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Your New York Divorce: The Basics

It’s been said of New York City, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” Unfortunately, you couldn’t make your marriage work. Whether your relationship was over in a New York minute or lasted as long as the Broadway run of Cats, it’s important for you to know how to file for divorce in the Big Apple. This article has basic information about divorce law in New York City.

Do You or Your Spouse Live in New York?

You and/or your spouse must be a resident of New York State for a certain period of time before you can file for divorce here. The exact time requirement depends on your individual circumstances, but in most cases, it is a minimum of one or two years.

What is the Legal Reason for Your Divorce?

Often, a spouse filing for divorce will claim “no fault” or “irretrievable breakdown of the relationship” as the legal reason for the divorce. Claiming “no fault” means the marriage has been “broken” for at least 6 months and cannot be fixed. When using this legal justification, there is no requirement to specify why the relationship failed.

You may choose to claim one of the following legal grounds instead, but they require a showing that your spouse is at fault for the end of the marriage and you are innocent of wrongdoing:

  • Cruel and inhuman treatment (abuse);
  • Abandonment (for at least one year);
  • Imprisonment of your spouse (for at least three continuous years);
  • Adultery; or
  • Living apart with a Legal Separation Agreement.

What Types of Orders Can a Judge Make as Part of a Divorce?

  • Child Support: One spouse may be ordered to pay child support to the other spouse to help provide for the basic necessities of the couple’s children. Payments are determined using a formula that takes into consideration the number of children and each parent’s income.
  • Child Custody and Visitation: A judge will decide child custody and visitation issues, including a child’s primary residence and who will be responsible for making decision about the child’s upbringing. The judge’s orders will be based on the best interests of the child.
  • Spousal Support: During the divorce proceedings and after final judgment, one spouse may be ordered to pay spousal support to the other spouse. A judge has discretion when awarding the amount of support after divorce.
  • Division of property: A judge will divide marital property using “equitable division” based on an evaluation of several factors. That means one spouse could receive more than half of the property in certain situations.
  • A change of name: Many spouses change their last name after marriage and a judge can restore your birth name or previous name.
  • Order of protection: When you fear for your safety, you can file a written request for an order of protection or ask the judge during a court appearance.
  • Payment of legal fees: If one spouse cannot afford to pay for an attorney, the judge may order the spouse with a higher income or more assets to pay for all or part of the other spouse’s legal fees.

What if I Don’t Want to Go to Court?

Where there is no history of abuse or domestic violence, you may consider divorce mediation or collaborative law. These programs are designed to help you and your spouse come to an agreement on the issues related to your divorce. If you are able to reach a settlement, you can proceed with an “uncontested” divorce, which may reduce the number of times you need to go to court.

Where Do I Go to File For a Divorce?

The Supreme Court of the State of New York handles all divorce cases. You file paperwork with the Clerk of the County Court located at 60 Centre Street. If you are planning to represent yourself in an uncontested divorce, you can use the Supreme Court Uncontested Divorce DIY Program.

Once you file the paperwork it is very important to follow proper procedures to make sure your spouse receives a copy. Instructions for filling out the paperwork and giving a copy to your spouse can be found in the Uncontested Divorce Packet.

How Much Does it Cost to File for Divorce?

As of 2014, it costs a minimum of $335 to file for an uncontested divorce. If you have a contested divorce, there are additional fees associated with required court conferences and hearings.

A court may waive the fees if you file a sworn statement with the matrimonial clerk saying you are unable to pay. A sample of a sworn statement can be found at the Office of the Self-Represented located in Room 116 at 60 Centre Street.

What If My Spouse Does Not Agree to the Divorce?

Your spouse has limited time to respond to the divorce notice once he or she is properly served with the paperwork. You can proceed with your case by seeking a default divorce if your spouse does not respond within the required time period.

If your spouse objects to the legal reason for your divorce or with the orders you have requested from the judge, you will receive a notice that your spouse is contesting the divorce. A contested divorce has important deadlines and court dates, so it is critical to respond to the notice on time.

You may want to consider consulting an experienced family law attorney to help you with a contested divorce. If you qualify on income requirements, you may be able to receive help from the Legal Aid Society at 212-577-3300.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Divorce?

Each case is different, but it usually takes six months to finalize an uncontested divorce. It is important to fill out paperwork correctly so as to not delay the process.

A contested divorce typically will take much longer than six months and could take a couple of years. The duration depends primarily on the number of issues about which you and your spouse disagree.

New York City does not require you to hire an attorney to complete your divorce, but many divorces are complicated and emotionally difficult. An attorney can help explain the law and your rights and recommend the best legal strategy for your case.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Divorces are tough and a lawyer can seek the best outcome
  • A lawyer can help protect your children's interests
  • Divorce lawyers can secure alimony, visitation rights, and property division

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