From custody to mediation to financial issues, experts say the way New York State handles divorces makes the process far worse for both parties. New York's method of handling custody, for instance, is among the most adversarial in the country. Digging up dirt on the other parent is how each side says, 'I am better than the other parent.' That is how parents 'win' custody. These archaic practices lead to many a knock down drag out fight.
For the past two years, Nassau County has offered an innovative program called "Children Come First," in which couples whose divorces are identified as acrimonious are evaluated and referred to services such as counseling and parent education. If they can't settle their differences with the increased oversight, a trial to resolve child custody disputes is held within 30 to 45 days. Focusing on custody disputes at the outset, rather than settling them at the end of a years-long process, keeps angry spouses from using children as weapons in their negotiations, said Nassau State Supreme Court Justice Robert Ross, supervising judge. Once the custody issues are settled, he said, financial matters often fall quickly into place.
But despite some strides, many experts and divorce reform advocates find that change has been spotty, incremental and slow. In more than a dozen other states, couples are required to try mediation before seeing a judge. In New York, only a handful of counties offer court-sponsored mediation, and even then it is optional.