Back in June of 2010, New York became the 50th and last state to pass some form of No-Fault Divorce Legislation, 40 years after that of California. What with the recent debates over same-sex marriage and, now, polygamy have raised questions about the nature of marriage and how the institution of marriage has evolved over time. Progressives generally favor a more expansive and inclusive definition of marriage, with the institution adapting to changing social conditions. Conservatives warn that there could be negative and unforeseen consequences to these changes, and that therefore we should tread lightly when it comes to modifying such an esteemed human institution.
However, it is possible that both sides are ignoring a much older and more consequential change to our marriage laws. Since 1969, all the states, one by one, have reformed their family law codes to allow for no-fault divorce. Traditionally, American courts would only grant a divorce after establishing that one party had committed a breach of the marital contract. No-fault divorce, in contrast, is dissolution of marriage that does not require a showing of wrongdoing by either party.
A Brief History of No-fault Divorce
The earliest known examples of no-fault divorces occurred in Russia shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution. The decrees providing for no-fault divorce were seen at the time as revolutionary attempts to deemphasize marriage in the Soviet Union. In the United States, the Sexual Revolution, feminist movement, and anti-establishment sentiment of the 1960s helped place the idea of no-fault divorce on the political agenda.
In 1967, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws was tasked with drafting a uniform marriage and divorce code for consideration by state legislatures. The various drafts of the NCCUSL’s uniform code all liberalized the current divorce laws on the books in most states. This code had no binding impact on state legislatures, but was deeply influential on family law statutes from the time it was first drafted.
Two years after the NCCUSL began meeting, the California state legislature passed the California Family Law Act of 1969. The Act was signed into law by Governor Ronald Reagan on January 1, 1970, and included a provision allowing for dissolution of marriage when one party cited irreconcilable differences. This effectively made California the first state to allow for no-fault divorce and as previously mentioned, 40 years later, in 2010, New York became the last state in the US to pass a no-fault divorce statute.
While there are still some who argue against no-fault divorce, it is now the law of the land in California and the rest of the country. There is no question that it has made divorce easier, particularly for those who lack power or control in their respective marriages. Continue reading →