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Incarceration is Determined to Be Legal Grounds for Divorce


Rhonda Covington is the appellant in this case and Carlton Walker is the respondent. This case is being heard in the Court of Appeals in the State of New York. The issue that is being brought before the court is whether the cause of action made by the plaintiff for a divorce on the grounds of imprisonment is barred by the five year statute of limitations as it was commenced sixteen years after the defendant was confined.

Case Background

A New York Family Lawyer said the couple in this case was married in May of 1983. In January of 1984, the defendant was arrested for the robbery and shooting death of a cab driver. He was convicted in 1985 for criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, robbery in the first degree, and murder in the second degree. He was sentenced to a prison term of 25 years to life. The defendant has been imprisoned since he was first arrested. The plaintiff was convicted for the same crimes as the defendant is also in prison.

On the tenth of April in 2000, the plaintiff commenced an action for divorce. The grounds for the divorce were that the defendant has been incarcerated for more than three consecutive years after they were married. The plaintiff motioned for a summary judgment for divorce stating that there were no triable issues of fact in the case.

The defendant opposed this motion and asserted a number of defenses on his behalf including the five year statute of limitation. A New York Custody Lawyer said the defendant urges that this matter is time barred as it was commenced well after his eighth year in prison and in fact the defendant has been in prison for more than sixteen years at the time of the proceeding.

The plaintiff argues that the her action is timely as the cause of action for divorce is properly measured from any time after the three years of incarceration.

The Supreme Court dismissed the action made by the plaintiff on summary judgment. The decision was affirmed by a divided Appellate Division. The majority concluded that the imprisonment as grounds for divorce arose once the defendant was incarcerated for a period of three years, which is a date that is well more than five years before this action was started. The minority judges argued that imprisonment is ground for divorce and continues to be so until the imprisoned person is released. A Queens Family Lawyer said the plaintiff is appealing the previous order of the Supreme and Appellate Courts based on the argument provided by the two dissenting Appellate judges.

Court Discussion and Decision

After carefully reviewing the facts of the case we agree with the two dissenting judges from the Appellate Division order and reverse the previous order.

It is found in the statutes that the confinement of a person in prison for more than three consecutive years after the marriage takes place is sufficient grounds for divorce. We agree that grounds of incarceration are not time barred and only end when the person who has been imprisoned is released. For this reason, we rule in favor of the plaintiff. The matter will be submitted to the Supreme Court for further proceedings.

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