Divorce: New York

Divorce: New York

The Temporary Maintenance Formula And Home Carrying Costs

Posted in Temporary (Pendente Lite) Relief

Calulator on 100sWhen one spouse is paying all the carrying costs of the home, it is appropriate to reduce the presumptive temporary maintenance formula award to the other spouse by half of those costs.

So held the Appellate Division, Second Department, in its May 20, 2015 decision in Su v. Su, affirming an order of Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Goodstein that directed a wife to pay of the expenses of the home in which the parties were residing while the action was pending plus temporary maintenance to the husband of $200 per month.

In the divorce action commenced by the wife, the husband moved for pendente lite relief seeking, among other things, temporary spousal maintenance in the sum of $4,500.15 per month and to compel the wife to pay all of the carrying costs associated with the marital residence, where both he and the wife continued to reside.

In his order, Justice Goodstein directed the wife to pay 100% of the carrying costs associated with the marital residence, totaling $5,003 per month.

Using the statutory temporary maintenance formula (Domestic Relations Law § 236[ B][5-a][c]), Justice Goodstein also calculated the husband’s presumptive award of temporary maintenance to be $2,057 per month, but found that “it would be unjust and inappropriate” to direct the wife to pay both all of the carrying costs associated with the marital residence plus the presumptive award of temporary maintenance. Therefore, the court downwardly deviated from that presumptive award of temporary maintenance, and awarded the husband the sum of $200 per month.

The husband appealed, contending that the Supreme Court erred in its method of calculating the presumptive award of temporary maintenance and in awarding him the sum of only $200 per month.

Here, the Second Department agreed that the “significant downward deviation from [the] presumptive award of temporary maintenance” was appropriate.

The formula to determine temporary spousal maintenance . . . is intended to cover all of the payee spouse’s basic living expenses, including housing costs of food and clothing, and other usual expenses. . . In addition, where both parties continue to reside in the marital residence and one party is ordered to pay the carrying costs, the payor spouse may be credited with half those costs.

Here, nearly all of the husband’s basic living expenses included in the presumptive award of temporary maintenance were already to be paid by so much of the order as directed the wife to pay 100% of the carrying costs associated with the marital residence, as the court calculated these carrying costs to include the monthly costs for the mortgage, gas, electricity, telephone, water, groceries, home entertainment, household repairs, appliances, laundry, gardening/landscaping, and snow removal.

Moreover, the appellate court noted, the husband failed to demonstrate that the pendente lite award of $200 per month would leave him unable to meet his financial obligations. Under the circumstances, the Second Department held that Justice Goodstein properly downwardly deviated from the presumptive award of temporary maintenance to award the husband the sum of $200 per month

Comment: Although the decision notes that the carrying costs totaled $5,003 per month, it is not clear whether each of the open-ended obligations were capped. Thus, requiring the wife to pay all of the bills for groceries, home entertainment, and repairs, etc., could be problematic. Party at the Su home: caviar and white truffles to be served.

Philip Sands, of Garden City, represented the wife. Thomas Weiss & Associates, P.C., of Garden City, represented the husband.

Attorney’s Charging Lien Enforced Against Child Support Arrears

Posted in Attorney and Client, Child Support (C.S.S.A.)

Legal feesIn its May 1, 2015 decision in Mura v. Mura, the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, affirmed an order of Monroe County Supreme Court Justice Richard A. Dollinger that enforced an ex-wife’s attorney’s charging lien against a fund from which child support arrears were to be paid.

The parties were divorced in 1993. The Monroe County judgment of divorce awarded the wife child support and ordered the husband to pay $25,226.72 in child support arrears that had accrued from the commencement of the divorce action through entry of the judgment.

For 16 years, the child support obligation was not enforced. In April 2011, the wife hired Mark Chauvin Bezinque, Esq., to recover the accumulated child support arrears that, with interest, totaled $549,403.62 as of September 2011.

At the time, the husband owned real property in Ontario County. Bezinque filed the judgment in Ontario County and commenced actions in both Ontario County and Monroe County to restrain the sale of the Ontario property. While those proceedings were ongoing, the husband sold the property in violation of a court order. Upon Bezinque’s motion, the husband’s share of the proceeds from the sale of the home was placed in escrow “in anticipation of a final judgment for unpaid child support.” Bezinque referred the wife to another law firm for the preparation of executions and levies against the escrowed funds held by the husband’s then attorneys, and requested payment of the outstanding balance of his legal fees from those funds. The wife did not respond to that request. Bezinque thereafter moved by order to show cause seeking, inter alia, a charging lien pursuant to Judiciary Law § 475 against the escrowed funds sufficient to cover his outstanding fees. The wife opposed Bezinque’s motion.

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“Marital” Debt Incurred After Post-Divorce Action Commencement

Posted in Equitable Distribution

DebtAmong other errors the Appellate Division, Second Department, addressed in its May 6, 2015 decision in Sawin v. Sawin, was the award to the wife of an $8,000 credit for her post-divorce action assumption of a $16,000 credit card debt. At trial, the wife testified that she incurred this debt over a two-year period starting approximately six months before the divorce action was commenced.

First, the Second Department noted that, generally, credit card debt incurred prior to the commencement of a matrimonial action constitutes marital debt and should be equally shared by the parties. However, debt incurred after the commencement of a matrimonial action typically is the responsibility of the party who incurred the debt.

Nonetheless, the appellate court noted that post-commencement debt incurred in connection with household living expenses and clothing for the parties’ children is debt that can be divided between the parties, even if incurred after the commencement of such an action. On the other hand, debt incurred for the purchase of personal items for one of the parties cannot be so divided.

Here, Putnam County Supreme Court former Justice Francis A. Nicolai noted that the expenses reflected in the credit card records were for food and clothing for the children and clothes for the plaintiff. However, as the record on appeal did not show what portion of the debt was incurred prior to the commencement of this action, or the amount of that debt which was incurred to meet the plaintiff’s personal, rather than marital, obligations, the issue was required to be remitted to the Supreme Court to make those findings and to make an award, if appropriate, consistent with such findings.

[Comment/Question: In this action, there were also awards of child support and maintenance. If such awards were made retroactive to commencement of the divorce action, should not such have overlapped, if not negated, any debt the wife incurred to meet the living expenses she faced during the action?]

The Second Department noted that Justice Nicolai had also erred when determining that the wife was entitled to a credit based upon a loan she took out against her 401(k) account. Justice Nicolai had equitably distributed the 401(k) account so that each party would receive 50% of the account balance as of the date of the commencement of this action, plus or minus gains or losses until the date of segregation.

The wife testified that she took the loan out after the date of the commencement of this action, from her distributive share of the account, intending to use the loan to pay for college expenses for the parties’ oldest child. However, the wife did not, in fact, use the loan proceeds to pay for such expenses.

As the money from the loan was not used to pay for college expenses or for marital benefit, it was not a marital debt subject to equitable distribution. Accordingly, the wife was not entitled to any credit for that loan.

Jason A. Advocate, of Advocate & Lichtenstein, LLP (John H. Hersh, former counsel on the brief), of Manhattan, represented the husband. Sarah R. Scigliano, of Stephen M. Santoro, Sr., P.C., of Carmel, represented the wife.

Crediting Child Support For College Room And Board Payments: Sawin II

Posted in Child Support (C.S.S.A.)

Education savingsA parent who pays all or some portion of a child’s college room and board expenses is often entitled to a credit against that parent’s base child support obligation. The Appellate Division, Second Department, in its May 6, 2015 decision in Sawin v. Sawin, appears to hold that such credits may only be taken only against the base child support obligation for the child attending college and then only for the months that the child is away at school.

In Sawin, the parties were married in 1988 and had three children.  During the marriage, the husband worked as a firefighter, and in 2011, he earned approximately $122,500. The wife stopped working full-time after the birth of the parties’ second child in 1994. In 2004, she began working part-time as a real estate agent, earning approximately $15,000 in 2010 and $23,000 in 2011.

In December 2010, the wife commenced this matrimonial action seeking, among other things, child support, maintenance, and equitable distribution. At the time of trial in February 2012, the parties’ oldest child was in college and resided on campus during the school year.

The Second Department noted that among other rulings Putnam County Supreme Court former Justice Francis A. Nicolai properly directed the husband to pay a proportionate share of the children’s college expenses as part of the child support award. However, the appellate court noted that the husband was entitled to a credit for at least some portion of the college room and board expenses he paid.

The child support award should have included a provision either directing that, when a child is living away from home while attending college, the [husband’s] monthly child support obligation shall be reduced, or awarding the [husband] a credit against his child support obligation for any amounts that he contributes toward college room and board expenses for that child during those months.

Accordingly, the Second Department remitted the issue for a determination of the husband’s child support obligation “for any time periods that one or more of the parties’ children are living away from home at college.”

Comment: The rule, although logical, may be both difficult to apply and inequitable. For example, what happens in December and January when a child is home half the time for intersession or the winter recess. Do we start having to count the days?

No. The entirety of the room and board expense gets spread over the total number of days the child is away at school. One way or the other, a potential credit should be available for the entire expense.

The bigger problem is capping the credit at the total base child support obligation attributable to the child attending college. Take this family with three children. The child support formula would use 29% of parental income to determine that base obligation. After one of the children is emancipated, 25% is the formula percentage.

Does that mean that only 4% of parental income is being used to support the eldest child? No. 29% is being used to support all three children. The credit should be available against one third of the base obligation.

Of course, not every penny of the support for the child in college is earmarked for room and board at school. The overhead expenses of the home must still be paid. There are also expenses for clothing, vacations, etc.

All that being said, the time and cost of proving the equities in a case would outweigh the credit. A rule is necessary.

Yesterday’s blog post discuss the maintenance and basic child support awards. Tomorrow’s post will discuss giving credits to the wife for debts she incurred after the divorce action was commenced.

Jason A. Advocate, of Advocate & Lichtenstein, LLP (John H. Hersh, former counsel on the brief), of Manhattan, represented the husband. Sarah R. Scigliano, of Stephen M. Santoro, Sr., P.C., of Carmel, represented the wife.

Child Support and Maintenance: A Case Study: Sawin I

Posted in Child Support (C.S.S.A.), Maintenance

Calulator on 100s 3It’s worthy of note when enough information is provided in an appellate decision to see “how” maintenance and child support were computed. The May 6, 2015 decision of the Appellate Division, Second Department, in Sawin v. Sawin, provides such an opportunity.

In Sawin, the parties were married in 1988 and had three children. During the marriage, the husband worked as a firefighter, and in 2011, he earned approximately $122,500. The wife stopped working full-time after the birth of the parties’ second child in 1994. In 2004, she began working part-time as a real estate agent, earning approximately $15,000 in 2010 and $23,000 in 2011. In December 2010, the wife commenced this matrimonial action seeking, among other things, child support, maintenance, and equitable distribution.

The Second Department held that Putnam County Supreme Court former Justice Francis A. Nicolai providently awarded maintenance to the plaintiff for a period of eight years, and that the amount of the award, $2,000 per month, was not excessive. The Second Department noted that it is well established that, as a general rule, the amount and duration of maintenance are matters committed to the sound discretion of the trial court. Inasmuch as Justice Nicolai properly considered the factors set forth in Domestic Relations Law § 236(B)(6)(a), his award of maintenance was not improvident. Moreover, taking into consideration the financial circumstances of the parties, neither the duration, nor the amount of maintenance was excessive.

Justice Nicolai had also directed the husband to pay child support in the sum of $2,220.33 per month. That award, too, was upheld.

Although there was no specific discussion of methodology or formulas, it may be noted that the award for 8 years, after this 22 marriage, was a period of approximately 36% of the length of the marriage. The maintenance amount of 24,000 per year, happened to be approximately 25% of the income of the husband net of the income of the wife. Child support for the three children was $2,220.33 per month ($26,643.96 per year). That sum was approximately 29% of the husband’s 2011 income less FICA and Medicare taxes and the $24,000.00 in maintenance.

Tomorrow’s blog post will discuss giving the husband credit for paying college room and board expenses. Thursday’s post will discuss giving credits to the wife for debts she incurred after the divorce action was commenced.

Jason A. Advocate, of Advocate & Lichtenstein, LLP (John H. Hersh, former counsel on the brief), of Manhattan, represented the husband. Sarah R. Scigliano, of Stephen M. Santoro, Sr., P.C., of Carmel, represented the wife.

Child Support and the Recently-Employed Parent

Posted in Child Support (C.S.S.A.)

Pencil calculationIn its May 6, 2015 decision in Thompson-Fleming v. Fleming, the Appellate Division, Second Department, reversed the determination of Kings County Family Court Support Magistrate Kathryn A. Baur that had based a child support award on the father’s 2013 mid-year earnings-to-date. The Magistrate failed to account for the fact that the father had been unemployed for the first three months of that year, beginning his employment on March 28, 2013.

The father’s year-to-date earnings were shown on the his pay stub for the two-week period ending on July 13, 2013. Rather than using those year-to-date earnings, the Second Department held that the Magistrate should have annualized the father’s bi-weekly pay. Under these circumstances, the Support Magistrate should have taken the pay stub’s pay period figure and multiplied that figure by 26 to determine the father’s annual income, rather than rely upon the year-to-date figure.

As the Support Magistrate miscalculated the father’s income in determining the father’s child support obligation, Kings County Family Court Judge Michael A. Ambrosio should have granted the mother’s objection to Magistrate Baur’s order and recalculated the father’s income. Therefore, the appellate court remitted the matter for a recalculation of the father’s annual income and a redetermination of his child support obligation in accordance therewith. In the interim, the father was directed to continue to pay the mother the sum of $535 bi-weekly in child support.

Divorce Agreement Reformed Where DRO Not Available To Divide Deferred Compensation Plan

Posted in Equitable Distribution

1040 name-statusIt’s always nice to see a court cut through the red tape and do the right thing. It doesn’t always work out that way. Here it did.

In its April 29, 2015 decision in Dickson v. Dickson, the Appellate Division, Second Department, reversed Westchester County Supreme Court Justice John P. Colangelo to solve a practical problem resulting from a mistaken assumption in a couple’s divorce settlement agreement.

That agreement provided that the wife would receive one half of the husband’s Time Warner Deferred Compensation Plan benefits. The transfer of the wife’s interest was expressly to be effectuated pursuant to a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (hereinafter QDRO) or a Domestic Relations Order (hereinafter DRO).

What is a Domestic Relations Order? It is common for employers to provide retirement or deferred compensation benefits to their employees. With appropriate plans, there are no income taxes paid by the employee now at time of the employer’s current contributions. Indeed, the employee may also contribute to such plans using “pre-tax” dollars. Income taxes will not be paid on the employer’s or employee’s contributions, or the growth thereon, until the employee withdraws funds from the plan, usually upon retirement.

Incident to a divorce, a share of such plan benefits is often to be paid over, now, to the employee’s spouse. Were that to be accomplished by the employee withdrawing the spouse’s share and paying over the funds withdrawn to the spouse, such could constitute a current invasion of the plan, a withdrawal from the fund subjecting the employee, now, to income taxes, if not early withdrawal penalties, as well.

A Domestic Relations Order is a court decree recognized by the Internal Revenue Service that allows the division of retirement plan benefits incident to a divorce, without triggering current income taxation or early withdrawal penalties. Rather, the employee’s spouse will be subjected to income taxes only when the spouse accesses that share when, as and if withdrawals are made (or if the share is not properly rolled over into an appropriate tax-deferred account of the spouse).

That is precisely what the Dicksons contemplated here. The wife was to receive half of the husband’s Time Warner Deferred Compensation Plan. A Domestic Relations Order was to be used to prevent the transfer to the wife being a taxable event. Rather, the wife would pay income taxes on the amounts she received when, as and if she did so.

However, in this instance the Time Warner Deferred Compensation Plan was not the type of benefit plan that could be made the subject of a Domestic Relations Order. Instead, for the husband to pay over to the wife her 50% share, such would be treated as a current invasion. The husband would, now, be subjected to income taxes on the amount withdrawn and paid over to the wife.

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Divorce And The Midlife Crisis

Posted in Divorce

midlife crisisI have no statistics, but it certainly appears as if a disproportionate number of the people consulting me are 43 to 46 years old husbands. I consider that the age of the male midlife crisis. I must count myself among that group.

However, a recent article in the March/April 2015 issue of Scientific American Mind , Debunking Midlife Myths, by Hanna Drimalla, a psychologist and freelance journalist in Berlin, may have a different view. That article notes that psychological studies suggest that midlife crises are real, but the stereotypes are not.

Dr. Drimalla begins by telling of the fortysomething middle manager who quits his day job, buys a sports car and abandons his wife for younger woman. According to scientists, hallmarks of midlife include increased self-reflection, aging, career and family changes, which can seed deep dissatisfaction. However, the author notes that many common beliefs about the midlife meltdown are untrue.

Among other areas, Dr. Drimalla notes that midlife stress does not foredoom us to a life out of control, especially in our relationships. A 2011 Kinsey Institute study of more than 1000 couples in Germany, Spain, the United States, Japan and Brazil found that middle-aged men and women rate their relationships and sex lives higher the longer they have been married. Couples entering middle age with a long-term partner have a good chance of staying together.

Of the marriages that do break down, the husband is not typically the one to walk out. According to the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, women instigate two thirds of all divorces – most likely not because they are having midlife crises, but because their husbands are behaving badly.

The author suggests that maybe knowing that our misgivings about midlife are usually exaggerated – and temporary – can make the passage to late maturity just a bit more manageable.

Perhaps my advice to those fortysomethings who consult me should simply be, “wait it out.”

Reasons To Apply CSSA Formula to Father’s $441,000 Income Must Be Stated; No Private School Payment Without Proof Of Superiority Of Education

Posted in Child Support (C.S.S.A.)

Calulator on 100s 3In its April 1, 2015 decision in Pittman v. Williams, the Appellate Division, Second Department, reversed a decision of Supreme Court, Kings County Court Attorney/Referee (and now Family Court Judge) J. Machelle Sweeting that awarded child support equal to 17% of the father’s entire $441,000 income.  The Second Department also deleted a requirement that the father pay private school tuition after preschool, and allocated the wife’s child care expense equally between the father’s child and another of the mother’s children for whom care was provided.

In this child support proceeding, the parties’ combined income was $489,937. The father’s income represented 90% of this sum or C.S.S.A.-adjusted income of approximately $441,000 per year; the mother’s 10% share was approximately $49,000. Referee Sweeting directed the father to pay child support in the sum of $6,246 per month, child care expenses in the sum of $291.60 per week, and his pro rata share of the child’s tuition at the Brooklyn Waldorf School.

The Second Department reversed and remitted the matter for a new determination of the amount of the basic child support obligation.

The Child Support Standards Act sets forth a formula for calculating child support by applying a designated statutory percentage, here 17% for one child, to combined parental income up to a particular ceiling. The court, in fixing the basic child support obligation on income over the ceiling, i.e., the “statutory cap” (in this case, $136,000), has the discretion to apply the factors set forth in the statute, or to apply the statutory percentage, or to apply both.

However, there must be some record articulation of the reasons for the court’s choice to facilitate review. The court’s decision should reflect a careful consideration of the stated basis for its exercise of discretion, the parties’ circumstances, and its reasoning why there should or should not be a departure from the prescribed percentage. In addition to providing a record articulation for deviating or not deviating from the statutory formula, a court must relate that record articulation to the statutory factors.

Here, the Second Department held that the Referee properly determined that the parties’ combined parental income was $489,937. However, when determining the amount of child support, Referee Sweeting failed to articulate her reasons for applying the statutory percentage of 17% to the combined parental income over the statutory cap of $136,000. As a result, her determination was reversed. It was held that the matter must be remitted for a new determination in this regard and the court must articulate its reasons for the new determination.

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Parental Alienation Sole Stated Basis For Change In Custody

Posted in Custody and Visitation, Enforcement of Support and Orders

Parental Alienation RibbonThe mother’s alienation of the children from the father was the sole basis stated by the Second Department while upholding a change of custody to the father. In its March 25, 2015 decision in Halioris v. Halioris, the court affirmed an order of Suffolk County Family Court Judge Bernard Cheng.

The Second Department noted that modification of an existing court-sanctioned custody arrangement is permissible only upon a showing that there has been a change in circumstances such that modification is necessary to ensure the best interests of the child.

Parental alienation of a child from the other parent is an act so inconsistent with the best interests of the children as to, per se, raise a strong probability that the offending parent is unfit to act as custodial parent.

As custody determinations turn in large part on assessments of the credibility, character, temperament, and sincerity of the parties, Judge Cheng’s findings in connection with these issues would not be disturbed unless they lacked a sound and substantial basis in the record. Here, the Second Department found that Judge Cheng’s determinations that there had been a change in circumstances, and that a transfer of sole custody to the father would be in the children’s best interests, had such a sound and substantial basis in the record.

Moreover, the Second Department upheld Judge Cheng’s holding the mother in contempt for failing to cooperate with family therapy. Generally, in order to prevail on a motion to hold a party in civil contempt, the movant is required to prove by clear and convincing evidence:

  1. that a lawful order of the court, clearly expressing an unequivocal mandate, was in effect;
  2. that the order was disobeyed and the party disobeying the order had knowledge of its terms; and
  3. that the movant was prejudiced by the offending conduct.

Here, the father met his burden. Specifically, the father showed, by clear and convincing evidence, that the mother, with full knowledge of its requirements, violated a so-ordered stipulation that in part unequivocally mandated that the parties and the subject children engage in, cooperate with, and attend family therapy. The violation of the stipulation by the mother resulted in prejudice to the father. Accordingly, Judge Cheng properly granted the father’s petition to hold the mother in contempt for disobeying the stipulation.

Christopher J. Chimeri, of Hauppauge, represented the mother. The father represented himself. Domenik Veraldi, Jr., of Islandia, served as attorney for the children.