By Olivia Scheck
MANHATTAN — New Yorkers who can't agree with their spouses about anything — including whether or not to get divorced — will soon be able to end marriages unilaterally, under a no-fault divorce bill passed by the state Assembly on Thursday.
New York would become the last of all 50 states to allow married partners to divorce without first establishing a breach of the marital contract in family court, according to a statement from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
But the historic legislation, which requires the governor's approval, was not the only development in Albany Thursday. State legislators, who have yet to complete the long overdue budget, also managed to pass a bill establishing workers' rights for domestic employees and another allowing midwives to deliver babies without first obtaining a written partnership with a doctor or hospital.
Advocates of the no-fault divorce bill predicted that it would save wannabe divorcées time and money. New York couples are currently required to separate for one year or demonstrate that one partner is guilty of adultery, abandonment, or cruel or inhuman treatment before they can officially end their marriages.
They also said the bill would end the practice of institutionalized perjury, in which couples falsely claim that their marriage contract has been breached, and allow for more amicable break ups.
The legislation, which had to be taken off the floor for lack of support 20 years ago, passed the Assembly by a vote of 113 to 19, the New York Times noted.
“I’m gratified and pleasantly surprised by how broad the support was,” the bill's lead sponsor, Manhattan Assemblyman Jonathan L. Bing, said in the statement. “Especially for lower-income individuals and victims of domestic violence, it will allow them to leave relationships that have clearly run their course. It would also give couples that want to end their marriages amicably a way to do so that they do not currently have under the law.”
The Roman Catholic Church opposed the measure, warning that it would increase the divorce rate within the state, while the National Organization for Women said it would make it easier for wealthy men who divorce their wives to hide assets, according to the New York Post.
The domestic workers bill was also not without detractors, the Times said, noting that sponsors were forced to drop certain provisions in order for it to gain passage.
In it's final form, the bill would establish a 40-hour work week for domestic employees (44 for live-in workers), entitle them to disability benefits and give them access to workplace sexual harassment laws, according to a statement by the Assembly.
Giving licensed midwives the right to practice without a written partnership with a doctor or hospital will have significant implications for Manhattan residents.
The issue came to the fore earlier this year, when the closing of St. Vincent's Hospital left many of the midwives who had been partnered with the institution unable to work.
With passage of the law, those midwives will be able to deliver babies whether or not their affiliated with a doctor or hospital, worrying some physicians, but pleasing many Manhattan women who prefer to give birth in non-medical environment.