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Articles Posted in Trials

If you’ve been staying tuned with my blog recently, then you’ll know that I’ve been creating a list of blogs highlighting Colleagueslaptop-300x200key points in divorce mediation. These guides are designed to give you easy access to important information about mediation in a bite-sized package. Now, I’m going to be looking at more traditional divorce representation, that in which the lawyer is representing a client as their advocate, in a similar fashion, highlighting key points for you in an easy-to-read format.

This is the first of what is likely to be a number of lists about divorce litigation, and it will be looking distributing debts and assets, the concept of filing for divorce, maintenance, child custody, child support and more.

Divorce and the Latest Distribution Laws

One of the major issues that couples need to address when getting divorced, is how they’re going to handle the distribution of assets. This includes dividing not just important assets like belongings and the family home, but also deciding who should be responsible for debts after the marriage is over. 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 ›

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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Many New York family law cases involve a child custody dispute. Most often, these disputes arise when the parents of a child or children go through a divorce and argue over who has primary custody of the children. However, in some cases, grandparents seek visitation or custody of a child. This may be after a divorce or even while the child’s parents are still together.In previous posts, we have discussed under which situations a court may award visitation or custody to grandparents. As previously noted, grandparents do not have a “right” to the custody of their grandchildren. Thus, custody will only be awarded to a grandparent if certain factors are present. Among others, a court must determine that awarding custody to a grandparent or grandparents is in the best interests of the child.

How Do Courts Determine What Is in the Best Interests of a Child?

Judges know the law. However, very few judges are trained in psychology, and fewer still are able to glean sufficient knowledge of a family’s dynamics through the evidence presented to the court. For example, much of the evidence presented in a New York custody case may be limited to text on a page, which may not provide a judge with much knowledge of the relationships between the parents, children, and grandparents. Additionally, any live-witness testimony has the potential to be biased or fabricated.

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A divorce case will often be an emotional and complicated time for everyone involved. Feelings are hurt, and insome cases, sadness spurred by the end of a marriage can turn into anger, making the experience of litigation even harder to handle for those involved.  While I am a strong believer in alternative dispute resolution through processes like mediation or collaborative law for couples willing and able to go those routes, often, litigation is the process used.  As a divorce lawyer and child custody attorney, it’s my responsibility to help the people dealing with the complications of divorce to present their case as clearly, calmly, and effectively as possible in front of a New York judge. Often, this will mean telling a story on the behalf of the client, that begins with an opening statement, continues through to a body featuring witness testimonials, direct, and cross examination, and finishes with a closing statement.

From the very beginning when I start working with a client on their divorce case, we will discuss their circumstances in detail with them, and at times writing what I like to call “golden nuggets” of information down in the trial folder, so that we can refer to them later. This allows me to know what kind of story I want to tell throughout the course of the case, although it’s important to listen carefully to what the witnesses, and opposing lawyer says throughout the experience, as this can sometimes alter the considerations that need to be considered when presenting a divorce summation. Continue reading ›

Although the nature of divorce trials can change from one case to the next, it’s worth noting that divorce attorneys and child custody lawyers like myself often use a very specific set of techniques when presenting our case to the court. Those techniques allow us to create a story for the judge to follow, beginning with an opening statement that explains the nature of the state, then moving onto direct and cross examination. While direct examination is a process used by divorce attorneys to question our own witnesses and establish context within a trial, cross examination is a strategy that’s more focused on changing the perspective of the court to suit our specific client.

During a cross examination, divorce lawyers such as myself ask witnesses essential to our client’s case to provide an in-depth account of the facts that support the case presented by whichever party called the witness to begin with.  Cross examination allows opposing lawyers and perhaps the attorney for the children, if there is a custody dispute, to ask questions of the witness, in an attempt to reveal information that’s beneficial for their clients. For instance, as a cross-examiner in a divorce case, I might use carefully-worded questioning to draw light to points that present my client in a good light. For instance, I could ask the witness to reveal something positive that my client did, or draw more attention to the bad behavior of the opposing party. Continue reading ›

As a child custody lawyer, divorce attorney, and family law lawyer, I’ve been involved with several different divorcetrials across Long Island and New York. While the specifics of these trials might change from couple to couple, it’s worth noting that the formats and many strategies attorneys typically use to present a case in front of a judge or jury have similarities. One of the most important elements involved in a divorce trial is the process of “direct examination”. This is the method that lawyers like myself use to outline facts and introduce exhibits, through our witnesses for the person we’re representing in any specific divorce case.

In the legal world, the concept of direct examination is used to refer to circumstances within a litigation trial, where the attorney questions his or her own witness to help give greater context and detail to a situation. After one side questions their witness on direct examination then the lawyers for the other parties, such as opposing counsel and sometimes the attorney for the child or children question the cross examination, where both attorneys can ask questions of the witness for the trial. I typically use direct examination as a way of getting to the bottom of the story with a witness, uncovering as much vital information as possible that can be used to support my client. Continue reading ›

A marriage is about joining two lives together at multipledifferent touchpoints. When you agree to a marriage, you interweave almost every aspect of your life with your partner. For that reason, when a divorce takes place, it can be very complicated to untangle the situation, and make sure that both people come away feeling in-tact, and secure. While some cases of divorce can be handled with alternative dispute resolution strategies like mediation and collaborative law, some will eventually find themselves in front of the New York court. If your divorce requires litigation, then it’s worth understanding the different elements of a divorce trial, which you may need if your case does not settle ahead of time.

The opening statement for a divorce trial is basically the introduction to your case. It gives the judge context that they can use to understand the story behind your divorce. Petitioning parties in New York courts provide their opening statement to begin with, before the responding party has their opportunity. The important thing to remember about opening statements is that they’re generally not argumentative. Divorce lawyers like myself are not permitted to comment on the credibility of the other side during these statements, nor can we craft a story in an attempt to appeal to prejudice or passion. Continue reading ›

There are various elements involved in ensuring the best results froma child custody case. Closing statements are one of the unique and valuable opportunities that child custody lawyers use when attempting to present their side of the story to the judge. Because managing a case with children involved can be particularly tricky, a summation or closing statement can provide a memorable way to draw all the facts of the case together into something that the judge can use to make their decision. Otherwise known as a “summation”, a closing statement, when performed by an effective child custody lawyer or divorce attorney, can sweep away any pre-existing feelings that the judge had, and replace their thoughts with a new insight into a custody case and why their clients desires are in the best interests of the child or children.  After all, that is what a child custody and parenting trial is all about.   

To some degree, a closing statement is similar to an opening statement. For instance, in both the opening and closing statements, the attorneys for both parties will have the opportunity to directly address the judge, and “discuss” the case, giving them a framework for understanding the role of each party in the case, and how the evidence should be considered. However, a closing statement can involve arguments that allow the child custody attorney to make their point more effectively, whereas an opening statement requires the lawyers for both sides to stick to the facts. Though arguments can be made about the evidence and how it was presented to help sway the judge or undermine the other party’s case, it’s worth noting that there are rules to follow. Continue reading ›

Child custody trials can be very challenging experiences for every individualinvolved. After all, they require the court to consider the best interests of a child when moving forward after a divorce case. An important element to remember is that while many professional techniques are used during a child custody battle, no-one really “wins”. Instead, the best arrangement will be suggested based on the unique needs of the child, and the ability of a parent to provide the healthiest upbringing for that child.  It is very much preferred for parents to be able to make agreements as to what the custody and parenting time arrangements for their children will be.  Trials build the animosity between the parties and thereby are harmful to the children.  That being said, custody hearings and trials happen as people involved in a custody battle sometimes cannot or will not settle.

Opening statements represent the start of a custody trial.  Often times custody lawyers choose to waive opening statements as the trier of fact in the case is a judge (there are no jury custody trials in New York), not a jury, and the judge most likely would rather proceed to the testimony rather than hearing opening statements.  Opening statements are not evidence so a judge might actually appreciate the first witness being called who can provide evidence by their testimony, rather than hearing the musings of the child custody attorneys.  Continue reading ›

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