Fault-Based Divorce in New York City


In October of 2010, New York became the final state in the country to pass a law which allows no-fault divorce. Prior to this date, it was necessary for a divorcing couple to establish that one of the spouses was to blame for the failure of the marriage. This was true even in cases of entirely uncontested divorce, in which both spouses were in agreement about the decision to divorce as well as about the terms for the divorce. Now, all that is necessary is for you and your spouse to demonstrate to the family law judge that your marriage has broken down irretrievably in order for you to have your petition to divorce approved by the court. This development in New York family law has been much celebrated since it allows people in this state to get out of unhappy marriages with far less difficulty than was previously the case.

The fact that no-fault divorce is now possible, however, does not necessarily mean that it is the best option for every divorcing couple in New York City. One important thing to know about no-fault divorce is that the law requires that the couple’s marriage must have been irretrievably broken for a period of at least six months. This is in recognition of the fact that most relationships have their struggles, and that a temporary period of strife may not mean that it is time to end a marriage with the finality of divorce. If, however, you are absolutely certain that it is time to divorce, you may be better off pursuing one of the fault-based grounds.


In addition to irretrievable breakdown, New York state law provides four fault-based grounds for divorce. These include:

  • Cruel and inhuman treatment, when there has been physical, verbal or emotional abuse on a level which would make it improper or unsafe for the couple to continue living together
  • Abandonment, provided that your spouse has abandoned you for at least a year (includes constructive abandonment, which consists of refusing to participate in sexual relations)
  • Imprisonment for at least three consecutive years, whether or not the term of imprisonment began before or after the date of the marriage
  • Adultery, usually proven based on the testimony of a third party

If you can provide evidence to satisfy one of these grounds, you can obtain a divorce without having to wait for half a year before the court will approve your request. This makes it possible, for example, to divorce a spouse who has subjected you to some type of domestic violence or whom you have discovered to be cheating on you. In such cases of egregious conduct, the family law courts in New York City are ready to assist you in putting an end to the marriage with a minimum of delay.


Obtaining a faster divorce is not the only reason that you may want to pursue one of the fault-based grounds listed above. Proving fault is also often important in a contested divorce, in which the spouses are at odds over how to divide up the shared property, how to apportion child custody and rights of visitation, and whether either party should be ordered to pay spousal support. By furnishing evidence that your spouse ruined the marriage by being unfaithful, for example, you may be able to win an award of alimony or be able to keep the shared residence. Similarly, evidence that your spouse has a history of child abuse or domestic violence may be effective in winning sole custody and even denying him or her any visitation rights. Take the first step now by contacting us at the Law Offices of Andrew J. Spinnell, LLC for a free consultation with a New York City divorce attorney who will listen to your story and help you decide whether or not to pursue your divorce based on grounds of fault.