Matrimonial Commission Calls
For Sweeping Changes
After a 20-month study of
every aspect of New York's divorce
process, the Matrimonial Commission,
chaired by former Second Department
Appellate Division Justice Sondra
Miller, has recommended sweeping
changes in the culture and practice of
The commission's report includes a
wide range of recommendations, such as
improved judicial training, selection
and case-management; increased use of
alternative dispute resolution (ADR);
increased access to representation; better
coordination between Supreme
and Family Courts; increased use of
social workers; uniform criteria for forensic
expanded training for
attorneys for children.
Recommendations include a three-tiered time line for cases based on the degree of conflict present.
success of matrimonial
rules adopted following
a 1993 report of an earlier
commission focused on attorney conduct
in divorce litigation - especially
case-management rules - the commission
found that more could be done to
avoid protracted litigation, saving the parties
time, money and emotional anguish.
Key recommendations include adoption
of early case-screening with provision of
appropriate services; renewed focus on
early preliminary conferences; more "dedicated" matrimonial parts with support
staff and services; uniformity of
process and forms among counties; and
introduction of a three-tiered time line
for cases based on the degree of conflict
present - four months for low-conflict
cases, eight months for moderate-conflict cases and 12 months for high-conflict
cases. The period would be tolled during
any ADR efforts.
Even terminology used in matrimonial
disputes was the subject of review,
resulting in the recommendation that references
to "visitation" be changed to
"parenting time" and "law guardian"
changed to "attorney for the child."
The commission concluded that custody
should be left to the discretion of
the judge, with no presumption of joint
or sole custody, as should the decision
whether to appoint an attorney for the
child. A majority recommended that the
decision to request an opinion or recommendation
on custody from a forensic
expert should also be left to the judge's
discretion, and that the order of appointment
should specify the scope of the
Among recommendations requiring
legislation, a majority of the commission
support no-fault divorce, providing that
final judgment is entered only after resolution
of all economic and custody issues.
In the course of its work, the commission
held public hearings, conducted
surveys and heard from individuals personally
affected by divorce, judges, attorneys,
bar association representatives,
academics and forensic experts.
The report is available at: www.nycourts.gov/reports.
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