Until 2010, there was no pure no-fault ground by which married spouses could obtain a divorce in New York.   However, on October 12, 2010, the New York State legislature added a true no-fault ground into New York’s domestic relation’s law (DRL) under section 170(7).

DRL 170(7) permits a divorce to be granted upon the sworn declaration of one marital party that the marriage has been “irretrievably broken down for a period of six months” – there is no defense to this claim.  Similar to many laws, this law was nuanced with questions that were yet to be answered simply by reading the black-letter law of this new amendment.  One such question was whether DRL 170(7) functioned retroactively.  The Supreme Court of Monroe County answered in the affirmative.

In a novel case before the Supreme Court of Monroe County, a wife in a divorce action objected to her estranged husband’s motion to amend his complaint in a 2009 divorce action to add a no-fault claim under DRL section 170(7), noting that the New York legislature expressly limited no-fault claims to actions commenced after its effective date.  Justice Richard A. Dollinger however disagreed, stating that the Legislature’s limitation of such a no-fault ground to actions commenced after the enactment of DRL 170(7) was satisfied by requiring that no such claim could be raised by amended complaint until six months after the effective date.

In the Justices own words:

“When the husband moves to amend his complaint to add a cause of action under Section 170(7), he does not violate the language of the statute or the intention of the Legislature. Instead, he seeks to invoke what the Legislature extended to him: a cause of action that has ripened because more than six months have passed since the date of the amendment and during that time, the husband swears that his marriage has been irretrievably broken.”

Therefore, parties that filed their action for divorce prior to the change of law can change their ground for divorce to no-fault from the previous fault ground.