NEW YORK — When California became the first state to allow couples to divorce without accusing each other of wrongdoing, many women’s advocates thought it sounded like a good idea.
Nearly 40 years later, however, some of them have changed their minds.
“It’s not the catchall approach to divorce that people thought it might be, and it’s really dangerous for women and their children,” said Rachel Allen, of the California chapter of the National Organization for Women. As New York — one of a handful of states that did not follow California’s lead — debates the enactment of no-fault divorce, some feminists have emerged as its most vocal opponents. New York’s NOW chapter regularly opposes bills sponsored in the State Legislature in Albany that would allow couples to divorce without assigning blame, saying that because wives are generally less financially secure than husbands, it would weaken their ability to negotiate. Decades after most states adopted some version of no-fault, there is sharp disagreement on its impact.
Many experts say women as well as men have benefited from shorter, cheaper and less bitter divorces. NOW chapters in such states as Rhode Island and Texas have fought conservative-led pushes to make divorces harder to obtain. Recent research by an economist at the University of Pennsylvania has shown that easier divorces have reduced domestic violence within marriages by a third.
Many opponents of no-fault divorce say that domestic abuse victims may have to negotiate with their abusers for custody, visitation or financial settlements. But fault-based divorce may also mean that abused women must present solid proof of their battering to obtain divorces, and experts say lengthy divorces that prolong anger and acrimony can be especially dangerous.