Is Manhattan the divorce capital of New York State? Yes, if you believe judge Matthew Cooper and he thinks the legislature is to blame.
According to Judge Cooper, New York County Supreme Court gets the highest number of divorce filings each year, even though Manhattan, which is the borough serviced by NY Supreme, is one of the smallest boroughs – population-wise. So why does Manhattan Supreme get the lion’s share of divorce filings when the law says that in order to file for divorce in a particular venue, normally one of the parties must reside there? Indeed, Judge Cooper explains in the Castaneda case:
New York County has the dubious distinction of being the divorce capital of New York State. This does not mean, however, that the inhabitants of the island of Manhattan are somehow more prone to failed marriages. It means that a disproportionate number of the divorce actions brought in New York State, and in New York City in particular, are filed in New York County. The last census showed that only 8 percent of the State’s population resides in Manhattan, but the matrimonial filing statistics for 2010, the latest year for which statewide filing figures are available, revealed that 23 percent of the divorce actions commenced in New York State were filed in New York County. Thus, just about one out of every four divorces that occurred in this State took place here.
Even more striking are the 2011 divorce filing statistics for the five counties that [*2]comprise New York City. In terms of population, New York County ranks a distant third to Kings County and Queens County, and only marginally ahead of Bronx County. Yet no other county came anywhere close to the 15,342 divorce actions, be it contested or uncontested, filed here last year. In fact, of all the divorces brought in New York City, an astounding 49.6 percent of them were commenced in New York County. In other words, one out of every two divorces commenced in this city of more than 8 million people ended up last year in a county that has a population of little more than 1.5 million.
What accounts for this glaring disconnect between the number of people who reside in Manhattan and the number of divorces filed here? The explanation, as it turns out, is strikingly clear: it has become the accepted practice for attorneys and non-attorney divorce processing services, the so-called divorce mills, to commence divorce proceedings in New York County despite the fact that neither spouse lives here. And although no official statistics track the number of cases falling into this category, any judge, special referee or clerk in this court who is involved in handling matrimonial matters knows that anywhere from 75 to 80 percent of the filings involve divorces where both spouses reside outside of New York County.
What is it about New York County that explains this penchant for filing divorce actions here as opposed to a county where at least one of the parties resides? That answer is not entirely clear. Perhaps it is because New York has a reputation for processing divorce actions, particularly uncontested divorces, more expeditiously than elsewhere. Perhaps it is because it is more convenient for attorneys and divorce mills who have their offices in Manhattan to file here. Or perhaps, and less benignly, it is because the chances of a party obtaining an uncontested divorce on default increase if the action is brought in a venue far removed from where the defendant actually lives. Whatever the reason may be, those who file divorces, whether legitimate matrimonial attorneys or the non-attorney divorce mills that skirt the edges of legality by preparing, serving and filing divorce papers on behalf of their “clients,” clearly perceive an advantage to filing in Manhattan.