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New York couples' divorce dilemma: Wait or negotiate?

Excessive time, money and added anxiety and stress for families are reasons why New York divorce attorneys and their clients are hoping the sluggish state legal system changes sooner rather than later. State budget cuts have reduced staff and have caused the remaining courthouse employees, including judges, to have more cases than can be expeditiously processed. The result is a longer wait for divorce settlements, which can have a harsh financial and emotional impact for spouses in the midst of divorce litigation.

Judges are handling heavy caseloads, forcing courts to defer hearings and testimony. Extensions mean more time investment for attorneys and additional legal fees for clients, who also may be sacrificing income to meet multiple court dates. Court delays also prolong divorce resolutions, creating economic and emotional havoc for families.

A survey by the New York Bar Association found that the implementation of no-fault divorce and support guidelines have been offset by 2011-2012 staff-slimming court budget cuts of $170 million. State rules want divorces resolved within a year of a petition filing, but budget constraints have clogged court dockets. Some divorcing couples in New York now wait up to a year to enter divorce court.

While courts are ham-stringed by financial and staffing limitations, the number of divorce cases has increased. The state Office of Court Administration reported that over 1,200 additional contested divorce petitions were filed last year than in 2008.

One group of state matrimonial attorneys felt some of the backlog might be eased if fewer divorces went to trial. Divorce mediation and collaboration are suggested alternatives to court contests, if spouses are willing to work it out beyond the courtroom.

A couple divorcing in New York may have to decide if their bones of contention are worth the added time and legal costs associated with the slow state judicial system. Coming to terms outside of court with help from professional mediators and negotiators might be a workable divorce solution. The alternative could be a very long wait for ex-spouses and families to move on to life after divorce.

Source: recordonline.com, "Divorces in New York eating up time and finances," Heather Yakin, May 5, 2012

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