New York is perhaps the world capital of messy divorces, and divorce tends to be especially costly and complicated in New York. Here are the basics of what you need to know.
1. Difficult residency laws
New York has some of the longest residency requirements in the country.
Either you or your spouse has to live in the state for two years before starting a divorce proceeding. That said, there is an exception if both you and your spouse are residents of the state and the cause for your divorce happened in New York State.
2. Fault grounds remain
In New York, you can get divorced if your spouse engages in cruel and inhuman treatment, abandons you, is imprisoned, or commits adultery. These are called “fault” grounds for divorce, but for most people, there is no point in going through the expense of proving fault.
Instead, most couples use no-fault grounds for divorce. In New York, the primary no-fault ground for divorce is the “irretrievable breakdown of the relationship for a period of at least six months.”
A court can also grant a divorce after a separation of at least one year.
3. Ancillary relief
When granting a divorce, the court can also split up the property owned by a couple, award spousal maintenance (alimony) to one spouse, and address child custody and support.
These issues, called “ancillary relief” because they are secondary to the actual divorce, are usually going to be handled by a settlement agreement between the couple.
When it comes to property, the reality is that most couples do not have a lot to split up. The average household led by adults aged 35 to 44 has an average net worth of about $35,000. You cannot have each spouse hire a lawyer and fight to the bitter end over that amount of money because there will be nothing left.
Most spouses are able to come to an agreement, often just splitting the checking account down the middle. Perhaps each spouse will keep their own car and any loan on it, and maybe one spouse will keep the house and the other will get a little more cash to make up for the equity the other spouse is getting.
Children can be a little more complicated because the court must consider what is in the child’s best interest. What works best for the parents might not be best for the child, and on rare occasions, a judge might reject a couple’s parenting agreement.
When a judge has to assign custody, it can be very challenging because that decision is so intertwined with day-to-day life, it can be difficult for a judge to make a good decision.
4. Uncontested made easy
New York recognizes that many people simply want to end their marriage and move on from their spouse as easily as possible. To accommodate this, they have created a do-it-yourself “uncontested” divorce program.
This program can be used when both spouses agree about issues related to children and money.
If you have no children, the program can be very easy. You generally just need to have an agreement on the division of your property or agree not to contest a split by the court. Then you just give the court some basic information about your marriage, and the divorce judgment can be issued without any lawyers or action in court.
If you have children, the process can be a little more complicated but it can still be done without a lawyer if you agree on custody and support.