What are the Grounds for a Divorce in New York?
New York recognizes both “fault” and “no-fault” grounds for divorce. In a “fault” divorce, one spouse will claim that the other spouse engaged in some misconduct, which led to the divorce.
The fault grounds in New York include the following:
- cruel and inhuman treatment, such as mental or physical abuse
- abandonment for one or more years
- imprisonment for three or more years, and
These fault grounds don't typically influence a judge’s decisions regarding alimony and property division. But other types of bad behavior, such as one spouse's waste of assets, may affect an alimony award and the final distribution of assets. In addition, courts may consider more egregious misconduct, such as a history of abuse, when making custody decisions.
In a "no-fault" divorce, there is no need to point a finger or blame your spouse for the break up. You don't have to provide a specific reason for the split and can base your divorce on any of the following grounds:
- the "irretrievable breakdown" of the marriage (this is just another way of saying you and your spouse can't get along anymore) for a period of at least six months
- living apart for a period of one or more years, after a judgment of separation, or
- living apart for a period of one or more years pursuant to a separation agreement.
Can I Represent Myself?
Yes. You can represent yourself, but that’s not always the best idea. If you have a very straightforward divorce case (for example, you don’t have children, don’t have many assets to divide, don’t expect to pay or receive alimony, and agree with your spouse on most issues), you may feel fairly comfortable representing yourself.
If, however, you and your spouse can’t resolve issues on your own, or if your case involves complex financial or custody issues, it’s best to consult with an experienced family law attorney. Divorce laws regarding custody, property division, and alimony (also referred to as “spousal support” or “maintenance”) are complex. If you have a complicated case, but don’t know how to represent yourself and protect your rights, it would be wise to consult with an experienced professional.
How Long Must I Reside in New York Before I can Begin my Divorce Action?
You can file for divorce in New York if one of the following applies to your case:
- you and your spouse were married in New York, and at least one of you has been a resident of New York for at least one year before the start of the divorce
- you and your spouse resided in New York as husband and wife, and at least one of you has been a resident of New York for at least one year before the start of the divorce
- the grounds for divorce occurred in New York, and at least one of you has been a resident of New York for at least one year before the start of the divorce
- the grounds for divorce occurred in New York, and both you and your spouse are residents of New York at the start of the divorce, or
- at least one of you has been a resident of New York for at least two years immediately before the start of the divorce.
Will the Public Have Access to the Divorce Papers I File in Court?
No. In recognition of the very personal nature of divorce proceedings, New York law keeps matrimonial matters private by prohibiting the court clerks and court reporters from allowing anyone, other than spouses or their attorneys, to examine or copy any of the legal paperwork filed in divorce court (e.g., pleadings, affidavits, findings of fact, conclusions of law, judgments of dissolution, and written agreements of separation).
How Much Will a Divorce Cost?
It’s impossible to predict how much a divorce will cost, but a few things are certain. First, whether or not you represent yourself, you will have to pay court fees, which are charged every time you file a petition or other legal paperwork with the court. Check the New York State Unified Court System’s website for a current list of filing fees in New York.
Second, if you hire an attorney, you (or your spouse) will have to pay attorney’s fees. Divorce lawyers in the New York area charge hourly fees that start at around $175 per hour and go up to $450 an hour for the most experienced experts in the field.
Third, if you have substantial assets, you may need to hire experts that charge hourly rates in addition to your attorney’s fees. Experts may be necessary for the following:
- to provide advice about the financial consequences of your proposed settlement agreement
- to value your (or your spouse's) business, professional degree, professional license, retirement benefits or a pension
- to provide an appraisal of personal property such as wine, fine art, jewelry and other collectibles, or
- to provide an appraisal of real estate.
Additional expenses and costs may be incurred for transcripts (e.g., wirtten transcripts of depositions or court hearings), or for serving legal documents, such as subpoenas.
As you can see, various factors play a role in determining how much your divorce will cost. The more complex your case is, the more likely it is that you’ll need to hire an attorney and/or expert(s). And, if you and your spouse can't resolve divorce-related issues, you’ll probably end up in a costly court battle, which will certainly increase your legal fees. So, while it’s difficult to predict, most attorneys will agree that a highly-contested divorce with numerous issues or substantial assets can become quite expensive.