New York Divorce Laws & How to File (2023 Guide) – Forbes Advisor


Published: Nov 20, 2023, 4:11am

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The New York State Department of Health reported more than 54,133 divorces in New York over the course of a year, so ending a marriage is very common in the Empire State.

If you or your spouse no longer wish to be married, it is important to understand how to get a divorce in New York. This guide explains all that you need to know to navigate the legal process.

Who Can File for Divorce in New York?

You can get a divorce in New York only if you have sufficient connections to the state. Otherwise, the court does not have jurisdiction over your case.

To meet residency requirements, any one of the following must be true:

  • You or your spouse have lived in New York for at least two years
  • You got married in New York and at least one of the two spouses has lived in the state for a minimum of a year
  • You lived together as a married couple in New York and at least one of the two spouses has lived in the state for a minimum of one year
  • Grounds for the divorce arose in New York and at least one of the two spouses has lived in the state for a minimum of a year as of the time of the divorce filing

What Are the Grounds to File for Divorce in New York?

You must have grounds for divorce in order for the court to dissolve your marriage. There are seven different grounds for a divorce in New York, including both fault and no fault grounds.

Here are the possible grounds, or reasons you can list on divorce papers, for why your union should come to an end:

  • Irretrievable breakdown. The breakdown in your marriage has persisted for at least a six-month period. This is the grounds you use if you are pursuing a no-fault divorce.
  • Cruel and inhuman treatment. Within the last five years, the defendant treated the plaintiff so cruelly that it placed the plaintiff in mental or physical danger so that it is not safe for them to continue to live together.
  • Abandonment. The defendant abandoned the plaintiff for a year or more by physically moving out with the intention to not return. Another option is constructive abandonment in which the defendant refused to have sex with the plaintiff for a year.
  • Imprisonment. If the defendant was imprisoned for a period of three or more years after getting married, the plaintiff can pursue a divorce.
  • Adultery. This requires proof of an affair conducted by the defendant during the marriage.
  • Separation. If the couple lives apart for a year with a valid separation agreement that they create themselves or that a court creates for them, this is grounds for divorce.

How to File for Divorce in New York

You need to obtain a divorce from the Supreme Court in New York—the New York court system’s highest court is the Court of Appeals, so the Supreme Court in the state is not the equivalent of the federal Supreme Court and is more like a district or county court in other states.

You should file for divorce with the Supreme Court in the county where either you live or where your spouse lives currently. The NYCourts Court Locator can help you to determine where you should file.

You must buy an Index Number at the County Clerk’s Office to initiate divorce proceedings and must file required legal documents including a Summons with Notice or a Summons with Verified Complaint.

Your spouse must be served with divorce papers and provided with the opportunity to respond to the court.

Serving Divorce Paperwork in New York

If you file for divorce, your spouse must be served with papers or provided with proper notice of the court action you have initiated. There are different ways to serve your spouse including the following:

  • Giving the papers directly to the defendant. If your spouse is not contesting any aspect of the divorce and is willing to return a signed and notarized copy of the Affidavit of Defendant, this is the easiest approach.
  • Someone over the age of 18 must personally hand the divorce papers to the defendant. The person who hands your spouse the paper must be a NY resident if the papers are served in New York. If the papers are served out of state, the person serving must be legally permitted to do so in that state or must be a NY resident.

Whoever serves the papers must complete the Affidavit of Service. It is important to make sure the defendant has received notice so they have an opportunity to respond. If you don’t know where your spouse is, you can ask the court to allow other types of service, including service by publishing a notice in a newspaper.

Contested or Uncontested Divorce

You have a choice of a contested or uncontested divorce in New York.

An uncontested divorce means you agree on all legal matters raised, including child custody and support, alimony and division of property. This is a cheaper and quicker way to get divorced and is likely to lead to better outcomes since decisions are made by compromising with your spouse.

A contested divorce means the court must decide at least some legal issues. This can be more expensive since a court hearing is required. You and your spouse will both be bound by the court’s decision, even if neither of you are entirely happy with it.

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What Is the Waiting Period for a New York Divorce?

New York does not have a waiting period for divorce proceedings. However, depending on your grounds for divorce, you may need to meet certain requirements as far as time apart. For example, if you are divorcing based on irretrievable breakdown, you must show the marriage has been broken for a minimum of six months. If you use separation as grounds, you must be separated for a year.

Getting Legal Help With a Divorce in New York

Divorce can be complicated but there are professionals who can help. An experienced attorney who has handled many cases of divorce in New York can guide you through the divorce process and assist you in making sure you get a settlement that is fair to you. You should call an attorney as soon as possible for help navigating the legal process.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How is marital property divided in a New York divorce?

In New York equitable distribution rules determine how property is divided. Unlike community property states, equitable distribution states don’t just divide all martial property 50/50. Under equitable distribution rules, the goal is to arrive at a fair division of assets and debt based on many factors including the length of the marriage and the contributions made by each spouse.

Can you get alimony in a New York divorce?

Alimony is sometimes available when you get a divorce in New York. The court may temporarily or permanently order a higher-earning spouse to provide support to a lower-earning spouse. The court will do this if there is an earning disparity that is likely to persist or if one spouse needs support while re-entering the workforce or undergoing career training to become self-supporting.

How long does a New York divorce take?

A New York divorce generally takes several months to complete. While there is no specific waiting period for a dissolution of marriage, you may need to be legally separated for a year or have experienced an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage for at least six months to be granted a divorce, unless there are other grounds for ending your union.

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Christy Bieber is a personal finance and legal writer with more than a decade of experience. She earned her JD from UCLA School of Law and was an adjunct professor at the start of her career, teaching paralegal studies and related courses. In addition to writing for the web, she has also designed educational courses and written textbooks focused on a variety of legal subjects.

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