ChildSupportMediationCouple-300x200The May 16, 2019 article of Dan M. Clark in the New York Law Journal outlined presumptive divorce mediation, which was initiated this fall, as a system that the state courts in New York must now have in place to encourage that civil litigation be resolved via mediation, rather than open court. This strategy hopes to reduce some of the backlogs that have been plaguing the judiciary environment up until this point. Although such systems have existed throughout some state courts in New York before today, the new initiative will affect all state courts. Now, presumptive divorce mediation has arrived on Long Island, and New York State, meaning that litigated cases are automatically referred to mediators within the court system.

The new initiative clearly recognizes the value of mediation, including divorce mediation, or family law mediation as a strategy for resolving disputes over litigation. Based on the results that the courts have seen from the initiative following a trial in New Jersey, this program is expected to have many positive results. To cut out the gearing up for court before going to mediation in court, couples going through divorce could also choose to use their own private mediators, outside of the court system, to start mediating. Though there may still be cases wherein an issue cannot be resolved by divorce mediators and need judges to decide issues, the new strategy encourages more people to start their divorce process through alternative dispute resolution methods. Continue reading

Changing your name in New York or Long Island isn’t always a complicated process. If you are a legal adult, then you have the right to change your name without a court order, provided that the legal name is not misleading. In other words if it will not perpetuate a fraudulent activity, or interfere with someone else’s rights it is usually approved. Adults in Long Island and New York also have the option to change their child’s name – however, in this case, the circumstances are slightly different. When an adult attempts to change a child’s name, then the courts need to consider a number of things, including whether or not the name change will be in the best interests of the child.

In any family law case that concerns a child in New York or Long Island, the courts will always use the best interests standards as the basis for their decisions. This basically means that the courts will attempt to make a decision that will not harm the child’s physical or mental status in any way. For instance, in a case I advised a client on, a mother requested for the Nassau County Supreme Court to change the surname of her child to include her name. In this case, the mother and father were not married but were once engaged. As such, she originally was not concerned about giving the child just the father’s last name as she intended to take on the same last name when they got married. However, the romantic relationship fell apart and the couple never got married. Therefore the child and the mother had different last names. The mother was the residential custodial parent. The mother felt that because the child was under her primary care, his name should reflect both the names of the father and the mother.

The father in the case above said that the petitioner only wanted to change the name to alienate the child from him. The respondent felt that the mother’s reason to seek a name change was based on a need for control. However, the court found that the proposed name change to a hyphenated surname was in the best interests of the child because it meant that the child could share the same last name as both his father and his custodial parent. The petitioner (mother) was therefore given permission to change her child’s name. Continue reading

Newspaper-Publication-300x209If you’re an adult, you have the freedom to choose the name that you want to go by for yourself. You can even legally change that name according to the law if you choose to do so under most circumstances. As the parent of a child, you also have certain rights to make decisions for that youngster, including, perhaps, what they should be called. However, there are certain rules that need to be followed when it comes to things like name changes in New York and Nassau or Suffolk County Long Island. For instance, the public is entitled to know about any changes someone makes to their name, or the name of the child. That’s why the courts usually require the file for the request for a name change open and viewable to the public. Additionally, name change orders are also published in newspapers before they’re officially complete.

As I often tell my clients, changing your name, or the name of your child isn’t always as simple as just telling the court that you want a name to be altered. Usually, there’s a specific process to follow. For instance, a client will come to me and we draft a petition for a name change that can be submitted to the courts. If the court thinks that someone should be entitled to receive notice that a person’s name is changing, then they will make sure that the notice is delivered (such as a creditor or other parent of a minor child). If the court feels that all relevant parties have had the chance to make their objections heard, they’ll usually grant the name change without any further issue provided there is no reasonable objection to it. Continue reading

Skypepic-300x200For residents of Long Island and New York, I have long offered divorce mediation as an alternative form of dispute resolution. While I do litigation and traditional settlement negotiations for divorce too, divorce mediation is an opportunity for divorcing or separating parties to come together and negotiate the terms that dictate the end of their relationship. Using divorce mediators, couples can keep the courts largely out of their divorce process, while maintaining more control over what happens next. What’s more, for many people, mediation can be a lot less expensive than paying for litigation.

In an ideal situation, separating and divorcing couples would get the most out of their mediation session by both coming into the same room to talk. I try to offer my clients a warm and welcoming environment where they can discuss their issues with my help as a divorce mediator. For those who need additional guidance, I even offer the option for mediation by caucus, and preliminary planning sessions too (if both parties are willing). However, when people move apart after a separation, or need to travel frequently for business, finding time to get together in the same mediation environment isn’t always possible.

Couples can’t always stop their lives to take part in mediation, but that doesn’t mean that decisions don’t need to be made about everything from child support to maintenance. Divorce mediation through video conferencing tools like Skype, conference calls, or other tools could be an answer to a number of complicated situations. Continue reading

Meditate-Picture-300x200Dealing with a divorce is always an emotional and tiring process – no matter whether your relationship ends amicably or otherwise. Sometimes, the best way to keep issues to a minimum is to choose a form of conflict resolution that requires as little input from the courts as possible. With a solution like divorce mediation, you can maintain more control over what happens during your divorce, and even choose the perfect outcome for you and your partner. Mediation also gives families the opportunity to maintain some semblance of a relationship after a divorce takes place, by keeping the tension between a mother and father, or husband and wife to a minimum. However, mediation isn’t the right option for everyone.

Mediation, just like any form of divorce strategy, requires careful strategy and consistent planning. You need to be able to go into your mediation sessions with the right attitude, and this is rarely as easy as it seems. Mediation usually requires some manner of compromise. You need to be able to be flexible if you want to negotiate effectively, and this means getting control over your emotions. I know it may sound a little hokey, but I find that sometimes, considering a brief period of meditation before mediation might be a good idea.

I’m not a medical health expert or a therapist, but my experience with mediation, litigation and divorce law over the years has shown me that certain emotional and therapeutic strategies can help to make the divorce process a lot simpler. Something like meditation can significantly reduce the feelings of stress and anxiety that you experience when going into the mediation process. What’s more, a period of meditation may even give you time to think more carefully about the goals and outcomes that you want to achieve during each mediation discussion. Continue reading

Swearing-In-300x211Assets aren’t the only thing that may need to be distributed between two parties when a divorce takes place. Some couples need to think about distributing their debts too – particularly when there is a dispute about whether the couple agreed to take on those financial commitments together or not. In order to prove to the courts of New York and Long Island that a debt should be split, parties must provide some crucial information. Most commonly, the courts will require some evidence that the debt was incurred either for the benefit of the other party, the household, or with the other party’s permission. This is a way that something may be considered marital debt, rather than just “individual” debt.

In most instances the debt that exists at the time of filing the divorce will be open to consideration by the courts. Usually, any debts that are taken on after the divorce case is filed won’t have any traction in the case. However, I have found some exceptions to this rule. For instance, in the case of G.T. v. A.T., 43 Misc. 3d 500, 501, 980 N.Y.S.2d 255, 256, the court was prepared to consider any debt incurred when the divorce was ongoing. However, the court ended up ruling that it was not going to distribute the debt that was incurred during the pendency of the divorce, simply because neither side was able to show evidence that the debt was made with the other’s permission.

In the case above, the plaintiff had a discover card in their name and a Visa and Mastercard in the name of the defendant. The two parties had accrued debt on all of the cards during the pendency of the case. However, as no evidence was available to suggest that the debt was incurred for the benefit of the other spouse, or with the other spouse’s permission, that debt was not be treated as marital debt. My experience is that if post filing expenses or debt is going to be an issue that the parties would want to attempt to get a Pendente Lite Order from the court. This is an order that provides for payments to be made for support and expenses while the divorce is ongoing. Continue reading

Caucus-Session-300x200In my last two blog posts, I’ve discussed the considerations that take place when a divorcing by mediation couple is wondering whether or not to engage in divorce mediation by caucus. For some people, caucusing is an excellent way to keep emotions under control and support the successful outcome of divorce mediation. For others, caucusing may cause more problems than it solves. In this blog, I’ll be discussing the procedures and ground rules that divorce mediators like myself consider when clients opt to take the caucus session route. For me, the most important initial rule is to make sure that both parties are completely comfortable with the idea of caucusing. I can do this by discussing the options that both clients have with them during a joint mediation session. Once that decision has been made, the couple will sign an agreement on confidentiality of information.

It’s important for the clients in a divorce mediation to know what will happen to the information shared in private caucus sessions. For instance, is some of the information to be kept confidential, or should it all be shared in a joint environment? Does each piece of information need to be identified as either confidential or public? I ask the clients in divorce mediation sessions to opt in and agree to the confidentiality clauses that they feel comfortable in within a joint session before the caucusing sessions can begin. Continue reading

Mediation represents an excellent opportunity for parties in a divorce to settle their issues using negotiation, rather than litigation in front of the Mature-Mediator-Meeting-300x200family or supreme courts. In the right circumstances, working with a divorce mediator such as myself could also mean that you get to maintain more control over what happens with your divorce, as you can come to an agreement that can be drafted and sent to the courts for approval. However, there are many different kinds of mediation available in the world of family law, and it’s important to decide which option is right for you before you get started. My last blog was about the positives involving caucusing in divorce mediation. In this article I will point out some of the counter considerations.

I, and other divorce mediators like myself, can offer clients the opportunity for caucusing in mediation, in situations where it may be appropriate. In divorce mediation with caucus sessions, each party will have the chance to take a moment away from the joint session so that they can discuss an issue with their divorce mediator in private. Crucially, this isn’t an opportunity for either party to get exceptional legal help from their mediator or guidance on what to do next. Instead, caucusing moments can be used to gain clarity on a situation, or discuss what might be possible if a specific negotiation path is suggested.

Usually, when clients come to me in search of an experienced divorce mediator, they’re looking for someone to help them with their negotiation that they both feel as though they can trust. For the most part, to this point, I and the people that I work with have engaged in mediation without caucusing. I have felt that this keeps all information out and in the open, rather than causing one party to worry about what the other says behind closed doors. Mediation often works best when both parties feel comfortable with the idea that their mediator is neutral and objective. However, if both parties in the divorce are comfortable with the idea of caucusing, then the solution can offer a range of benefits too. Continue reading

Caucusmeeting-300x222The concept of caucus in mediation was originally designed to provide parties in a mediation dispute with some time to move away from joint sessions and discuss concepts with an advisor or divorce mediator on their own. These separate sessions weren’t intended to give the parties more support or an unfair advantage over their counterpart. Instead, the caucus sessions allow for the clarification of issues, the opportunity to reflect on short-term and long-term goals, and the chance to reflect on proposals and options for the future. According to Steven Leigh’s, article linked to here in Mediate.com the best times to use caucus are:

  • When mediators need to explore or clarify statements made by a party
  • When information is revealed that a party would like to remain confidential
  • When parties need privacy to determine the options, they want to explore in mediation
  • When options suggested in front of the other party may be seen as a premature commitment
  • When parties feel uncomfortable exploring their options in front of each other.

Continue reading

Kitchen-Fight-300x200In Nassau County and Suffolk County, as well as the surrounding areas of Long Island and New York, the law generally allows for concurrent jurisdiction in either the Supreme or Family court to tackle issues of spousal or child support for married couples not living together. For a married couple living together, usually, unless it was clear that one of the parents has custody over the other, if one of the parents filed a child support case in family court, the family court would usually dismiss the case and direct that the issue of child support should be the topic in a matrimonial case. Matrimonial cases are dealt with in the Supreme Court.  Proceedings for legal separation or divorce are the most common marital cases, although an annulment proceeding is also a matrimonial case.  The family court does have jurisdiction to hear a child support case for a married couple not living together.

If there isn’t a matrimonial case pending already, spousal support cases can be filed in the family court. This may be true even in a situation where a married couple remains living together, without support for the non-monied spouse. The family court does not have jurisdiction to hear newly filed cases for assistance when a matrimonial case is pending with the Supreme court. However, there’s a general exception to this rule which allows for the filing of a support petition in the family court, even when matrimonial cases are pending if one spouse and the children are likely to become public charges or are already on public assistance.

Examining Spousal Support Cases Before Matrimonial Cases Begin

But what about a situation where a spousal support case is filed in family court, before the filing of a matrimonial claim, but then a matrimonial case is started immediately afterward? We can go to the case law for guidance. Continue reading