Catholic bishops lament New York’s move towards ‘no-fault’ divorce

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New York Governor David Paterson.

The New York legislature has passed legislation allowing “no-fault” divorce, prompting many critics to warn that the move will undermine marriage, increase the state’s relatively low divorce rate and harm children.

The New York Assembly passed the bill by a vote of 113 to 19 on Thursday, the final day of its legislative session. The state Senate approved the law in June. Gov. David Patterson is reportedly likely to sign the bill.

Opponents of the measure include the New York Catholic Conference, whose spokesman Dennis Poust told the New York Daily News that the law “makes it easier to get out of marriage than it is to get out of a cell phone contract.”

The state chapter of the National Organization for Women also opposed the proposal, saying in a press release that victims of proven domestic violence will be told their divorce is “no fault.”

The New York State Bar Association supported the legislation on the grounds that the current law causes hardships due to the required one-year trial separation before divorce and because one spouse must accuse the other of cruel treatment, adultery or abandonment.

Assemblyman Jonathan Bing, who sponsored the bill, said it “just gives another option” and “allows couples to divorce with dignity,” the Daily News says. Current law, he argued, forces one of the spouses to be “a bad person.”

Nine New York newspapers are publishing a column opposing the bill by Mike McManus, president of the group Marriage Savers and author of the book “How to Cut America's Divorce Rate in Half.” In his column McManus notes that New York’s divorce rate is nearly America’s lowest: 38.7 percent of its marriages end in divorce, about 52,000 per year. Neighboring New Jersey’s divorce rate is 56 percent, while Connecticut’s is 60 percent.

"It is reasonable to assume that New York's adoption of no fault divorce will push its divorce rate up to that of its neighbors, yielding 76,000 - 81,000 divorces annually," he writes, claiming that the New York legislature voted for a 45 to 55 percent increase in the divorce rate.

McManus’ book proposed New York’s present marriage law as a partial solution to the high divorce rate.

His column also cites a Heritage Foundation estimate of the taxpayer cost of each divorce at $20,000 nationwide in 2004 and in New York at $25,000. If the divorce rate rose to equal Connecticut’s, taxpayers could pay another $725 million. The state currently faces a budget deficit of $8.5 billion.

In a June 15 statement the Catholic bishops of New York expressed disappointment with the state Senate’s approval of the bill, saying it would “fundamentally alter” divorce laws. The New York State Catholic Bishops’ Conference lamented that marriage has come to be seen as “disposable and temporary” and noted divorce’s negative impact on children.

“Clearly, not every marriage can be permanent. But when serious reasons exist, such as abuse, adultery or abandonment, the law provides for quick divorces,” commented conference executive director Richard E. Barnes.

He said the state has a “legitimate interest” in a waiting period for divorce where reconciliation is still feasible because of “the important place of marriage in society, particularly as it relates to the stable rearing of children.”

The Catholic Church teaches that divorce damages a sacramental marriage, gravely offends the natural law, and introduces “disorder” into the family and society.

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