Articles Posted in Divorce

It is no secret that going through a New York divorce can be a difficult and trying time. However, it does not necessarily have to be. In some cases, in which a couple agrees that it is time to go their separate ways and can also agree to work together in negotiating the details of the divorce, it may be possible to complete a stipulation of settlement.

A stipulation of settlement is a document that is filed with a family court that includes all the terms of a New York divorce. A properly drafted New York stipulation of settlement includes all aspects of a New York divorce, including: property division, child custody and support, and future costs for the couple’s children, such as college tuition. Not only will the document cover these items, it should also outline what is important to each party, so in the event an unanticipated concern later arises the parties can refer to the document to resolve the issue.

In order to be a legally binding document, the stipulation must be written in a specific manner and contain certain language. Otherwise, points that a party thought were already negotiated and agreed upon may later turn out to be unanticipated impediments.

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Parents have an obligation to keep their children safe and to make sure that a child’s naiveté does not put them in harm’s way. At the same time, most parents want to encourage some level of independence to help develop a child’s decision-making skills. In today’s society, with the prevalence of cellular phones, text messaging, instant messaging, and the like, the question of a parent’s right (and in some cases, obligation) to monitor their children’s phone use frequently comes up.

The general rule is that a parent is able to monitor their children’s cell phone use, including the text messages that have been sent and received. This can be done in a number of ways. The easiest way for a parent to view a child’stext messages is to simply scroll through the child’s phone. Parents can also view a log of all of the messages sent and received in most carriers’ monthly billing statements or online. There are also apps that allow for parents to monitor a child’s phone activity remotely.

Thus far, we have discussed monitoring a child’s cell phone activity to keep tabs on with whom they are talking and what they are saying. However, if a parent wants to use text messages in a New York family law proceeding, other issues may arise.

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When it comes to dividing up assets after a New York divorce, New York is an equitable distribution state. This means that, rather than dividing up a couple’s assets straight down the middle, if a court needs to resolve the issue, a court will consider a number of factors to ensure that the marital assets are divided fairly. However, only marital assets are subject t0 an equitable distribution analysis.A spouse’s separate property — such as that which was owned prior to the marriage — will not generally be considered marital property. However, property acquired throughout the marriage, including a businesses started during the marriage, is usually considered to be a marital asset that will be subject to equitable distribution.

In addition to the distribution of marital assets, a court may also order that one spouse pay post-divorce maintenance to the other spouse. The determination of how much spousal maintenance is appropriate is governed to some extent by formula, but it is left largely up to the discretion of the judge overseeing the divorce.

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As we have discussed in previous posts, when a New York court is tasked with determining the amount and duration of spousal maintenance payments following a New York divorce, the court will start with the formula contained in Domestic Relations Law section 236(b). For determining the duration of spousal maintenance payments, the statute breaks marriages down into three categories and assigns each a percentage range:

  • Marriages less than 15 years in length: 15-30% of the length of the marriage
  • Marriages between 15 and 20 years in length: 30-40% of the length of the marriage
  • Marriages over 20 years in length: 35-50% of the length of the marriage

Domestic Relations Law Section 236(b) makes room, however, for the situation where the presiding judge believes that the guidelines do not adequately account for the party’s situation. In this case, the judge can order post-divorce maintenance for a duration that is shorter (or longer) than recommended by the formula. However, if a judge decides to depart from the guidelines, she must detail her reasoning in writing.

The spousal maintenance duration formula was made law back in 2015, and there have been relatively few cases testing a judge’s limits to depart significantly above the guidelines. However, the cases that have been issued are instructive. For example, a late-2016 case presented a situation where the party seeking maintenance payments was able to obtain them for the upper range of the guidelines.

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When a judge presides over a New York divorce, one of the parties will often request to receive post-divorce maintenance payments, formerly called alimony, from the other party. Up until 2015, the determination of the amount and duration of post-divorce maintenance was largely left up to the discretion of the judge overseeing the case. However, in 2015, the New York Legislature enacted sweeping reforms of the New York Domestic Relations Act, particularly in regard to how post-divorce maintenance is awarded.

Hoping to standardize the manner in which judges were calculating and awarding post-divorce maintenance, the legislature stepped away from a standard that was almost completely relied on judicial discretion, and implemented a more formula-based system. Previous posts have discussed how judges arrive at the amount of spousal maintenance, but we have not recently looked at the durational aspect of post-divorce maintenance.

Under Domestic Relations Law section 236(b), the court still retains some discretion in determining how long a party is entitled to post-divorce maintenance payments. However, the formula for calculating the timeline provides a range of time, as a percentage, based on the length of the marriage as the presumptive time period for maintenance to last. For example, post-divorce maintenance payments in marriages lasting less than 15 years should last between 15% to 30% of the marriage’s length. For marriages lasting between 15 and 20 years, the post-divorce maintenance payments should last between 30% to 40% of the overall length of the marriage. Finally, for marriages that were over 20 years in length, the post-divorce maintenance payments should last for 35% to 50% of the length of the marriage.

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As discussed in previous posts, the judge presiding over a New York divorce has the ability to order one party to pay the other spousal maintenance. There are two types of spousal maintenance.The first is called pendente lite. Pendente Lite is a Latin term meaning “during litigation.” This is a temporary maintenance award that is designed to last only through the divorce proceeding. The justification for this order of support is that the spouse who controls the finances could otherwise cut off the other spouse’s access to money during the divorce proceeding before any judicial finding has been made. The second type of spousal maintenance is post-divorce maintenance, which continues for either a set term of years or, in rate circumstances, until death.

Both types of spousal maintenance are calculated by the formula contained in DRL section 236 and take into account similar factors. However, under certain circumstances, a judge can deviate from the maintenance amount provided by the formula by awarding more or less support, depending on the circumstances.

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Following a New York divorce, the judge presiding over the case may require one of the parties to provide regular spousal maintenance payments to the other party. These payments – known as maintenance in New York but commonly called alimony – are calculated according to a specific formula laid out in New York Domestic Relations Law section 236(B)(6). Spousal maintenance may be ordered for a specific period of time, or, in rare circumstances, it may be ordered for the lifetime of the receiving spouse.  There are presumptive guidelines for the amount and duration of maintenance based on incomes and length of the marriage.While spousal maintenance payments are primarily determined by the formula contained in section 236(B), there is a fair amount of judicial discretion in divorces with high-income earning spouses. As a general matter, New York law imposes an income cap when determining the appropriate amount of spousal maintenance. Back when the New York Domestic Relations Law was rewritten, the income cap was set at $175,000. However, the income cap increases incrementally year-over-year according to the consumer price index. The current New York spousal maintenance income cap is $184,000.

If a party to a New York divorce earns above the current income cap, the judge will apply the formula in section 236(B)(6) to determine the amount of spousal maintenance up to the income cap. However, a judge may exercise her discretion in ordering additional spousal maintenance by taking into account the party’s income in excess of the cap.

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In a recent post, we looked at the court’s power – and, in some cases, obligation – to order a DNA test in New York paternity proceedings. New York lawmakers have passed a similar, albeit slightly different, statute establishing when a court must order a DNA test in a New York child support case.Genetic testing can be a crucial part of a child support proceeding when one party disputes paternity. While the over-the-counter DNA testing that has recently become popular to determine an individual’s ethnic heritage has come under fire for its less-than-perfect accuracy, official DNA tests can often determine results with near certainty. That isn’t to say that state-administered tests always return an answer to a paternity question; however, when an answer is returned, the methodologies are such that courts are confident basing important legal decisions on the results.

Under Article 2 section 418 of the New York Consolidated Statutes, “[t]he court, on its own motion or motion of any party, when paternity is contested, shall order the mother, the child and the alleged father to submit to” DNA testing. When the language in the statute is broken down, the following is clear:

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Divorce or family law issues for unmarried people is a complicated time for any couple, but situations can become far more complex when children are added into the mix. Not only do New York divorce attorneys and the New York Supreme or Family Courts need to determine who should provide care for those children in terms of custody, but they must also decide whether and what child support should be given from a non-custodial parent. If child support is awarded, then the New York Courts may use a range of factors to determine exactly how much should be given. The decision comes from a careful consideration of both the payor’s income, the custodial parent’s income, the child support guideline’s and reasons to deviate from the guidelines.

Before a payor’s income can be used to calculate child support payments, certain deductions may be applied to the total earning potential of the individual. The New York Child Support Standards Act provides a formula based on percentage of income, to determine exactly how much support should be paid. Deviations from the guideline amount of support can be argued or negotiated by family law attorneys or divorce lawyers. The Child Support Standards Act indicates that there are numerous things that can be deducted from a person’s income before the formula is applied, including:

  • Maintenance/ alimony to be paid to the current spouse
  • Maintenance/ alimony paid to a previous spouse
  • Child support paid pursuant to a written agreement or court order for a child for whom the parent already has a duty of care.
  • Supplemental security income
  • Public assistance payments
  • New York City earnings or income taxes paid
  • Federal insurance contributions act taxes paid
  • Unreimbursed employee business expenses

This blog will briefly discuss, what are unreimbursed business employee expenses? Continue reading

New York is an equitable distribution state. Thus, when it comes to dividing up a couple’s assets in a New York divorce case, the court will consider a number of factors. However, before the court gets to the point of dividing up the assets, it needs to determine which assets are subject to the equitable distribution rules.Only marital property is subject to equitable distribution. And as a general matter, property that is determined to be the “separate property” of one spouse will remain with that spouse. Courts use a common-sense approach when determining whether property is marital or separate property. Under New York Domestic Relations Law section 13-236, separate property includes property acquired before the marriage and property that was gifted to one spouse by someone other than the other spouse.

In addition, “property acquired in exchange for [separate property] or the increase in value of separate property” will be considered separate property unless the increase in value is due in part to the “contributions or efforts of the other spouse.” This last category of separate property is often the subject of much dispute. A landmark case decided by the New York Court of Appeals set forth the framework regarding how courts view these claims.

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