In which I get political
I’m no fan of David Paterson, but I think his one lasting legacy for the kids of New York State will be his having signed the no-fault divorce law, and that makes him a hero for children. NY State was the only state (the only state, think about that) that forced divorcing parties to list a reason that was compelling enough for the state to grant them a divorce. There were only six reasons, and some of those were pretty gruesome (“cruel and inhuman treatment,” confinement in prison, and the always-popular adultery). You could, technically, get a divorce that didn’t force anyone to make accusations, but the only way to do that was to go through the entire process of writing and signing a settlement (which anyone who’s done it knows is the emotional and logistical equivalent of birthing twins through your nasal passages) and then you sign a separation agreement which you sit on for a full year and only then can convert into an actual, legal divorce. Which means it could take 3-4 years for the divorce to be final.
Groups that lobbied for keeping fault-based divorce claimed that allowing no-fault divorce would allow couples to rush into divorce, or would allow one party to divorce another unwilling party. I think that’s all theory. Of all the people I’ve known who got divorced and had kids, all of us went through years of anguish over the decision before we made any move toward a final decision or making it legal. This whole myth of “oh, la la la, things are better on the other side” is, I feel, yet another myth perpetrated by moviemakers and magazines. Talk to some real moms and dads who had to ruin their kids lives to save them from repeating the same dysfunction for another generation. We didn’t take that lightly. And you can’t divorce someone without their consent.
What fault-based divorce did that hurt children probably more than we all will ever know is force the parents not only to protect their own reasonable interests (and by extension, their children’s interests–it does not benefit children to have one parent destitute while the other is wealthy, nor does it benefit the children to have a non-abusive parent with limited access to the children) but to assume a truly adversarial stance toward the other parent. Even if you mediated your divorce, as LOD and I did, there was no way to accept equal blame and just spit and shake on our decision. One of us was going to have to file against the other. In a legal, public document, one of us had to accuse the other of having done something horrible.
How could that NOT affect our process?
How could that NOT affect the way we felt about our children’s other parent?
We couldn’t even begin to heal or to co-parent effectively until the albatross of blame was out of the way. Imagine how much better things would have been, how much more cordial at drop-off and pick-up, things could have been if the law didn’t force us to assign blame and make accusations? (I think it’s telling that a prominent NY State divorce lawyer wrote his first blog piece for HuffPo Divorce about how no-fault divorce is better. Presumably he’d make more money with fault-only divorce, so his endorsement of no-fault tells me it really is bad for kids and families if he’s willing to give up profit.)
I am so happy that all the kids whose parents are going to divorce in New York State from now on will have a chance to have parents who can use the process of divorce to work toward creating a parenting relationship that’s better than their marriage ever was. Yes, there are still going to be immature and selfish couples who can’t work together to divorce any more than they could to be married. And there will still be situations in which one party really is to blame. But there aren’t going to be kids whose parents are pushed by the law to hate each other when they don’t really. And that’s a win for everyone.