Long Island Family Law and Mediation Blog

grandparents-1256161In a 2015 case, Matter of Rumpff v. Schorpp, a New York appellate court heard an appeal regarding grandparents’ rights. The petitioner was the father of two children. The respondent in the case was the children’s mother. Soon after the younger child was born, the Department of Social Services started neglect proceedings against both of the parents, claiming that their drug and alcohol abuse had caused them to fail in providing the children with adequate supervision and guardianship. They agreed to have the children live with their maternal grandmother, also a respondent in the appeal.

Later, the grandmother asked for sole custody. The parties stipulated to joint legal custody for the father, mother, and grandmother, with the children physically placed with the grandmother. In 2011, the father sought physical custody of the kids by filing a petition to modify custody.

The order continued the prior custody arrangement by the agreement of all the parties. In 2013, the father again brought a petition to modify, seeking sole custody. The family court granted him sole legal custody and physical placement. The mother was given parenting time, and the grandmother was given visitation. The grandmother, the mother, and the children’s attorney appealed this decision.

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CPS ( Child Protective Services ), ACS ( Administration for Children’s Services ), and Judges in New York make determinations to indicate or found cases regarding neglect and Children Grassabuse of children in New York or whether these determinations should stand.  But, when these findings are challenged, when should an emotional neglect finding stand or not?  In the State of New York, the law dictates that emotional abuse, including neglect, can be defined by the omissions or acts made by caretakers or parents that result in serious changes to a child’s conduct, cognitive, mental, or behavioral functions. Parents have a responsibility to support the proper physical and emotional development of their children – failure to offer that support, either deliberately or passively, can be a sign of neglect. Under section 1012(f) of the Family Court Act, a maltreated or neglected child is an individual under the age of eighteen who has had their physical, emotional, or mental condition impaired as a result of his or her parents, or caretaker’s action or inaction. The minimum degree of care expected from parents or caretakers according to the New York law, includes:

  • Supplying the child with adequate education, shelter, clothing, and food.
  • Providing medical, optometric, dental, or surgical care.
  • Giving the child proper guardianship or supervision to reasonably prevent potential harm and risk when possible.

One example case drew attention to proof provided for the injuries that a child sustained as a result of neglect. The case determined not only that the condition of the child was legitimate, but also that it could not have occurred within a typical five-year-old, without the presence of neglectful behavior from the parent. In this particular case, the respondent mother was the primary caretaker of a five-year-old who consistently exhibited troubled behavior, an obscene vocabulary, and an obsession with deviant and explicit sexual conduct. Regardless of whether the respondent in question tutored her son towards this behavior, or allowed the traits to take place in an environment wherein she should have been exercising control, the case of neglect was made. Continue reading

 

There are several different ways to approach divorce. Among the gentlest, yet sophisticated dispute Collaborative Meetingresolution methods is collaborative divorce. The parties in a collaborative divorce enter into a contract (“Participation Agreement”) to negotiate a divorce settlement without involving the court, or a mediator, but rather assembling a team comprised of collaborative attorneys, a neutral psychological professional (divorce coach), and often a neutral financial professional. During the collaborative law process, the parties sometimes engage experts for assistance, such as appraisers.

Among the benefits are more control over the process than you have by going to court, less acrimony and stress, usually less expense and time than a highly litigated case, and the preservation of existing family relationships. In many cases, collaborative law is the best choice for parents trying to protect their children from the emotionally destructive aspects of traditional divorce litigation.

The parties also have the benefit of counsel advice during the process, which they sometimes don’t during mediation (even though people are advised to use review attorneys in mediation). However, critically, if a matter does not get resolved through the collaborative process, the attorneys who represented the parties in the collaborative divorce cannot represent them in the litigation that follows. The rule is intended to allow the divorcing parties to be more honest and direct and posture less. It also ensures that attorneys commit themselves to the collaborative process, rather than abandon it for litigation.

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two-boys-and-a-bug-1545817A noncustodial parent is required to pay child support to a custodial parent in New York until a child is 21 years old. In many cases, this means that support continues to be paid while a child is in college.

Basic child support is calculated based on a formula using initially the first $143,000 (as of 2016, this number changes over time) of both parents’ combined income and a discretionary amount or an amount based on the same formula for income that exceeds $143,000.00. For a noncustodial parent of one child, basic support is their pro-rata share of 17% of that $143,000, a “cap” that changes every two years in addition to any amount ordered above that cap as mentioned above. The percentage changes based on the number of children. However, a child can also receive add-on support if his or her parents’ combined income is beyond that cap, after the court looks at what are called “paragraph f” factors. Under Domestic Relations Law 240 1-b(c)(7), the court can award educational expenses, such as college costs, as an add-on to the basic support.

This type of support is not mandatory, however. When deciding whether to make the award, the court may consider the parents’ financial circumstances, their educational backgrounds, the parents’ history of paying for these types of expenses to the child at issue or other children, and the child’s academic qualifications. However, college expenses usually aren’t awarded before ascertaining whether a particular child will actually attend college.

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In New York, child support has a basic component, as well as an added component. The basic support is calculated first by looking at the initial $143,000(known as a “cap” which is current as of 2016) of combined annual parental income. The amount of the cap is adjusted every other year. Income includes gross total income, investment income, and various benefits, such as workers’ compensation, unemployment, or retirement benefits. After adding your income with your co-parent’s income, the court multiplies the total by a percentage per child, which is 17% of the combined parental income for one child, 25% for 29% for three, 31% for four or more, and no less than 35% for five or more children.  The non-custodial parent pays their percentage share of this amount (pro-rata share).  If your combined income with your co-parent is greater than this $143,000 cap, the court may look at whether there should be additional support for the amount of combined income that exceeds $143,000.

However, if you and your co-parent’s combined income is more than $143,000, you can get additional child support beyond what that cap allows if you can establish certain factors known as “paragraph f” factors. The court can use the same formula of taking 17% or the appropriate percentage, or it may make adjustments to the amount of the add-on according to its analysis of the factors.

These factors include the financial resources of you and the other parent and child, the health of the child and any special needs or aptitudes (like learning disabilities), tax consequences, educational needs of one or both of the parents, the standard of living the children would have enjoyed had the parents stayed together, a determination that one parent’s gross income is substantially less than the other’s, any needs of other children for whom a non-custodial parent is providing support, extraordinary expenses like international travel, and other relevant factors. For example, DRL § 240 (1-b)(c)(4) provides that if a custodial parent is either working or going to school in order to be able to work and incurs child care expenses as a result of this, the court can determine reasonable child care expenses to be prorated in the same proportion as each parent’s income is to the combined income. The pro rata share of the child care expenses are separately stated and added to the basic child support as an add-on.

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During a separation or divorce mediation in New York, couples are expected to honestly disclose their assets. Dishonesty during this process can result in a case being set aside.

In the 2015 case Moore v. Moore, an ex-husband tried to subpoena financial records from his ex-wife so that he could use them to challenge a separation agreement negotiated two years before. The couple had divorced in 2013 based on a mediated settlement agreement.

Both parties had provided financial disclosures in order to reach the agreement. They both provided warranties that they had completely and truthfully represented their current assets. They also agreed that if they divorced, they would have to produce all documents necessary to enforce the agreement terms. The agreement was incorporated into the divorce judgment.

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two-girls-1528940When making custody determinations, a court is likely to consider whether a custodial parent is likely to encourage the child’s relationship with the noncustodial parent. It is considered in a child’s best interests to have a relationship with both parents. This means that a court will not look favorably upon a custodial parent who interferes with children’s relationship with the noncustodial parent. The noncustodial parent may have grounds to request a modification of a child custody order if the custodial parent tries to harm his or her relationship with the kids.

In Musachio v. Musachio, a New York married couple stipulated to a child custody settlement that was supposed to survive and not be merged into any divorce judgment that followed. The parties had agreed that they would have joint custody of their four children. The defendant (the mother) would have residential custody.

In 2008, the court granted the father’s application to get temporary sole custody of the four children. It also suspended his child support obligations based on information that the mother had interfered substantially with his relationship to their children.

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In some cases, divorce mediation can be the best solution for a couple who want to find an amicable way inToo Late Mediate which to end their relationship. It allows individuals the opportunity to settle disputes that typically arise in the instance of divorce, outside of the discomfort of a court-room setting, and promotes a less formal, yet often effective way to overcome and negotiate differences. However, the success of your mediation will not only depend on your willingness, as a party of divorce, to negotiate, but also the skills, techniques, and experience of the mediator you are using to guide you through the process.

Although in most mediations, the legal system only has a minimal amount of involvement, it is still a legal process that benefits from the use of a professional with extensive knowledge of matrimonial and divorce law. Ultimately a court needs to review the papers, approve the agreements and sign off on any divorce judgment. Mediation should provide a structured format in which friction can be minimized during a spousal settlement conversation. Mediators are not judges, arbitrators, or referees, and they cannot make decisions on any party’s behalf about important concerns. However, what they can do is offer insight as a neutral and impartial third party, helping disputants to reach a compromise that they both find acceptable. Continue reading

Romantic CoupleNew York Domestic Relations Law § 236 (B)(3) sets forth that prenuptial and postnuptial agreements are valid and enforceable if they are in writing, the parties subscribe to them, and they are proven in the way required to entitle a deed to be recorded. The difference between these types of agreements is that prenuptial agreements are entered into before marriage, while postnuptial agreements are entered into after marriage.

The agreement can include, among other things, provisions for the custody, care, maintenance, and education of the parties’ children, subject to Domestic Relations Law § 240. § 240 provides that the court has the discretion to enter custody and support orders as justice requires, based on the circumstances of the case, the parties, and the child’s best interests.

In other words, prenuptial and postnuptial agreements in New York can’t conclusively establish child custody or child support. Postnuptial agreements, made after a child is born, may be influential when they address education, child support, and care. However, judges make a final determination on child custody and support based on the child’s or children’s best interests. The terms of an agreement are only enforced if the terms serve a child’s best interests and needs at the time of the divorce.  A separation agreement, however, which is in proper form, can deal with child custody and child support terms.  The difference between a separation agreement and a postnuptial agreement in this context being that either when the separation agreement is made or very soon thereafter the parties must being living apart and intend to do so.   Of course custody, parenting time and child support terms are properly included and should be part of a stipulation of settlement settling a divorce.

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During a divorce in New York, there are a number of subjective steps that may be taken to pursue the best interests of a specific party. However, at the same time, the presence of the New York Lawyer Auto OrdersDomestic Relations Law in any divorce taking place throughout New York and Long Island means that certain restrictions will automatically be implemented in any case. These automatic orders, which are served in a notice to be included with the summons delivered at the outset of the case, are designed, among other things, to maintain certain status quos and preserve whatever marital property may be subject to equitable distribution within a typical divorce.

While understanding all of the complex facets of divorce can be difficult, it’s important to note that the automatic orders that are included within any divorce procedure are mandatory, and a failure to comply with these orders may be regarded as contempt of court according to domestic relations law, and the uniform rules of trial courts. As I have worked alongside many individuals and couples in numerous divorces during my time as a family lawyer, I have become familiar with the automatic orders that bind both spouses during a New York Divorce proceeding. However, I find that it’s often helpful to advise individuals undergoing the divorce procedure that the orders will remain in full effect and force during the pendency of the action, unless modified, terminated, or amended by a further order issued by the court, or through a written agreement that has been approved by both parties. Continue reading