Articles Posted in Family Law

Child custody issues are often the most hotly contested area in divorce and family law cases. It would stand to reason, then, that New York child custody issues are not limited to situations in which the biological parents of the child are in a relationship – or even know each other.

SurrogacyWith the advent of recent medical developments over the past few decades, couples who thought they may never be able to have children are able to give birth to a child through various means. Of course, this includes same-sex couples relying on donated sperm. However, with these recent developments, child custody issues have arisen, requiring New York courts to come up with ad hoc methods of resolving these child custody conflicts.

As a general matter, if someone goes through a doctor for the artificial insemination process, there is little to worry about in terms of the sperm donor later seeking custody of a child. Similarly, a sperm donor has little to worry about the parents seeking to enforce a paternity action. This is because the contract between the sperm donor and the business or organization accepting and storing the sperm provides for the termination of any parental rights the donor may otherwise have. Thus, to be sure that there will not be any problems in the future, parents who hope to conceive through artificial insemination are advised to use an official medical provider to do so.

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It is rarely the case that both parties agree in a New York child custody proceeding. More often than not, one party initiates the proceeding, leaving the non-filing party a choice of how to proceed. If the non-filing party believes that they have a claim against the party that filed the original petition, they should be sure to include their claim in a response to the original petition or, if the claim is only tangentially related, file a cross-petition.

GavelNew York Civil Practice Laws and Rules section 602 discusses the consolidation of related matters. Specifically, the statute allows for a court to consolidate matters “involving a common question of law or fact.” Importantly, courts are left with discretion regarding whether to consolidate multiple issues. However, section 602 does provide some guidance, indicating that the purpose of consolidation is to “avoid unnecessary costs or delay.”

An Example

Husband and wife have been divorced for several years. Currently, husband has primary physical custody, and wife has visitation privileges. Husband filed a petition in a New York court, asking the judge to order that wife’s future visits with the children are supervised by the court. In response, wife may ask the court to modify the original order to grant her primary custody.

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When going through the process of a divorce or family law dispute in New York, it’s important to make sure that you fully understand what your rights and responsibilities are as a client. TheMeeting-300x200 more you know, the more you can make an informed decision about your future. Therefore, a divorce lawyer will always provide his clients with a document known as the “Clients Rights and Responsibilities” form. The document is prescribed by the Appellate Division, and it’s provided at the initial conference, before any retainer agreements are signed.  I am attaching a link to the complete Statement of Clients Rights and Responsibilities here, while this blog is intended to highlight some of the features.

When I give my clients the “Clients Rights and Responsibilities” document, it’s intended to give that individual not only an insight into what they’re entitled to by law, but also what is expected from them. Of course, it’s always possible for my clients to come to me with any questions they might have about their rights or responsibilities, or the case that they will be addressing with me in the future. It’s well within the rights of any family law client to speak to their divorce attorney, child custody attorney or family lawyer if they have any concerns or questions about the manner in which their case is handled.  I endeavor to make myself available.  One of the rights people have is that an attorney never has the right to refuse your case based on creed, color, sex, orientation, origin, race, or disability. Continue reading

If you and your partner have been hoping to have a baby, then the potential new law in New York could be the answer. After all, there are plenty of reasons why a couple might be unable to Pregnant-Woman-300x200conceive a child on their own. Some people experience issues in conceiving, while same-sex partners are forced to seek out alternative options to the traditional method.  Adoption is often the answer.

For many, surrogacy can seem like the simplest way to create a family. However, the truth is that this process isn’t nearly as straightforward as it might seem. Not only is paying for surrogacy incredibly expensive, but the legal guidelines currently in place within New York mean that couples could be penalized for entering into a contract with a surrogate.  The article by Sheryl F. Colb in Verdict, Legal Analysis and Commentary from Justia on November 8, 2017 provides a thorough analysis of the topic.  This blog summarizes and in spots supplements the article

Understanding Surrogacy Law in New York

From a medical perspective, there are two types of surrogacy that can be considered by those searching for alternative methods of conception. Traditional surrogates are women who are inseminated with sperm to fertilize their own egg. This means that the resulting child is biologically related to the surrogate parent. On the other hand, “gestational” surrogates are implanted with an embryo that is created in a lab using the egg and sperm of the intended parents. In the case of a gestational surrogacy, the surrogate is not related to the child. Continue reading

When a couple splits up in a New York divorce, and the couple has children together, the court, or the divorce lawyers involved, must determine whether either of the parties is entitled to child support.  If the matter is handled in Family Court, in making this determination, the court looks at New York Family Court Act section 413, which outlines the considerations that must be taken into account when ordering child support. The exact formula is somewhat complicated, but essentially it looks at each parent’s income and the number of children involved.

Wedding RingsOnce a court makes a determination as to child support, that order will remain in effect unless one of the parties asks the court to reconsider the child support amount. Courts routinely make changes to child support orders based on either party’s changing circumstances. For example, if one of the parents loses a job, that parent may then petition the court to adjust the child support payments they are required to make. A question that often comes up in New York divorce cases is whether the income of a remarried parent’s new spouse can be used when calculating child support payments.

The general rule under New York law is that a step-parent has no obligation to support their step-children. However, there are ways that the income of a step-parent may be relevant to a child support determination. For example, assume parent A and parent B have two children and get divorced. Parent A has custody of the children, and Parent B is ordered to pay child support. Later, Parent B remarries. Normally, when it comes to determining Parent B’s child support obligation, Parent B’s new spouse’s income would not be considered. However, if Parent B has a child with the new spouse, the new spouse’s income may become relevant because the needs of the children that live with the non-custodial parent of the subject children of child support case  can be taken into account. According to the statute those children’s needs can be considered to deviate from the guideline amount of child support, but only if the resources available to support the children living with the non-custodial parent are less than the resources available to support the child or children that are the subject of the divorce or post judgement divorce or child support case.

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After a divorce is finalized, the former husband and wife will go their separate ways. When the former couple has children together, this may result in one of the parents leaving the state with the children. While the state overseeing the initial divorce proceeding generally issues an initial custody order, that order is subject to revision.

U.S. MapCustody orders can be revised by either the state where the original proceeding occurred or, under some circumstances, by the state where the child resides. A common issue in New York family law cases is the state’s ability to enforce custody orders that were made by another state.

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act

Lawmakers understand that situations like the ones discussed above are likely to arise, and as a result, they have developed a uniform act to streamline custody proceedings across state lines. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) has been adopted by 49 states, including New York, and provides guidelines as to which court has the power to issue binding custody determinations and modifications. It also allows for consistent enforcement of out-of-state custody determinations.

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PolyamoryLaws relating to child custody have gone through a number of significant changes in recent years, which largely reflect the fact that the concept of “parent” can extend beyond biological mothers and fathers. New York law no longer limits legal custody to biological or adoptive parents, although it sets a very high bar for who may assert a claim for custody. In March 2017, a judge in Suffolk County, possibly for the first time in this state, granted custody of a child to three people. The court granted “tri-custody” in DM v MM to the child’s two biological parents and a “non-biological, non-adoptive parent” who had been involved in a relationship with both parents, who had helped raise the child, and whom the child recognized as a parent.

Under § 70 of the New York Domestic Relations Law (DRL), “either parent” of a child may bring suit to determine the legal custody of that child. The law specifies that neither parent has a “prima facie right to the custody of the child.” Instead, in the event of a dispute between parents, a court must make a decision based on “the best interest of the child.” The DRL does not provide a precise definition of this term but notes that it includes “what will best promote [the child’s] welfare and happiness.” A determination of a child’s best interest is therefore highly dependent on the facts of each individual case. Until recently, however, New York law has been clear on who may assert a claim for child custody.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2015, in Obergefell v. Hodges, that state laws limiting marriage to one man and one woman, and therefore excluding same-sex couples, were unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment. Many states, including New York, had already recognized the legal validity of same-sex marriages, but Obergefell extended this recognition to the entire nation. This ruling arguably led to an expanded legal recognition for “non-traditional” parenting arrangements, provided that they meet the “best interest of the child” standard.

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A family offense petition, or order of protection, can be filed in New York on the behalf of a child when a parent Order-of-Protection-Picturesuspects, or has evidence of an act of abuse or neglect initiated by another family member. To act within a child’s best interests, the New York courts must consider who should be permitted to file a family offense petition on the behalf of that child. The court inherently recognizes that a parent will always have the standing to commence a proceeding of family offense on the behalf of his or her child, under New York Family Court Act Article 8. However, grandparents and other individuals who share the same family home do not always have the same rights.

When dealing with cases that ask the court to re-consider issues of child custody and visitation, it’s important to remember that, in an effort to act in the best interests of the child, the court will not make changes to pre-existing custody orders unless there is evidence of a substantial change in circumstances that requires a need to look at whether modification is in the best interests of the child. As such, when it comes to family offense petitions made on the behalf of the child, the court must also be equally stringent about who it believes to be an appropriate individual to launch a complaint on the behalf of that child.

Usually, only a parent of the child, as recognized by the law, will be able to act on the behalf of that child when presenting an issue in court. For instance, in a case entitled Hitchcock v. Kilts, 772 N.Y.S.2d 386 (N.Y. App. Div. 3d Dep’t 2004), the family court awarded sole custody of two children to the mother during the divorce, but gave the father visitation rights. During the visitation, the oldest child told his father that his mother had slapped him, dragged him by the hair, and poured Tabasco sauce into his mouth. Those allegations led the father to file a family offense petition which was heard by the court because the father was recognized as an appropriate person to act on the behalf of the child. Though a temporary order awarded custody to the father for a short time, the order was reversed and the original order was reinstated after evidence from both parties had been presented. Continue reading

The first thing to understand about divorce – is that no matter how you go about it, you’re probably going to face Happy-Couplesome emotional complexities and other personal difficulties. Divorces are a difficult process – after all, most couples enter a divorce after years of trying to make it work with their spouse, and find themselves suddenly considering the prospect of single life all over again. It can be extremely difficult to regain your confidence, find financial stability, and make sure that you’re ready for the change in lifestyle that lies ahead, but that doesn’t mean that everything about divorce is negative. As I often tell my clients – it’s up to you to decide when your marriage is over. If you simply can’t be happy in the relationship that you’re in – for any reason, then divorce may well be the answer.  My last blog article discussed some of the negative, as well as positive aspects of divorce and separation.  This article will focus on the up sides.

After you receive those final divorce papers, it’s easy to find yourself mourning the loss of your relationship, but it’s also important to focus on the positives that could come your way now that you’ve removed yourself from a potentially toxic situation.

Divorce Could Make You Happier

I often find that it can be difficult for some clients to believe that they may enjoy a happier life after their divorce is over, but I frequently see ex-spouses moving on to live more peaceful, fulfilling lives once their divorce is settled. Though the initial feelings that you experience during the onset of a divorce may center around a fear of the unknown, that anxiety and sadness will in most instances eventually get better. Continue reading

In the world of divorce and family law issues, there are many different types of dispute resolution available, from BusinessManAloneclassic negotiations, collaborative law, litigation, and of course – mediation. When a couple opts for mediation as a way of settling their divorce concerns outside of the courtroom, they generally come together as two opposing parties with one neutral party in the middle – the mediator. However, some people perform the mediation process differently – offering their clients the opportunity of “caucusing”.  In caucus-style mediation, the mediator provides separate meetings for both parties involved in the divorce – while the other party is absent. Some professionals use this method once or twice during the mediation to help resolve significant issues, whereas others maintain the caucus format throughout the full mediation, shuttling backwards and forwards between clients.

For the most part, I have not employed caucus mediation (although in next week’s blog I will discuss times when mediation by caucus might be a good idea), but I do believe it can have some utility to handle certain situations which can arise with mediating couples.  This week’s blog will outline the reasons I initially approach a divorce mediation without the thought we will have separate caucus sessions to work through the issues that need to be settled in a legal separation or divorce mediation.     In my mediation sessions, I explain that everything is done with reference to both parties, both parents, or both the husband and wife – together. This helps the people I work with to see me for what I am – a neutral party within their dispute resolution that is there to help them iron out an agreement which can be used to make a binding legal contract.  In most instances (we can mediate issues other than just divorce, such as custody, support, etc.) that contract is a settlement agreement that can allow them to get an uncontested divorce either right away or at some future date.  While there may be instances wherein caucusing is the right move (something I’ll address in my next blog), I am wary to employ the caucus approach at least initially.

Caucusing Can Raise Issues

Perhaps the most significant problem with caucusing is that it removes the intimacy from the negotiation technique. Rather than allowing for both of the parties to be directly involved in the resolution of their various arguments and concerns, the mediator is forced to run back and forth conveying offers and suggestions. There’s no room here to discuss matters thoroughly and examine the different opportunities for negotiation – which means that by the end of the mediation, one or both spouses might leave with questions. At the same time, the caucus method of mediation can shift the position of the mediator so that he or she no longer appears to be neutral within the case. When all of the conversation with the other side of the divorce takes place out of sight of the other client, most clients can begin to feel as though the mediator and ex-spouse are plotting behind their back. Even if this isn’t true, it’s worth noting that divorce and family law issues are emotional and can prompt feelings of paranoia and anger. Continue reading