Communications Office:
David Bookstaver, Director
Mai Yee, Assistant Director
(212) 428-2500

Date: December 9, 1998

Seal of the Unified Court System
www.nycourts.gov
Divorce New York Style: Now Faster, Cheaper and Less Damaging to Children
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:

  • 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
These dramatic reductions have been attained despite the fact that annual case filings have increased by 12% during this same time period.

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

  • Mandatory Parental Education Programs in Custody and Visitation Cases
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.
  • Certification of Law Guardians and Mental Health Professionals
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.
  • Assisted Resolution of Child Custody and Visitation Issues
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.
  • Expanded Neutral Evaluation Programs
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.
  • Unified Family-Matrimonial Divisions
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.
  • Matrimonial Screening Parts to Encourage Early Resolution of Cases
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.
  • Legislation to Reduce Litigation Cost and Delay in Matrimonial Actions
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

.Immediate freeze of the marital status quo to reduce gamesmanship over real estate, personal property, bank accounts, insurance policies and the like 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 initiatives."

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 Matters 
  • Anne Reiniger, Executive Director, The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children 
  • Stephen D. Hoffman, President, New York County Lawyers Association
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