|NEW YORK - Getting a divorce in New York will become
easier, speedier and less adversarial with new reforms to be announced
by the Unified Court System. The new program will help alleviate the emotional
trauma of disintegrating families, protect the best interests of the children
and preserve family resources by expediting the divorce process. A press
conference announcing these new initiatives will held on Wednesday,
December 9, at 10 A.M. at 60 Centre Street, Room 345, in Manhattan.
The court system has already realized dramatic reductions in processing
divorce cases since 1993 when new matrimonial rules and various measures
to streamline court operations were implemented, including creating specialized
matrimonial court parts, promoting early case management and appointing
an administrative judge to monitor matrimonial matters statewide. In New
York City, the courts have achieved:
These dramatic reductions have been attained despite the fact that annual
case filings have increased by 12% during this same time period.
A 57% reduction in the number of pending divorce cases
A 49% drop in the average age of all pending cases, from 854 days
to 433 days
Outside of New York City, the number of pending divorce cases has
been reduced by 12%, while filings have increased 20%.
Unified Court System's New Matrimonial Reforms
Sensitizes parents to the effects of divorce on children and helps them
communicateeffectively about decisions affecting their children. Programs
in New York City, sponsored by the New York County Lawyers Association,
Hofstra University School of Law and the New York Society for the Prevention
of Cruelty to Children, are being instituted this month, and other programs,
also sponsored by Hofstra, presently exist in Rochester, Buffalo, Nassau,
Suffolk, Queens, Orange and Westchester Counties. Legislation to make these
programs mandatory throughout the state is currently being proposed.
Mandatory Parental Education Programs in Custody and Visitation Cases
Makes law guardians and mental health professionals eligible for appointment
by the court after they undergo certification and training and have been
approved by the Appellate Division. Under the leadership of 1st
Department Presiding Justice Alfred D. Lerner, a committeeco-chaired by
Associate Justice Betty Weinberg Ellerin is drafting appropriate rules
to implement this program in New York and Bronx Counties by early 1999.
Certification of Law Guardians and Mental Health Professionals
Features social workers with a background in divorce and family law who
can help families resolve custody, visitation and relocation disputes.
The hiring process for the social workers has already begun, and these
programs will start in New York City, Long Island and Westchester, Orange,
Putnam, Dutchess and Rockland Counties by early next year to be expanded
statewide in the future.
Assisted Resolution of Child Custody and Visitation Issues
Uses volunteer lawyers with expertise in family law as neutral evaluators
to assess disputes with a view toward settlement rather than litigation.
Neutral evaluation programs have been established in New York, Nassau and
Orange Counties, and by early 1999 new programs will begin in Brooklyn,
Queens and Suffolk County.
Expanded Neutral Evaluation Programs
Assigns acting Supreme Court Justices to handle all aspects of divorce
cases, including custody, support and family offenses (typically, the various
matters involved in a divorce are parceled out to as many as three different
courts - Supreme, Family and County Courts - due to the different jurisdictions
of each). This program, which serves as an example of the streamlined court
structure sought under the Unified Court System's current restructuring
proposal, has been successfully implemented in the Fourth Judicial District
(which comprises 11 counties in the northeastern part of New York State)
and will be expanded throughout the entire district by early 1999. In New
York City, a similar pilot program will be implemented in Brooklyn and
Manhattan by the early part of next year.
Unified Family-Matrimonial Divisions
Schedules early conferences in all contested matrimonial cases to encourage
and facilitate the early resolution of non-complex cases. Stipulations
worked out during these conferences bring these matters to an end officially,
eliminating lengthy and costly motion practice. This program, which has
been implemented successfully in Erie, Monroe and Ulster Counties, will
be expanded into Steuben, Livingston, Yates, Ontario, Seneca, Cayuga and
Wayne Counties by early 1999.
Matrimonial Screening Parts to Encourage Early Resolution of Cases
Reduces unnecessary motion practice and expedites the discovery process
through the following two new legislative initiatives to be proposed by
the court system during the next legislative session:
.Mandatory disclosure of key documents, such as tax returns
and bank statements, within 45 days of the start of the divorce action
Legislation to Reduce Litigation Cost and Delay in Matrimonial Actions
.Immediate freeze of the marital status quo to reduce gamesmanship over
real estate, personal property, bank accounts, insurance policies and the
Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye said, "Nobody wins in long, drawn-out divorce
cases - not spouses and especially not the children who are caught in the
middle. The court system's new matrimonial program shifts the focus from
winning and losing in these cases to humane resolution. It puts the best
interests of the children first by promoting early resolution of custody
and visitation matters and by encouraging parents toward a less adversarial
approach to divorce. By expediting these cases, the court can help to minimize
the trauma of the divorce process and stem the drain onfamily resources."
Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman said, "Of the 60,000 divorces
that New York courts grant every year, 75% are uncontested. However, in
the remaining 25% that are contested, the break-up can be a costly and
emotionally wrenching experience for the parties involved. Our new initiatives,
which include mandatory parental education classes, certification of law
guardians and mental health professionals, the assistance of social workers
in custody and visitation cases, and the expanded use of neutral evaluation
to promote settlement instead of litigation, can help to expedite the resolution
of contested divorces and minimize potential damage to disintegrating families."
Judge Lippman added, "I would like to recognize the diligence and dedication
of Jacqueline Silbermann, the statewide Administrative Judge for Matrimonial
Matters, who is spearheading the implementation of these important new
Speakers at the press conference will be:
Hon. Judith S. Kaye, New York Chief Judge
Hon. Jonathan Lippman, New York Chief Administrative Judge
Hon. Jacqueline W. Silbermann, Statewide Administrative Judge for Matrimonial
Anne Reiniger, Executive Director, The New York Society for the Prevention
of Cruelty to Children
Stephen D. Hoffman, President, New York County Lawyers Association