In a recent post, we discussed New York child support agreements and how the parties to a divorce may be able to agree to the payment and amount of child support Outsidequarrelcouple-300x200rather than have the court make that determination. We also discussed a situation in which the court was likely to set aside a child support agreement. This week, we will take a more in-depth look into how courts view New York child support agreements.

As a general matter, a properly drafted New York child support agreement will remain enforceable over time. However, in reality, circumstances and relationships change, and it is not uncommon for either party to an agreement to ask the court to modify or set aside the agreement if they believe that it is no longer fair to them or to the children subject to the agreement.

The default law (for support orders made nowadays), unless people opt out of them is that either party to a  child support order may seek to modify it:  every three years; if income changes by 15% or more; or there has otherwise been a substantial change of circumstances.  The parties to a properly drafted and executed written stipulation may opt of those first two reasons.  If people have opted out of the default reasons to modify the agreement or the order predated the 2010 child support law, then the Courts will only grant a party’s request for an upward modification (meaning an increase in the child support obligation) if the requesting party can establish one of three circumstances:

  • When it appears that the needs of the child are not being met;
  • There has been an unanticipated change in circumstances, as well as a showing by the moving party that there is a need for modification; or
  • The agreement was unfair or inequitable when it was made.

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Over the past few weeks, we’ve taken a look at the process of New York divorce mediation, in which parties work together to come up with an agreement regarding Parentswithbaby-300x200many issues that would otherwise be decided by a judge. Last week, we discussed the fact that a New York divorce mediation can include terms that cover the custody of minor children, and provided an example where the court upheld a parties’ agreement although it was later contested by one of the parties.

It is important to note, however, that courts retain discretion in determining New York child custody issues. So, while the parties to a New York divorce are free to come to an agreement between themselves regarding child-custody matters, if the court determines that the parties’ agreement is not in the best interest of the children involved the court can set aside the agreement.

There are two common ways this situation arises. The first is during the judge’s initial review of the parties’ agreement and the second is if one of the spouses requests a modification to the child-custody agreement after the court has approved the agreement and the divorce is final. Once a child-custody agreement is approved, courts will not modify that agreement unless there is a substantial change in circumstances and the party seeking modification can show that modification is in the best interests of the children. A recent case illustrates a situation in which a court found that each of these elements was met and, thus, modified the agreement.

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Childrensmiling-300x209In New York, the parties to a divorce have the option to enter into a mutually acceptable separation agreement if they can agree on the terms of the divorce. For the most part, courts will uphold the terms of valid New York separation agreements. However, the court retains ultimate jurisdiction over specific issues.

For example, when it comes to determining New York child custody issues, the parties are free to discuss the issue and come up with an arrangement that works for both parties. However, under New York family law, the primary factor courts consider when deciding child custody issues is what is in the best interest of the children. Thus, if a separation agreement provides for a custody arrangement that is not in the best interest of the children, the court may not enforce that provision of the agreement. Similarly, an agreement as to the physical location where the child will live is also subject to the court’s “best interest” analysis.

Once a separation agreement is accepted by the court and incorporated into a New York divorce proceeding, the terms of the agreement will remain in force unless there is a change in circumstances. A recent case illustrates how New York courts handle a party’s request to modify a previously agreed upon custody arrangement. Continue reading

While some New York divorces are long, drawn-out, and contentious affairs, others are much more amicable such as when the parties use divorce mediation as theChildSupportMediationCouple-300x200 process. In the latter type of divorce, it is not uncommon for the parties to agree on many of the issues that a court would otherwise need to decide. Among matters that are commonly worked out between divorcing spouses are the division of marital property and the payment of spousal support.

Some couples will also be able to agree on the payment and amount of child support with their divorce mediator or through settlement negotiations. However, because the right to receive child support technically belongs to the children for whom the support benefits, courts retain the final decision over a New York child support agreement.

Under New York Domestic Relations Law section 240, the parties to a child support agreement must aver that the agreement provides the correct amount of child support. If, however, the mediated divorce agreement or settled agreement between the parties deviates from the basic child support amount that would otherwise be appropriate, the parties must explain what the necessary amount of child support would be and why there is a deviation by agreement. Importantly, this cannot be waived by either party.

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Going through a New York divorce can be an extremely difficult time for both spouses. However, it does not have to be. When the parties can agree on some of the businessmeeting-300x200fundamental issues, New York divorce mediation is an excellent option to decrease the amount of time, money, and stress expended in the process of getting a divorce.

As anyone who has been through a New York divorce understands, filing for divorce is not free. On top of the legal fees that will be incurred by each party, various filing and trial preparation fees can add up to thousands to tens of thousands of dollars. In addition, the time it takes for a New York divorce to become final differs, but it is typically a lengthy process that lasts between six months to over a year.

Divorce mediation is an alternative to court litigation for people who want to separate their lives and obtain a New York divorce. The mediation process involves the parties sitting down with a neutral third-party mediator who helps the parties discuss all the relevant issues of the divorce and come up with a mutually acceptable plan. Once the agreement is reached, the end result will be the same as if the couple had gone through the court system to obtain a divorce – except the parties will have saved themselves a significant amount of time and money.

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When a couple gets married in New York, they are legally entering into an “economic partnership.” Thus, absent a clear indication to the contrary, courts assume thatMediating-Prenuptial-300x202 the couple agrees on certain default rules regarding the couple’s assets. However, not all relationships are formed on the same set of expectations and many couples find that the process of drafting and executing a New York prenuptial agreement is beneficial, in that it requires the couple think about difficult issues that may not otherwise have come up.

A prenuptial agreement is a contract between prospective spouses that clarifies what will happen with the individual and marital assets if the marriage ends, either by death or divorce. Without such an agreement, New York’s default rules will apply, which may not result in a satisfactory outcome for some couples.

Unfortunately, New York prenuptial agreements have a negative connotation, and one spouse’s suggestion that the couple enters into a prenuptial agreement is often met with skepticism from the other spouse (and potentially that spouse’s friends and family). However, drafting a prenuptial agreement is more about providing clarity to both parties in the event that the marriage ends.

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There are many different ways to handle the complexities of a New York divorce. Often, as a divorce attorney that also offers mediation and collaborative law, I receive calls from Review-Attorney-Picture-300x199clients who aren’t sure what kind of process they want to use for their marital issues. In some situations, clients may want to access my assistance for legal advice, but then they also want to use me as a mediator too. Unfortunately, this isn’t an option that I can provide, because, in my view, it would potentially harm the neutral ground required for a successful divorce mediation process.

In New York divorce mediation, I find that the process works best when both spouses come together in neutral territory and discuss their issues with a third-party who is objective in the case. If, as an attorney, I met with one side of the case before mediation, then this can lead to discomfort for the other party. Some clients would even feel as though they’re not getting a “fair” experience. Though, in some rare instances, it’s possible for me to have a very brief conversation with one spouse before the mediation begins, however, I wouldn’t give my legal advice until the person indicates that they’re happy to use my service as an attorney, whether that is review attorney, negotiator or litigator.

If it turns out that the person that I speak to wants to use my services as a divorce mediator, and their spouse is willing, then it may help for the spouse I had talked to before to reveal any information he or she had shared with me one-on-one. This can “clear the air” for a mediation process.  This way each person can consent to mediate with me with full disclosure of all information. Typically, however, I will recommend that spouses interested in divorce mediation bring the other party to their initial consultation so that we can all discuss the process together. Continue reading

It’s impossible for anyone to predict the future with complete accuracy, as the world we live in is often a very unpredictable place. However, we can look back at the Window-Mediation-300x200lessons that we’ve learned over the years and use what we know in the present to guide predictions about the years ahead. That’s exactly what I plan to do with this blog post about mediation in 2019. This blog is conjecture and should be taken as nothing more than my best guess at what will be available in terms of alternative dispute resolution and mediation options for couples in 2019 and the years beyond.

My previous blog post discussed the complexities that we saw in mediation throughout 2018. Many aspects of mediation are likely to stay the same going forward, while other elements are bound to change. For instance, mediation will always be a helpful alternative dispute resolution option for couples who would prefer to avoid things like court-room trials and litigation. Additionally, as we move into 2019 at least, it seems that the grounds for divorces done with divorce mediators or otherwise will remain the same too. As I mentioned in my last blog, all the couples I have worked with during divorce mediation have chosen the no-fault divorce law for their procedure, since the No-Fault law was passed in 2010, while other grounds do remain available. The no-fault solution simply means that it is neither side’s fault, it’s simply the marriage that is irretrievably broken.  Fault doesn’t need to be admitted or proven for the divorce to go ahead. Continue reading

One important thing that we know about divorce mediation in December 2018 is that we can work through the settlement issues with the knowledge of the current laws that areMediation-Contract-300x200 in effect.  This includes the effect of the taxability or non-taxability of maintenance (alimony) and child support for separation and divorce agreements signed before 2019.  I know general taxation principles as they apply to divorce and family law, as every experienced matrimonial lawyer and divorce mediator should.  As always, however, I give a little disclaimer here and say check with your tax adviser, such as your Certified Public Accountant or tax lawyer, for tax advice as I do not give tax advice.

Sometimes things seem to wind down a little for a Law and Mediation Office as we move towards the end of the year.  People tend to want to deal less with their legal issues.  Less court appearances are scheduled because of the holidays, holiday parties and vacations schedules.  The same is often true on the divorce mediation side of things.  So why does it happen?  It could be that people do not want to deal with resolving their family law issues during the holidays.   People also might want to save their money to spend on gifts, trips and otherwise.  At times a couple might know that they need to move on from their marriages but want to keep it peaceful with the family until after the New Year.  Others might want to wait to start their new lives and new resolutions in the New Year.  Interestingly, I understand that the belief that January has the highest volume of divorce filings is a myth. Maybe people start working towards that in January, or soon after, but historically, according to an article in the Atlantic, August and March apparently have the most divorce filings.  Continue reading

There are several options when it comes to determining what happens with the marital home in a New York divorce. Of course, the court may award the home to HouseRealtor-284x300either party and require the party receiving the home to buy out the other spouse. A court may also order the sale of a marital residence, and divide the proceeds using the equitable distribution method. Alternatively, the court could defer the sale of a marital residence either by agreement or by order of the court.

It is not common to see a deferred sale of a marital residence when it is not be agreement. This is because a deferred sale by agreement may require the parties to co-own the house for a set period before selling the home or force the non-titled spouse to wait to receive payment for the home. This presents a host of issues, many of which may be insurmountable for a couple in the midst of a divorce. The deferred sale of a marital residence can, however, be included in a divorce settlement if sufficient thought is put into the agreement and the parties are willing to agree on certain issues.

A court can order that the sale of a marital residence be deferred, absent an agreement between the parties. Typically, a court would only do this for the sake of the couple’s children. For example, a court may consider the following when deciding whether to defer the sale of a marital home:

  • The age of the children and what grade they are in;
  • How long the children have lived in the home;
  • The financial ability of the spouses to obtain housing; and
  • The economic detriment to the spouse who would not receive the home.

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