are calculated on the basis of a formula as follows:

3 5-A. TEMPORARY MAINTENANCE AWARDS. A. EXCEPT WHERE THE PARTIES HAVE
4 ENTERED INTO AN AGREEMENT PURSUANT TO SUBDIVISION THREE OF THIS PART
5 PROVIDING FOR MAINTENANCE, IN ANY MATRIMONIAL ACTION THE COURT SHALL
6 MAKE ITS AWARD FOR TEMPORARY MAINTENANCE PURSUANT TO THE PROVISIONS OF
7 THIS SUBDIVISION.
8 B. FOR PURPOSES OF THIS SUBDIVISION, THE FOLLOWING DEFINITIONS SHALL
9 BE USED:
10 (1) “PAYOR” SHALL MEAN THE SPOUSE WITH THE HIGHER INCOME.
11 (2) “PAYEE” SHALL MEAN THE SPOUSE WITH THE LOWER INCOME.
12 (3) “LENGTH OF MARRIAGE” SHALL MEAN THE PERIOD FROM THE DATE OF
13 MARRIAGE UNTIL THE DATE OF COMMENCEMENT OF ACTION.
14 (4) “INCOME” SHALL MEAN:
15 (A) INCOME AS DEFINED IN THE CHILD SUPPORT STANDARDS ACT AND CODIFIED
16 IN SECTION TWO HUNDRED FORTY OF THIS ARTICLE AND SECTION FOUR HUNDRED
17 THIRTEEN OF THE FAMILY COURT ACT; AND
18 (B) INCOME FROM INCOME PRODUCING PROPERTY TO BE DISTRIBUTED PURSUANT
19 TO SUBDIVISION FIVE OF THIS PART.
20 (5) “INCOME CAP” SHALL MEAN UP TO AND INCLUDING FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND
21 DOLLARS OF THE PAYOR’S ANNUAL INCOME; PROVIDED, HOWEVER, BEGINNING JANU-
22 ARY THIRTY-FIRST, TWO THOUSAND TWELVE AND EVERY TWO YEARS THEREAFTER,
23 THE PAYOR’S ANNUAL INCOME AMOUNT SHALL INCREASE BY THE PRODUCT OF THE

EXPLANATION–Matter in ITALICS (underscored) is new; matter in brackets
[ ] is old law to be omitted.
LBD17166-10-0
A. 10984–B 2

1 AVERAGE ANNUAL PERCENTAGE CHANGES IN THE CONSUMER PRICE INDEX FOR ALL
2 URBAN CONSUMERS (CPI-U) AS PUBLISHED BY THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF
3 LABOR BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS FOR THE TWO YEAR PERIOD ROUNDED TO THE
4 NEAREST ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS. THE OFFICE OF COURT ADMINISTRATION SHALL
5 DETERMINE AND PUBLISH THE INCOME CAP.
6 (6) “GUIDELINE AMOUNT OF TEMPORARY MAINTENANCE” SHALL MEAN THE SUM
7 DERIVED BY THE APPLICATION OF PARAGRAPH C OF THIS SUBDIVISION.
8 (7) “GUIDELINE DURATION” SHALL MEAN THE DURATIONAL PERIOD DETERMINED
9 BY THE APPLICATION OF PARAGRAPH D OF THIS SUBDIVISION.
10 (8) “PRESUMPTIVE AWARD” SHALL MEAN THE GUIDELINE AMOUNT OF THE TEMPO-
11 RARY MAINTENANCE AWARD FOR THE GUIDELINE DURATION PRIOR TO THE COURT’S
12 APPLICATION OF ANY ADJUSTMENT FACTORS AS PROVIDED IN SUBPARAGRAPH ONE OF
13 PARAGRAPH E OF THIS SUBDIVISION.
14 (9) “SELF-SUPPORT RESERVE” SHALL MEAN THE SELF-SUPPORT RESERVE AS
15 DEFINED IN THE CHILD SUPPORT STANDARDS ACT AND CODIFIED IN SECTION TWO
16 HUNDRED FORTY OF THIS ARTICLE AND SECTION FOUR HUNDRED THIRTEEN OF THE
17 FAMILY COURT ACT.
C. THE COURT SHALL DETERMINE THE GUIDELINE AMOUNT OF TEMPORARY MAINTE-
19 NANCE IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE PROVISIONS OF THIS PARAGRAPH AFTER DETER-
20 MINING THE INCOME OF THE PARTIES:
21 (1) WHERE THE PAYOR’S INCOME IS UP TO AND INCLUDING THE INCOME CAP:
22 (A) THE COURT SHALL SUBTRACT TWENTY PERCENT OF THE INCOME OF THE PAYEE
23 FROM THIRTY PERCENT OF THE INCOME UP TO THE INCOME CAP OF THE PAYOR.
24 (B) THE COURT SHALL THEN MULTIPLY THE SUM OF THE PAYOR’S INCOME UP TO
25 AND INCLUDING THE INCOME CAP AND ALL OF THE PAYEE’S INCOME BY FORTY
26 PERCENT.
27 (C) THE COURT SHALL SUBTRACT THE INCOME OF THE PAYEE FROM THE AMOUNT
28 DERIVED FROM CLAUSE (B) OF THIS SUBPARAGRAPH.
29 (D) THE GUIDELINE AMOUNT OF TEMPORARY MAINTENANCE SHALL BE THE LOWER
30 OF THE AMOUNTS DETERMINED BY CLAUSES (A) AND (C) OF THIS SUBPARAGRAPH;
31 IF THE AMOUNT DETERMINED BY CLAUSE (C) OF THIS SUBPARAGRAPH IS LESS THAN
32 OR EQUAL TO ZERO, THE GUIDELINE AMOUNT SHALL BE ZERO DOLLARS.
33 (2) WHERE THE INCOME OF THE PAYOR EXCEEDS THE INCOME CAP:
34 (A) THE COURT SHALL DETERMINE THE GUIDELINE AMOUNT OF TEMPORARY MAIN-
35 TENANCE FOR THAT PORTION OF THE PAYOR’S INCOME THAT IS UP TO AND INCLUD-
36 ING THE INCOME CAP ACCORDING TO SUBPARAGRAPH ONE OF THIS PARAGRAPH, AND,
37 FOR THE PAYOR’S INCOME IN EXCESS OF THE INCOME CAP, THE COURT SHALL
38 DETERMINE ANY ADDITIONAL GUIDELINE AMOUNT OF TEMPORARY MAINTENANCE
39 THROUGH CONSIDERATION OF THE FOLLOWING FACTORS:
40 (I) THE LENGTH OF THE MARRIAGE;
41 (II) THE SUBSTANTIAL DIFFERENCES IN THE INCOMES OF THE PARTIES;
42 (III) THE STANDARD OF LIVING OF THE PARTIES ESTABLISHED DURING THE
43 MARRIAGE;
44 (IV) THE AGE AND HEALTH OF THE PARTIES;
45 (V) THE PRESENT AND FUTURE EARNING CAPACITY OF THE PARTIES;
46 (VI) THE NEED OF ONE PARTY TO INCUR EDUCATION OR TRAINING EXPENSES;
47 (VII) THE WASTEFUL DISSIPATION OF MARITAL PROPERTY;
48 (VIII) THE TRANSFER OR ENCUMBRANCE MADE IN CONTEMPLATION OF A MATRIMO-
49 NIAL ACTION WITHOUT FAIR CONSIDERATION;
50 (IX) THE EXISTENCE AND DURATION OF A PRE-MARITAL JOINT HOUSEHOLD OR A
51 PRE-DIVORCE SEPARATE HOUSEHOLD;
52 (X) ACTS BY ONE PARTY AGAINST ANOTHER THAT HAVE INHIBITED OR CONTINUE
53 TO INHIBIT A PARTY’S EARNING CAPACITY OR ABILITY TO OBTAIN MEANINGFUL
54 EMPLOYMENT. SUCH ACTS INCLUDE BUT ARE NOT LIMITED TO ACTS OF DOMESTIC
55 VIOLENCE AS PROVIDED IN SECTION FOUR HUNDRED FIFTY-NINE-A OF THE SOCIAL
56 SERVICES LAW;

In some respects, having a formula creates some predictability with respect to temporary spousal support awards that has been missing in the present law. At the same time, the blind application of the formula is likely to cause a different set of problems. If the bill passes, how these provisions are going to be interpreted by the courts is somewhat uncertain. As far as the divorce lawyers are concerned, this is likely to force divorce lawyers to spend even more time counseling clients with respect to temporary spousal support and post-divorce spousal support issues.