No-fault Divorce and the Residency Requirement in New York

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Residency requirements to obtain a divorce exist so that the person filing for divorce can’t simply choose the state with the laws they want, move to that state, and then sue for divorce. Those who move to New York without their spouses cannot immediately sue for divorce on the grounds that their marriages have irretrievably broken down. They must wait two years, at least according to at least one trial court in New York.  Whether Appellate Courts would agree and come to the same conclusion is an open question but this article will relay how the trial court came to it’s conclusion.

In Stancil v. Stancil, the court considered whether New York’s no-fault divorce statute created a cause that would reduce a divorcing spouse’s residency requirement from two years to one. In New York, either spouse must live in the state continuously for two years or continuously for one year when certain conditions are present. Under Domestic Relations Law § 230 (3), one condition for meeting the latter requirement is when the cause for the divorce happens within the state.

In the case, the husband lived in Virginia and objected to having a divorce in New York, since the wife had only lived there for 14 months before filing. The wife argued that the divorce could proceed in New York because the basis for the divorce was the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, and this was a cause for the divorce that happened within New York.

The parties had married in Virginia just before the husband was deployed by the Navy for half a year. Subsequently, they moved to another state for two years and had a child. The husband was deployed overseas, and the wife and child relocated to South Carolina, where her family lived. The husband returned to the country in 2003. The wife wanted to move to Virginia, where he was stationed, but according to her, the husband didn’t help her relocate because he wanted to work on his career and for her to work on her education.

Later, the wife enrolled in graduate school. The parties bought a home together in South Carolina. They visited each other in Virginia, South Carolina, or North Carolina. In 2010, the defendant left the Navy but maintained a home in Virginia. For two months, he stayed with the wife in South Carolina, but they fought, and then he stayed with her parents for two more months. He then started work in Virginia.

The wife and her child moved to New York for the wife’s internship. The husband never visited her there. Fourteen months after moving to New York, she sued on the basis of New York’s no-fault rule. The husband argued they couldn’t divorce in New York because they didn’t meet the residency requirement.

The wife argued that the cause of the divorce was the six-month irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, which occurred in New York, and that she had been living in New York for at least the year prior to suing for divorce. The court looked at whether an irretrievable breakdown counts as a “cause” for the purpose of the residency requirement. It noted that the primary interest of the legislature in creating a no-fault divorce ground was to give couples that were estranged an incontestable basis for divorcing and to stop the squabbling that arises when other grounds are raised.

The court explained that an “irretrievable breakdown” is not a specific act but is in the eye of the beholder. The court further noted that the wife had moved to New York for a graduate program, which had a limited duration, and the husband had no connection to New York. The court concluded that the legislature didn’t mean for the no-fault divorce ground to be considered a “cause” for the purpose of satisfying the residency requirement specified in Domestic Relations Law § 230 (3). The plaintiff had neither lived nor been domiciled in New York for the requisite two or more years. The court found that letting her go forward with the case on the ground of an irretrievable breakdown would render the two-year requirement meaningless. Therefore, the court dismissed the divorce action.

If you are planning to get a divorce in New York, contact the Law and Mediation Office of Darren M. Shapiro at 516-333-6555 or via our online form. Our principal Darren Shapiro is an experienced, compassionate family law attorney and mediator.

More Blog Posts:

Lawyer Fees in Divorce and Matrimonial Cases, November 23, 2015

What are the New York Divorce Residency Requirements? November 7, 2015