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What are the requirements for proving cruel and inhuman treatment in a New York divorce case?

New York Domestic Relations Law section 170(1), provides that the cruel and inhuman treatment of the plaintiff by the defendant such that the conduct of the defendant so endangers the physical or mental well being of the plaintiff as renders it unsafe or improper for the plaintiff to cohabit with the defendant.
The court generally considers the party's age, the length of the marriage, the scope, degree, and effect of the conduct between the parties.
Cruelty may take the form of either verbal or physical abuse. Conduct that has been considered cruel includes but not limited to:

  • locking the spouse out of the marital residence;
  • destroying personal belongings;
  • making embarrassing phone calls to the other spouse's employer;
  • denigrating spouse in public;
  • flaunting extramarital affair;
  • making a false accusation of extramarital affairs;
  • threats of violence; and
  • drug addiction and habitual intoxication that makes it unsafe for the plaintiff to live with the defendant.

A party seeking divorce on this ground must show serious misconduct, and not mere incompatibility — a course of conduct by the defendant spouse which is harmful to the physical or mental health of the plaintiff and makes cohabitation unsafe or improper. Further, when the marriage is one of long duration, a high degree of proof of cruel and inhuman treatment is required.

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