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ALBANY � Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye said yesterday that New York should join 49 states and adopt no-fault divorce, a position that puts her at odds with some other feminists. In her annual State of the Judiciary address, the chief judge embraced conceptually the position of the New York State Bar Association and called on the Legislature to pass no-fault legislation. Unlike the bar group, she did not advocate a particular bill. “After long and careful reflection, I have come to see that requiring strict ‘fault’ grounds may well simply intensify the bitterness between the parties, wasting resources, hurting children, driving residents to other states for a divorce and delaying the inevitable dissolution of a marriage � and I join in urging legislative review,” Chief Judge Kaye said. She added that “New York has increasingly become isolated and unique among the states in its statutory requirements.” The only grounds for divorce in New York are adultery, abandonment, cruel and inhuman treatment, conversion of a legal separation, confinement in prison for three or more years and absence for five consecutive years. A couple can obtain the equivalent of a no-fault divorce by executing a separation agreement and live apart for a year. Otherwise, they must allege fault. Yesterday’s address marked the first time the chief judge, who has described herself as a feminist, has openly advocated no-fault divorce. The powerful New York State Catholic Conference, the church’s lobbying arm, has long lobbied against any measure that would make it easier to obtain a divorce. In addition, some women’s groups, especially the National Organization for Women, fear that a no-fault statute would disadvantage wives by making it too easy for husbands to abandon a marriage on a whim. Together, NOW and the Catholic Conference successfully defeated the last serious effort to enact no-fault in 1989. The state bar group is actively lobbying for no-fault divorce, and the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York favors the concept. Chief Judge Kaye declined to recommend a particular legislative package. She said any revision of Domestic Relations Law should “scrupulously safeguard the interests of the most vulnerable litigants � especially the already disadvantaged poor and victims of domestic violence � while providing needed relief from the fault requirement.” Immediately after the address, two key lawmakers generally endorsed the proposal. Senate Judiciary Chairman John A. DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse, and Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Helene E. Weinstein, D-Brooklyn, indicated their support for divorce law reform, at least to some extent. Mr. DeFrancisco said it should be fairly easy to eliminate the requirement that divorcing parties wait a year after signing a separation agreement before they can obtain a divorce without alleging fault. “It seems to me if the parties have resolved all of the issues by themselves, there is no reason they should have to manufacture grounds to get an immediate divorce,” Mr. DeFrancisco said. “That is definitely doable, and that’s something I’d like to make sure happens this year.” Said Ms. Weinstein, “I couldn’t agree more. If the parties can agree to all the terms, I don’t see any reason to wait a year.” But Gloria Jacobs, a matrimonial lawyer in Westchester County and co-chair of NOW’s domestic relations task force, said no-fault divorce is contrary to the interests of women. She said she would be willing to compromise on the one-year post-separation waiting period but said no-fault divorce is bad for women and bad for families. “We feel that women do very badly in divorce,” Ms. Jacobs said. “We don’t think a husband should be allowed to walk out on his family, not resolve the issues and have grounds for divorce.” Ms. Jacobs predicted that a no-fault statute would increase the number of matrimonial trials by eliminating the husband’s incentive to settle. � John Caher can be reached at [email protected].

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