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

Date: June 1, 2004

Seal of the Unified Court System
Statewide Task Force to Fix Flaws in New York’s
Divorce Process Is Convened by Chief Judge:
Custody Disputes in Divorce Cases -
A Primary Topic of Inquiry for New Commission

NEW YORK-Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye today announced the creation of the Matrimonial Commission, charged with examining every facet of the divorce process in New York and recommending reforms to correct existing problems. Chaired by Associate Justice Sondra Miller, of the Appellate Division, Second Department, the panel will consider, among other topics, the many complex issues involved in custody disputes, including the role and qualifications of forensics experts and law guardians.

The formation of the new commission represents the latest in the state court system's reform efforts concerning matrimonial litigation and builds on the work of a prior panel, the Committee to Examine Lawyer Conduct in Matrimonial Actions, which was chaired by Hon. E. Leo Milonas. The findings and recommendations of that earlier commission ultimately led in 1993 to the judiciary's adoption of new rules to govern attorney-client relationships and case management in matrimonial matters. The effectiveness of those rules were assessed in a January 2004 report issued by the Office of Hon. Jacqueline W. Silbermann, the Statewide Administrative Judge for Matrimonial Matters, which indicated considerable advancements, such as major reductions in case resolution times, but also identified persisting problems, particularly in the area of custody litigation.

"Over a decade after reforms to address flaws in the divorce process were first implemented in New York, we are gratified to perceive significant improvements," said Chief Judge Kaye. "But now the time is ripe for a comprehensive review of matrimonial litigation and for tackling the difficult issues that remain. For the challenging task of spearheading such an effort, I have appointed Appellate Division Justice Sondra Miller, herself a former matrimonial lawyer and a judge known for her work with legal issues involving families and children, to chair this new commission. Justice Miller, along with her distinguished co-members, will have the task of shepherding the process of change that was begun over ten years ago by the Committee to Examine Lawyer Conduct in Matrimonial Actions to the next level. I am fully confident that their collective labors will provide the blueprint for further essential reforms in this critical area."

Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman stated, "Much progress has been achieved since the adoption of the matrimonial rules in 1993. Compared to a decade ago, a contested divorce case is now resolved on average in half the time, from 796 to 319 days, and the pending caseload of contested divorce cases statewide has dropped by more than a third. However, as welcome as this news is, there is more work to be done to address weaknesses in the system. This newly formed commission will no doubt lead the way in spotlighting existing problems and helping the court system formulate policies to rectify them. I thank Justice Miller and the committee members in advance for their contributions of time and energy to this important cause and look forward to their findings."

As part of its inquiry, the Commission will host a series of public hearings at various locations throughout the state to elicit information about the divorce process in New York. (The dates and locations of these public hearings will be announced in the future.) Among the subjects the Commission will consider are interim counsel fees, enforcement of court orders and custody resolution. The Commission plans to report their findings to the Chief Judge in approximately one year.

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