No, No Fault Divorce Does Not Necessarily Mean Uncontested Divorce; Not Even Close

With 2010 legislation, New York State, the last holdout, joined the ranks of states allowing for streamlined uncontested divorces (that is, not requiring the spouses to live separately for a full year under the terms of a formal separation agreement).

Part of the landmark legislation provides a rigid statutory framework for calculating temporary alimony for a needy spouse, rather than relegating the figure largely to judicial discretion.

Only, as the law gets applied in New York’s family courts, the framework reportedly leads, not infrequently, to unreasonable results, more litigation than ever, and confusion all around.

As in this case. Investment banker Husband is divorcing his guidance counselor Wife.

Wife earns $103,000 per year. Husband nets $12,775 per month.

Based on the first pass through the rigid statutory framework, the divorce court judge orders Husband to pay Wife combined temporary child support and temporary spousal support of … $17,000 per month.

That’s right … $4,000 per month more than Husband’s net monthly pay.

An impossible situation, turned still more impossible when Husband is laid off from his Wall Street job.

Husband seeks modification of his temporary alimony and spousal support as well as his temporary child support. And is, quite incidentally, elevated to the status of symbol of all that is wrong with the new New York statutory framework for calculating temporary alimony and spousal support.

Well, the family court judge reconsiders his previous ruling and makes a huge adjustment … despite the statutory framework, based on “economic reality”, of all things.

Under the family court’s modified ruling, Husband’s temporary alimony is dramatically cut in half, and the tax burden on the temporary alimony is shifted to Wife (which is the norm). Also, Husband’s child support is reduced by about one-fifth.

And, as if those changes were not broad enough, the divorce court also orders that all household expenses of the marital residence are shifted entirely to Wife, rather than shared.

A great outcome for Husband. Not so much for Wife.

From one extreme to the other? Perhaps.

Now Wife plans to appeal.

Which may lead to New York state’s appellate courts better interpreting and clarifying the recent legislation, perhaps to ultimate good effect in New York’s family courts.

Then again, the legislation may be facing something of an overhaul based upon case law accounts from the trenches.

Read more in this Wall Street Journal article: Divorce Ruling Revised.