There are various ways to approach a child custody case. For some parents, the ChildGlasses-300x258best solution to negotiating things like parenting time, visitation, and custody, will be to consider an amicable approach featuring settlement negotiations, collaborative law or mediation. Indeed, many couples believe that mediation is a powerful option for cases regarding children, as it allows them to limit their risk of exposing the child to painful memories of their parents fighting or uncomfortable emotional experiences such as being interviewed by an Attorney for the Children, a forensic evaluator or a judge. However, avoiding court battles will not be possible for every case. In some instances, the only way to properly pursue the best interests of a child, will be to take the matter to a New York Family court or Supreme Court, and present it in front of a judge.

Litigation in family law is a complex, and often highly nuanced area. There are numerous skills, methods, and techniques that an attorney can use to sway the opinion of the judge, or potentially assist in outlining crucial points in a specific case. One common element of child custody cases, and indeed many litigation circumstances, is the use of “direct examination”. When properly done, direct examination in a child custody case can be used to demonstrate to the judge, or trier of fact, that a person’s request or plan for parenting time or custody is within the best interests of the child or children involved.

What is Direct Examination?

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Addressing your Most Frequently Asked Divorce QuestionsLawyer-with-Judge-300x200

As a divorce attorney, I do my best to keep my clients informed and educated about each step of their divorce procedure. Often, this means answering some of the most common questions that might arise about the complications of marriage dissolution. To help people facing family law issues to address some of the most typical concerns surrounding divorce, I’ve put together this list of some frequently asked divorce questions that I have answered in my previous blogs and web site pages.  Child custody, parenting time, child support, maintenance (spousal support) are important issues that need to be decided in a divorce as well but I do not discuss them in today’s blog.

Question 1: What Are New York Divorce Residency Requirements?

Parties to a divorce in New York must meet the residency requirements for the state, or their case may be dismissed. To apply for a divorce, residents must meet with the following requirements:

  • The marriage ceremony must have taken place in New York, and one spouse must have had legal residence for at least one year prior to action taking place.
  • Both spouses lived as a married couple in New York, and one or both residents has been considered a resident for at least one year prior to action taking place.
  • The grounds for divorce took place in New York, and at least one spouse has been a resident for at least one year prior to action taking place.
  • The grounds for divorce took place in New York and both spouses were residents at that time.
  • At least one spouse was living in New York as a resident for at least 2 years prior to filing the case.

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When a marriage is ending, unless there is a valid agreement between the parties, it is left up to the judge to determine the financial responsibilities of the parties in what they call in New York equitable distribution. In most cases, this requires the judge to figure out all of the marital assets as well as the marital debts. Student-loan debt is no exception; however, calculating which party is responsible for the payment of student-loan debt may be more complicated that it initially seems.

Graduation CapStudent-Loan Debt Incurred Before the Marriage

As a general rule, student-loan debt that is incurred prior to the marriage is not considered a marital debt, and the party who took the loan out will be solely responsible for the payment of that debt. However, student-loan debt that is incurred during the marriage presents a more difficult situation and often requires the court to apply a multi-faceted test to determine which percentage of the debt, if any, is attributable to the spouse who did not incur the debt.

Student-Loan Debt Incurred During the Marriage

Under New York case law that was decided prior to the 2015-2016 updates to the New York Domestic Relations law student-loan debt may be considered marital debt that is subject to equitable distribution, depending on all of the surrounding circumstances. However, prior to the 2015-2016 update to the New York Domestic Relations law this used to also means that the degree or professional license that was obtained through the procurement of the debt may also be subject to equitable distribution.  The updated Domestic Relations law, however, specifically changed the law to say that degrees were not subject to equitable distribution.  In one of my next blogs we will examine whether the change to the New York Domestic Relations Law about degrees being subject to equitable distribution has altered the landscape about student loan debt.

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When a marriage is in the process of coming to an end, it is common for one spouse to make payments to the other spouse not just throughout the pendency of the divorce proceeding but also moving forward on a permanent or semi-permanent basis. The term for these payments is spousal maintenance. Payments made during the divorce proceeding are called temporary support payments, whereas payments made after the divorce is final are called post-divorce payments. Spousal maintenance, which is intended for the benefit of the payee spouse, is different from child support benefits, which are intended for the benefit of the children of the marriage.

CourtroomHow New York Courts Determine Spousal Maintenance Payments

Recently, New York lawmakers passed a new law that tweaked the way spousal maintenance payments were calculated. Under the new law, if an agreement is not made between the parties and their divorce lawyers, the judge presiding over the divorce proceeding will use a predetermined formula to calculate both temporary maintenance support payments as well as post-divorce payments.  Incidentally, this same formula applies to spousal support proceedings in Family Court.  While the formula is somewhat complicated and beyond the scope of this post, it takes into account the following:

  • Whether the payor spouse is also paying child support payments;
  • The total income of the payor spouse (under the new law, only the first $175,000 of the payor spouse’s income will be used in the calculation);
  • Whether the parties entered into a valid written agreement regarding the determination of spousal maintenance payments; and
  • How long the marriage lasted.

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As a divorce lawyer for the regions of Long Island, the surrounding areas and New York, I like to inform my clients Senior-Couple-300x212that I’m capable of offering them a range of solutions when it comes to dissolving a marriage. While some people will find that litigation is their best option (and I do litigate), others will prefer to access the often time, and cost-effective solution of mediation instead. As a trained mediator, I can offer clients a more collaborative experience when it comes to settling divorce issues.  I routinely litigate, as well as settle cases under the more traditional system, which is set up as an adversarial system (ie.  Plaintiff versus Defendant).  I also work as a mediator or a review attorney for those that choose divorce mediation as their process to dissolve their marriage. Here, I’ll address some of the common questions I encounter about divorce mediation.

Question 1: How Can I get My Spouse to Agree to Mediation?

Often, both spouses need to feel comfortable in a mediation setting for this process to work. As such, my clients often ask me how to convince their spouse to take part in mediation as an alternate source of dispute resolution. Often, I find that the best option is to simply approach the topic from an angle that both of you understand. For instance, if you’re concerned about money, you could acknowledge that mediation is often cheaper than litigation. Alternatively, if you want to defend the children from an emotional process, mediation is often a much calmer approach to divorce. Continue reading

As a child custody lawyer for New York, and Long Island, I know that people involved with a child custody case often Family-Breakfast-300x200have questions about it.  The complexities of best interests and various pre-set standards can make it difficult for parents to understand exactly what they’re getting into when they approach a custody case. With that in mind, I’ve put together this quick introduction into some of the most frequently asked questions I encounter as a child custody attorney.

1.     What Is The “Best Interests” Standard

For most legal matters, the court focuses on resolving issues by considering the past and present behavior of the parties involved. However, in child custody, the court must use that information to look towards the future, and predict which parent may offer a healthier, more successful environment for the child in question. By examining past behavior, and sometimes engaging psychological or other expert testimony, New York Courts must determine outcomes based on their opinion of the “best interests” of the child.

2.     What does the “Primary Caretaker” mean ?

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Equitable distribution is one of the matters that I deal with most often as a divorce attorney for New York and Long CoupleShakeHands-300x204Island. Though all the intricacies involved in equitable distribution can be a concept that’s difficult to understand without a background in family law, it can become more challenging when an individual is facing the concerns of splitting unique elements, such as retirement benefits.

It’s relatively well know that the marital portions of retirement plans like 401ks, pensions and deferred compensation plans,  are typically subject to equitable distribution in the case of a divorce. However, determining the right course of action can become more complex when it comes to disability pensions. After all, the divorce lawyers and the New York courts in cases of disagreements need to determine whether the asset is one that was accumulated during the marriage and what is appropriate as far as equitable distribution, or something that should be regarded like a personal injury award. Continue reading

Today’s blog is a blend of some of my prior blogs and/or website articles over the years on child support. As a New Happy-Blue-Sky-Family-300x200York divorce lawyer and family law attorney, one of the most common types of cases I deal with involves the issue of child support. Under the law of New York State, both parents responsible for a child are required to support their child financially until that child turns 21 years old. Regardless of whether the parents have been involved in a divorce or not, they remain financially responsible for their child.

In any divorce or child support case that I encounter as a family law professional, I find that it’s important to outline the details that go into determining how much child support is possible. Child support is a very complicated matter, and if it’s something that you’ve never encountered before, you might find yourself getting confused, or overwhelmed. Here, I’ll talk a look at a few things that you might not know about New York child support. Continue reading

DefaultDivorces in New York follow many of the same procedures as other lawsuits. The plaintiff spouse filing must provide the defendant spouse with notice consisting of a summons and either a copy of the divorce complaint or a notice describing the nature of the lawsuit. Delivering these documents to a defendant is commonly known as service of process. Failing to do this properly can delay a case or even result in its dismissal. Once the defendant has been served, they must file an answer or else risk a default judgment on some or all of the plaintiff’s claims. An interesting question arises when a plaintiff spouse serves a summons with notice—meaning without a copy of the divorce complaint—and the defendant spouse defaults. Does a defaulting spouse have a right to service of the actual complaint? The scant amount of caselaw on the topic, suggests that notice, without the complaint, is sufficient for a divorce but not for issues like custody and support.

New York law requires a plaintiff to file a summons, along with either the complaint or a notice that describes the nature of the complaint. If a plaintiff chooses the latter, known as “summons with notice,” they must file the actual complaint at a later time. The exact deadline depends on how the defendant responds to the lawsuit.

The New York Domestic Relations Law (DRL) and Civil Practice Law & Rules (CPLR) govern service of process in divorce cases. Section 232(a) of the DRL requires a summons to clearly state that it is for an “action for divorce.” Rule 320 of the CPLR states that the defendant has 20 days to respond if they were personally served, or 30 days if they were served by any other means. The plaintiff can seek a default judgment under Rule 3215 and DRL § 211 if the defendant does not file a response with the court clerk.

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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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