Articles Posted in Separation

When you and your spouse agree that it might be time to consider a divorce, you’ll discover that there are a number of different routes available for you to choose from. Divorce doesn’tautomatically have to be about stressful litigation – it can be something that you come to terms about collaboratively, with the use of mediation. Mediation is a flexible process that can be used to help you sort out existing problems regarding the financial results of your divorce, or what needs to be done about child custody and parenting time. Unfortunately, just because one spouse decides that mediation may be the right call for their divorce needs – doesn’t mean that the other spouse will agree.

Sometimes, simply broaching the topic of mediation with caution and patience is a good way to get started in encouraging your spouse to agree to an alternative form of dispute resolution. After all, divorce is easily one of the most uncomfortable experiences a person can go through. Although you might be getting a divorce, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be mindful and respectful of the other person’s feelings.

Approaching the Topic on Neutral Ground

A good way to encourage a reluctant spouse to reconsider the option of mediation, is to approach the subject from a position that is important to both of you. For example:

  1. Consider the Children

Make sure that your spouse understands that through mediation, you can reduce some of the discomfort typically associated with aggressive court-based battles and litigation. This can be beneficial to the future relationships that both of you maintain with your children. What’s more, throughout the mediation process, you will both be in control of any decisions made about the support and parenting of your children – meaning that you can work together to fashion an agreement that works for both of you. Continue reading

Many people assume that the only way to handle a divorce with a high-conflict partner is to buckle down for arollercoaster ride of litigation and court appearances. However, one point of view is that this just leads to additional conflict, and a lengthy divorce procedure that can cost a lot in terms of financial input, and emotional sacrifice. During my time as a professionally trained mediator, I have helped couples from a range of different backgrounds and surrounding circumstances to discover an agreeable solution to what may seem, in their eyes, to be an impossible problem. One thing that I have noticed in my experience is that although the mediation process is obviously easier, and less demanding when it’s launched between a pair of ex-spouses who still have a level of communication and amicability between them – that doesn’t mean that the system only works in cases of no-conflict divorce.

There are situation of course, where mediation is not possible, although in almost all circumstances, it is possible to achieve a more lucrative, and beneficial divorce procedure when a cooperative process is embraced – instead of a combative one. This means that it may be worth considering all of the options, before you simply assume that your “high conflict” divorce is limited to litigation.  After all, if mediation and litigation are both avenues that lead to arguments and disagreements between you and your ex-spouse, doesn’t it make sense to attempt to resolve those arguments with an impartial expert before spending time, money, and energy on aggressive litigation? Continue reading

Residency requirements to obtain a divorce exist so that the person filing for divorce can’t simply choose the state with the laws they want, move to that state, and then sue for divorce. Those who move to New York without their spouses cannot immediately sue for divorce on the grounds that their marriages have irretrievably broken down. They must wait two years, at least according to at least one trial court in New York.  Whether Appellate Courts would agree and come to the same conclusion is an open question but this article will relay how the trial court came to it’s conclusion.

In Stancil v. Stancil, the court considered whether New York’s no-fault divorce statute created a cause that would reduce a divorcing spouse’s residency requirement from two years to one. In New York, either spouse must live in the state continuously for two years or continuously for one year when certain conditions are present. Under Domestic Relations Law § 230 (3), one condition for meeting the latter requirement is when the cause for the divorce happens within the state.

In the case, the husband lived in Virginia and objected to having a divorce in New York, since the wife had only lived there for 14 months before filing. The wife argued that the divorce could proceed in New York because the basis for the divorce was the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, and this was a cause for the divorce that happened within New York.

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The goal of divorce mediation is for a couple to reach a settlement on one or more issues related to their divorce. To that end, a neutral third party known as a mediator helps each side understand the relative strengths and weaknesses in their position and tries to move them closer to a consensus. While neither party may get exactly what they want, they try to come to an agreement with which they can both live. Often, mediation allows for a better outcome than litigation, and it can be easier on a couple’s children.

If an agreement is reached at mediation, it may be formalized in a separation agreement. Courts treat this agreement the way they would treat other contracts. Although a neutral third party may help the parties reach a different outcome than what a judge would have decided, the court will treat the agreement seriously, except in certain circumstances.

In Ruparelia v. Ruperalia, a husband and wife were married in 1994 and had three children. The husband was a doctor, and the wife had a Master’s degree in social work. In 2011, the couple experienced significant discord, causing them to participate in divorce mediation. During the mediation, they reached an agreement as to asset distribution, spousal maintenance, and child support. These agreements were formalized in a separation agreement, executed in the summer of 2011.

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In some cases, divorce mediation can be the best solution for a couple who want to find an amicable way inwhich 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

New 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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According to the New York Domestic Relations Law, as part of a matrimonial case, such as for divorce, annulment, separation, or obtaining maintenance or equitable distribution following a foreign divorce judgement, the court may award counsel fees. In New York proceedings it is well established that the Court in domestic relations cases has the discretion to award fees depending on the parties’ circumstances, the merits of each sides positions and the complexities involved in the particular case.  As part of a post nuptial agreement, pre nuptial agreement, separation agreement, or stipulation of settlement of a divorce, often times a provision is included about future payment of the other side’s counsel fees by the party that takes a non meritorious position.  In those situations the court will usually seek to enforce the terms of the parties agreement regarding counsel fee applications.  The balance of this blog is about cases that are not covered by counsel fee clauses.

The underlying purpose and rationale behind many counsel fee awards is to make sure that a “needy” spouse has the ability to defend themselves, or carry out legal actions in court. Through counsel fees, the New York court is able to situate both spouses on an equal economic footing when it comes to using legal help and carrying out court proceedings. What’s more, these fees can help to ensure that during litigation, both spouses have equal leverage. The Supreme Court of New York may deliver an order to either spouse involved in the case, requesting them to directly pay counsel fees to an attorney for the other spouse, so as to enable that spouse’s continued participation in the case.  Courts can consider:  type of services rendered; the actual time used; the professional experience and reputation of the counsel; and the respective financial situation of each side. Continue reading

Filing for a divorce, regardless of where you live or what the underlying circumstances may be, can sometimes require some thought to ascertain in which state in this Country you should file. There are rules to follow throughout almost every aspect of the case, from determining where you will be able to file for a divorce, to figuring out exactly who has the rights to what through equitable distribution. Before you can go ahead with filing for a divorce, regardless of the process chosen to sort out the issues to dissolve your marriage, be it mediation, litigation, or collaborative law, you must ensure that you meet the residency requirements for a divorce case to take place in New York. After all, throughout the United States, each state has its own jurisdiction, and you must apply for legal action in the State that applies to you.

Those who apply for divorce without meeting the residency requirements for New York may find that their cases are dismissed. To apply for a divorce within New York, it is crucial for at least one party to meet with one of the following requirements regarding residency as is outlined in the New York Domestic Relations law:

  1. The ceremony for the marriage of the couple seeking a divorce must have been performed within the State of New York, and at least one of the spouses involved had legal residence within the state of New York for at least one year continuously prior to the beginning of the action; or,
  2. Both spouses lived and held themselves as husband and wife within the State of New York, and one (or both) has been considered a resident for at least one year before the commencement of the action; or,
  3. The reason (grounds) for the divorce took place within New York, and one of the spouses has been a resident of New York for at least one year before the action commenced; or,
  4. The reason for the divorce took place in New York, and both spouses were residents of New York at the time that the grounds for divorce occurred; or,
  5. If both spouses were not married within the State of New York and were never living as a “husband and wife” couple within the state, or the reason for the divorce didn’t occur within the state, either spouse must have lived within New York as a resident for a minimum of 2 years before the case is filed.

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I recently wrote about the revisions to the New York maintenance (alimony) law which was passed in September 2015.  It became effective for the temporary maintenance provisions on October 25, 2015 and for durational or permanent maintenance (the maintenance ordered for some period of time after the divorce if there is any) it will be effective as of the end of January 2016. This article will be about the narrow issue if maintenance should exist when a spouse/former spouse is living with a new romantic partner. The law about this situation is contained in New York Domestic Relations Law Section 248 (DRL 248) which also received some changes in the recent law update. It seems, mostly, that section of the law remains intact. The language, though, was updated to be more gender neutral and reflective of our modern times.

The current old law, which is effective only until January 23, 2016, states that when the wife remarries the court must terminate any support payments (not child support) that are to be made by the Husband for the Wife. The antiquated language here I think is apparent – “Husband” and “Wife”. While courts have in recent years read gender neutrality into these terms, those terms are changed in the new law to “payor” and “payee”, thus recognizing that either spouse might need to pay maintenance. The current/old law goes on to say that the husband can make a motion, and the court in its discretion may grant the motion, for termination of support payments for the wife if the husband can prove that the wife is habitually living with another man, and holding herself out as his wife, even though they are not married. The updated law, again, modernizes the terms to “payor”, “payee” and “spouse” (which is also reflective of the fact that same sex couples can now marry). Continue reading

 Mediation is one of the most popular legal solutions available when it comes to negotiating the terms of a divorce. As I have stated in various blog posts before, I myself am a huge advocate of divorce mediation (and collaborative law) when it comes to settling disputes between couples that are willing to take an alternate route. For the process of divorce mediation to work as it should – both of the parties involved in the case must have some willingness and exert at least a little effort. Mediation is a voluntary process, and neither party can be forced into it – making it a highly different approach to litigation or the adversarial divorce case.  Most likely, the couple pictured above, however, would benefit by utilizing some of the tips contained within this blog.  Please consider the picture then, advice on what not to do.

In the traditional court centered divorces, a divorce proceeding can be started within the court without the consent of the other party, as one side and their lawyer will draft the initial pleadings, file them, and serve them to the other side. In New York, the other spouse involved will then have twenty days to “appear” within the case, which then makes both sides participants in the adversarial divorce. If your goal is to settle your divorce case “amicably”, then mediation is potentially the best route to pursue. In divorce mediation, yourself and your spouse – or in certain cases, the two of you and respective lawyers, utilize a mediator that will help you to resolve and discuss the issues in your divorce. Though the mediator will not make your decisions for you, they will serve as a facilitator to help you determine what is best with your spouse. Continue reading