The judicial overseer of Western New York divorce courts Thursday urged a state panel to press for creation of a "true no-fault divorce statute" to save troubled couples millions of dollars in litigation costs.
State Supreme Court Justice Janice M. Rosa also urged the visiting Miller Commission to find ways to end the kind of "financial blackmail" that is used against abused spouses.
Rosa said that too often she has witnessed what she called "clever, nonphysically violent" spouses, many times successful businessmen, use "economic, emotional and psychological power and control to extract a price for freedom."
Rosa, supervising judge for matrimonial matters in the state's eight-county Eighth Judicial District, was one of the featured speakers during daylong commission proceedings.
The 32-member panel, headed by Justice Sondra Miller of the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court, is examining problems with the state's current divorce system. It is expected to make recommendations to state Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye by the end of the year.
Rosa noted that New York is "the last state of 50" to consider some form of no-fault divorce.
She called the state's fault-based divorce law "unhealthy for domestic-violence victims."
Rosa, a former Erie County Family Court judge, said divorce court "is just another battlefront for the woman seeking to escape an unequal relationship, a debasing hurdle to jump before assets can be distributed."
She said a national study showed that homicide and suicide rates for abused women "were reduced in those jurisdictions where no-fault divorce was possible."
Miller told The Buffalo News that she is confident of completing by sometime in December the "enormous mandate" Kaye gave her to come up with what will be the first recommendations for change in the matrimonial court system in 12 years.
The commission, including Buffalo attorney Patrick C. O'Reilly, took testimony from a number of legal experts, divorced people and adults who had been abused children of marriages that ended in bitter divorces.
The panel has been focusing on custody and child-visitation issues, the use of guardians and forensic experts, alternative dispute, and so-called collaborative divorces, in which couples and their attorneys settle issues amicably and use the court system only for routine document processing.