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Should the Domestic Relations Law be Applied Retroactively?

This is a case being heard in the First Department, Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in the State of New York. This case involves the plaintiff and respondent Jackie Gleason against the defendant and appellant Genevieve Gleason and the plaintiff and appellant Eli Goldstein against the defendant and respondent Beatrice Goldstein.

A New York Family Lawyer said the case before the court involves appeals from two separate couples and the court must determine whether the Domestic Relations Law should be applied retroactively to cases in order to authorizes a divorce based on the parties living apart based on a separation judgment that was entered prior to the effective dates of the Divorce Reform Laws.

Gleason Case

In the Gleason case the couple was married in 1936 and separated in 1954. A judgment of separation for the couple was entered on the 22nd of June, 1954. The judgment was entered in favor of the wife and against the husband on the ground of abandonment and non support.

The husband came forth with this action in October of 1968 alleging that it had been two years since the judgment of separation had been entered and the couple had lived apart since the time the separation judgment was entered. A New York Custody Lawyer said the wife is the defendant in the divorce action and has moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground of insufficiency. The plaintiff husband has cross moved to strike certain defenses in the answer provided by the wife. The Special Term court denied the motion of the wife and granted the cross motion of the husband. The wife is appealing this ruling.

Goldstein Case

In the Goldstein case the couple was married in 1944 and a separation judgment was entered on the 17th of May, 1960. The separation decree was in favor of the wife on the ground of failure and refusal to support the wife and children by the husband.

In September of 1968, the husband brought forth this action for divorce. He alleges that he and the defendant have lived apart for over two years and as the plaintiff he has adhered to all of the stipulations of the separation agreement. A Nassau County Family Lawyer said the defendant wife motioned for the case to be dismissed and this motion was granted by the Special Term court. The plaintiff husband is appealing this ruling.

Case Discussion and Decision

These two cases are extremely similar, yet there are two very different decisions. The question is whether a decree of separation that was rendered before the Divorce Reform Law became effective can be converted to an absolute divorce based on the parties living apart pursuant to the decree.

A Nassau County Custody Lawyer said the court must look at each case separately to determine whether or not the decree of divorce should be granted in the matter. Each couple was separated prior to the current reform laws coming into effect and the question is whether or not they should be discriminated against based on the timing of their separation.

Both of the couples entered into a separation and were bound by the grounds of the separation agreement. In each case the couples remained living apart and showed no signs of reconciliation. The court finds that a grant of absolute divorce is allowable in both instances as no party is forced to stay in an unfit marriage.

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