The Second Department, in a full-fledged opinion by Justice Ford, reversing Supreme Court, determined defendant’s motion amend the answer in this divorce proceeding to allege the date of this same-sex marriage to have been when the religious ceremony took place in 2005, as opposed the date of the subsequent civil marriage in 2011, should have been granted. In 2005 same sex marriage was not recognized in New York. The Marriage Equality Act (MEA) recognizing same sex marriage was enacted in 2011 and the parties civil marriage took place shortly after the enactment. There has been no determination the MEA cannot apply retroactively. So defendant’s motion to amend is not palpably improper and does not prejudice the plaintiff:
At this stage in the litigation, we are tasked only with determining whether the defendant should be permitted to amend her answer to make the claim that the date of the parties’ marriage was July 21, 2005, not July 28, 2011. “In the absence of prejudice or surprise to the opposing party, a motion for leave to amend the [pleadings] pursuant to CPLR 3025(b) should be freely granted unless the proposed amendment is ‘palpably insufficient’ to state a cause of action or is patently devoid of merit” … . * * *
… [T]he plaintiff failed to establish that the defendant’s proposed amendment was prejudicial to her in such a way that the defendant’s motion for leave to amend her answer should be denied. Neither the length of time between the defendant’s original answer and her motion for leave to amend, nor the fact that the amendment may affect the plaintiff’s maintenance and equitable distribution obligations, are sufficient to establish prejudice to the plaintiff … . Mackoff v Bluemke-Mackoff, 2023 NY Slip Op 05721, Second Dept 11-15-23
Practice Point: In this divorce case, the same-sex couple was married in a 2005 religious ceremony before the Marriage Equality Act (MEA). The couple was married again in a civil ceremony in 2011 shortly after the MEA was enacted. Defendant should have been allowed to amend her answer to state the marriage took place in 2005, not 2011.