When you and your spouse agree that it might be time to consider a divorce, you’ll discover that there are a number of different routes available for you to choose from. Divorce doesn’t OlderCoupleautomatically have to be about stressful litigation – it can be something that you come to terms about collaboratively, with the use of mediation. Mediation is a flexible process that can be used to help you sort out existing problems regarding the financial results of your divorce, or what needs to be done about child custody and parenting time. Unfortunately, just because one spouse decides that mediation may be the right call for their divorce needs – doesn’t mean that the other spouse will agree.

Sometimes, simply broaching the topic of mediation with caution and patience is a good way to get started in encouraging your spouse to agree to an alternative form of dispute resolution. After all, divorce is easily one of the most uncomfortable experiences a person can go through. Although you might be getting a divorce, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be mindful and respectful of the other person’s feelings.

Approaching the Topic on Neutral Ground

A good way to encourage a reluctant spouse to reconsider the option of mediation, is to approach the subject from a position that is important to both of you. For example:

  1. Consider the Children

Make sure that your spouse understands that through mediation, you can reduce some of the discomfort typically associated with aggressive court-based battles and litigation. This can be beneficial to the future relationships that both of you maintain with your children. What’s more, throughout the mediation process, you will both be in control of any decisions made about the support and parenting of your children – meaning that you can work together to fashion an agreement that works for both of you. Continue reading

babyIn an overwhelming number of cases, parents agree to a child custody arrangement without involving the court. However, some child custody cases are brought to court because parents are unable to agree. In those cases, the Supreme Court or Family Court is supposed to allocate to each parent decision-making, care-taking, and access to the child, making these determinations based on what would be in the best interests of the child.

Custody determinations related to best interests depend largely on the court’s assessment of the parties’ credibility, character, and temperament. The higher courts are not supposed to interfere with these determinations, made by a trial court, unless they lack a sound and substantial basis in the record.

Under New York Family Court Act § 251, the court can order anyone within its jurisdiction and the parent or other person legally responsible for the care of a child within its jurisdiction to be examined by a physician, psychologist, or psychiatrist designated for that purpose if the examination serves the purposes of the act. This person can provide a forensic evaluation that allows the court to determine which custody and visitation arrangement would be in the best interests of the child.

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childChild custody and time-sharing arrangements in New York are determined based on the children’s best interests. In some cases, a forensic evaluation is ordered. This may include general and specialized psychological testing and clinical interviews of the parents and children. In some cases, collateral information is also gathered, and home visits are made.

Forensic evaluations are not always necessary, but they may be appropriate in cases in which there are sharp factual disputes that affect the final determination of where a child will live and which kind of custody, parenting time or visitation arrangement is in the child’s best interest. Generally, the court will look at the circumstances of the parents and child and see whether there are particular issues that would warrant an in-depth inquiry. The court is supposed to order forensic evaluations sua sponte (on its own motion), even if neither party expressly requests it. The evaluator is typically appointed based on recommendations.

Issues that might necessitate a forensic evaluation may include relocation issues, a parent or a child’s emotional problems, allegations of alcohol abuse, or facts that indicate a custodial parent might undermine the relationship between a child and the other non-custodial parent. In Matter of Shanika M. v. Stephanie G., for example, Stephanie was the aunt of a child that her domestic partner, Shanika, and she were taking care of but never formally adopted. The parties separated when the child was two years old, and the child continued to live with Stephanie.

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father and childThe New York Family Court processes petitions for child support, establishes new child support orders, and determines whether a modification should be made to an existing child support order.  It is possible to also utilize the Supreme Court to establish, enforce or modify child support, particularly in a divorce or postjudgment divorce case.  Most child support payments in New York are made by a noncustodial parent paid direct to the other parent or through the Support Collection Unit (SCU).

Once the court has issued a child support order requiring the support collection unit to collect payments, the SCU collects and distributes the payments. If the noncustodial parent falls behind in payments, the SCU can enforce the order. Once a parent applies for services, the support order has to be paid through the SCU, and the custodial parent can no longer accept direct payments from a noncustodial parent or informally agree to change the support order. If the noncustodial parent wants to pay the custodial parent directly, the noncustodial parent should either make sure this is reflected in the initial order or file a modification petition subsequently in order to ask that a direct payment be credited to his or her account.

Once child support is ordered, the parent who is required to pay is given a payment instruction sheet, indicating how much to pay and how to make the payments. For parents who work, a notice may be sent to their employer with instructions about taking the child support payments out of the salary and sending them to the Support Collection Unit or SCU. However, these payments can also be taken directly from other income streams, such as unemployment or even a pension. Payments may not be deducted from a worker’s paycheck for a few weeks from the time of the child support order.

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light-in-church-1492287-e1473464226908In New York, an antenuptial agreement that goes into effect once the parties are married may be valid even if the minister that solemnized the marriage received his authority from an unconventional religion. In Oswald v. Oswald, the court considered the effect of a antenuptial or prenuptial agreement after a marriage ceremony performed by a Universal Life Church minister. The parties had executed the agreement three days before the ceremony, but its terms only took effect after the “solemnization of the marriage.”

The plaintiff sued five years after the marriage asking the court to declare the marriage void from the beginning and the antenuptial agreement unenforceable because the person performing the ceremony did not have legal authority to solemnize the marriage. Alternatively, he wanted a divorce. The defendant responded by denying the marriage was invalid and counterclaiming for a divorce. The parties both moved for summary judgment.

The lower court granted the plaintiff’s motion. The defendant appealed, arguing that the plaintiff should not be allowed to argue the marriage was void because he represented otherwise on their joint tax returns. The court agreed that a litigant could be prevented from taking a position contrary to the position taken for purposes of filing taxes. However, it explained that a marriage that is void couldn’t be retroactively validated because the party held themselves out as being married.

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Child Custody disputes and Divorces are complicated at the best of times.  Often, legally breaking down a relationship becomes more Airport Rundifficult when children are involved. When a mother and father choose to separate or divorce, they not only have to think about the steps that should be taken to improve their chances of pursuing their own best interests, but they also should think carefully about the best interests of their children. That is the standard that a New York court would use.

While, in an ideal scenario, fathers and mothers seeking a divorce would carefully come to a decision about custody agreements, child support, and parenting time or visitation together, using a mediation method or collaborative law – without the strain of battling the issue out in court – family law is not always this simple. In some cases, a New York Supreme Court or Family Court judge will be forced to step into the scenario and figure out which parent should be awarded primary physical custody. In these cases, there are many factors for a judge to consider when putting the best interests of a child first, and one is the concept of who can be defined as the “primary caretaker” for the children.  Please note that the primary caretaker status is not determinative of the best interests of the children, rather it is one of the many considerations that can be taken into account. During this blog, I will discuss which details can be provided to show who can be regarded as the primary caretaker of a child, and what it means to be a primary caretaker.  Continue reading

childWhen you apply for a modification of an earlier order in a New York child custody dispute, you’ll have to present evidence showing a change of circumstances to justify that the modification is necessary to protect a child’s best interests. If you stipulated to the earlier order there is case law that stands for the proposition that you can present evidence of any changes from the time of stipulation.

Although you should show that the substantial change occurred since the issuing of the order, the court may consider all relevant factors related to the best interests of the child when determining child custody, sometimes, even, including the behavior of the parents before and at the time of stipulation. In determining whether a change in circumstances warrants the modification of a custody arrangement, the court will look at whether the change implicates the fitness of the custodial parent or affects the nature and quality of the noncustodial parent’s relationship with the child. There may be a time lag between a stipulation and the court’s issuance of an order, but this should not be a lost period for the purposes of presenting evidence to prove that the modification is appropriate.

For example, in the Matter of MMH v. William DH, the court considered a New York mother’s request for a modification of an earlier order. She wanted an order for sole custody and an order that would allow her to move to another state. The father opposed the application for these orders.

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wedding ring

Resolving issues in a New York divorce through mediation is usually less expensive than asking the court to resolve them through trial. However, certain conditions are necessary to mediate matters like property division, spousal support, child custody, and child support. The primary condition that needs to be present is the ability to communicate.  Sometimes a mediator is the very thing that can work to facilitate the communication necessary to resolve the issues needed to be agreed upon to legally separate or divorce.

Unfortunately, many relationships have broken down because of difficulties communicating. When a couple engages in deceit, threats, coercive behavior, or physical violence, the relationship may be too   damaged to have a rational discussion of options, especially with regard to such matters as maintenance and child custody.  Just because any of those aspects exist, does not mean it is impossible to mediate.  As, it all starts with the willigness to try to mediate.  Last week’s blog was about situations where mediation is worth trying, even in high conflict relationships.  If one spouse is phsyically afraid of the other, because of prior domestic violence for example, it is possible that he or she may agree to things in the process of mediation in order to get away from the other spouse.

Couples that have a high degree of conflict or even abuse in their relationships may not be able to communicate with each other in a productive way, but instead they may communicate out of strong destructive emotions like extreme anger (anger is not uncommon with mediating couples or fear. In those cases, mediation is not a good option because peaceful negotiations are not possible.  I should mention, that although past performance is not predictive of future results, I have seen a high success rate in resolving issues for the couples that have agreed to mediate.  But today’s blog is about a case, not one of mine, in which at least one of the parties to a mediation had second thought afterwards. Continue reading

Many people assume that the only way to handle a divorce with a high-conflict partner is to buckle down for a Sophisticated-couple-fightrollercoaster ride of litigation and court appearances. However, one point of view is that this just leads to additional conflict, and a lengthy divorce procedure that can cost a lot in terms of financial input, and emotional sacrifice. During my time as a professionally trained mediator, I have helped couples from a range of different backgrounds and surrounding circumstances to discover an agreeable solution to what may seem, in their eyes, to be an impossible problem. One thing that I have noticed in my experience is that although the mediation process is obviously easier, and less demanding when it’s launched between a pair of ex-spouses who still have a level of communication and amicability between them – that doesn’t mean that the system only works in cases of no-conflict divorce.

There are situation of course, where mediation is not possible, although in almost all circumstances, it is possible to achieve a more lucrative, and beneficial divorce procedure when a cooperative process is embraced – instead of a combative one. This means that it may be worth considering all of the options, before you simply assume that your “high conflict” divorce is limited to litigation.  After all, if mediation and litigation are both avenues that lead to arguments and disagreements between you and your ex-spouse, doesn’t it make sense to attempt to resolve those arguments with an impartial expert before spending time, money, and energy on aggressive litigation? Continue reading

synagogueNew York has a history of having a concentrated population of Jewish people who observe Jewish law. Currently, observant Jews who want to be divorced must effectuate a divorce that is valid under both Jewish law and New York state law, or they can choose not to marry under secular law and not be concerned with the way these two different systems intersect. Jewish law recognizes private marriages and private divorces that do not require court supervision.

However, Jews bound by both religious law and secular law are in a more difficult position when trying to obtain a divorce. One way in which the Orthodox community in New York ensures that traditional Jewish values are part of divorce proceedings is to use prenuptial agreements that are signed by both parties, allowing determinations to be made by the Beth Din of America, which is the largest rabbinical court in the United States.

In the 1983 case of Avitzur v. Avitzur, a New York court considered the enforceability of the Ketubah entered into as part of the religious marriage ceremony. The Ketubah is supposed to show the bridegroom’s intent to cherish the wife and provide for her, as well as the wife’s willingness to carry out her obligations according to Jewish law. The couple agreed to recognize the Beth Din of the Rabbinical Assembly and a Jewish seminary to have authority to counsel them and impose compensation as it saw fit for failing to respond to its decision appropriately.

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