Divorce: New York

Divorce: New York

Legislature Passes Spousal Maintenance (Alimony) Formula

Posted in Maintenance, Temporary (Pendente Lite) Relief

Calculator formulaOn June 24, 2015, the New York State Senate passed Bill A7645-2015 relating to the duration and amount of temporary and post-divorce spousal maintenance. The bill passed the State Assembly on June 15th. It awaits approval by Governor Cuomo.

The law’s formulas apply to actions commenced on or after the 120th day after they become law (except for the temporary maintenance formulas which apply to actions commenced on or after the 30th day after they become law). The new law may not be used as a basis to change existing orders and agreements.

The law will undoubtedly be the subject of numerous articles and legal seminars. Years of decisions will be forthcoming that particularly focus on matters of discretion, just as they followed the enactment of the Child Support Standards Act in 1989.

Before getting to the new formulas, the law eliminates a major thorn in side of the matrimonial bench and bar: When equitably distributing the assets of the parties, the court is no longer to consider as a marital asset the value of a spouse’s enhanced earning capacity arising from a license, degree, celebrity goodwill, or career enhancement.

As to maintenance, the following highlights may be noted, many of which are contained in the Sponsor’s Memo:

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Stipulations Resolving Divorce Actions Need Not Be Acknowledged

Posted in Agreements and Stipulations

pen in the man's hand and signature

Among their powers notaries public administer oaths and receive and certify acknowledgments or proof of deeds and other instruments in writing (Executive Law §135). An acknowledgement provides proof of the identity of the purported signatory of a document. It reads (Real Property Law §309-a):

On the ____ day of ____ in the year ____ before me, the undersigned, personally appeared ____, personally known to me or proved to me on the basis of satisfactory evidence to be the individual(s) whose name(s) is (are) subscribed to the within instrument and acknowledged to me that he/she/they executed the same in his/her/their capacity(ies), and that by his/her/their signature(s) on the instrument, the individual(s), or the person upon behalf of which the individual(s) acted, executed the instrument.

Domestic Relations Law §236(B)(3) provides that an agreement made before or during the marriage, shall be valid and enforceable in a matrimonial action if such agreement is in writing, subscribed by the parties, and acknowledged . . . .”

Parties often will resolve their divorce actions through with Separation Agreements or Stipulations of Settlements, the terms of which are incorporated in their Judgment of Divorce. Those agreements and stipulations often survive the entry of the Judgment of Divorce as independently enforceable contracts.

In his  June 10, 2015 decision in Defilippi v. Defillipi, Westchester County Supreme Court Justice Paul I. Marx, held that agreements that are entered within pending divorce actions and conclude those actions need not be acknowledged. They must only meet the requirements of C.P.L.R. 2104 and, if not entered in open court, be written, signed and filed with the county clerk.

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Child Support and the Re-Unemancipated Child

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

Father and Adult SonAt 18, the child becomes and adult. The parents no longer have custody. However, in New York, the parents’ duty to support does not end until the 21st birthday.

On other other hand, the parents’ duty to support may be relieved if a child attains economic independence through employment, entry into military service or marriage. Further, the child may be deemed constructively emancipated if, without cause, they withdraw from parental supervision and control.

Consider Baker v. Baker, a June 12, 2015 decision of the Appellate Division, Fourth Department. The parties’ son was constructively emancipated in June, 2012 when he moved out of the mother’s residence and into an apartment with friends in an effort to avoid the mother’s rules requiring him to attend school and not use illicit drugs. Until then, the father had been paying child support to the mother. However, after “being treated for withdrawal,” the son moved in with the father.

The question for the court was whether the child’s unemancipated status was revived entitling the father to collect child support. Supreme Court, Niagara County Justice Catherine R. Nugent-Panepinto denied the father’s application.

The Fourth Department reversed. The appellate court agreed with the father that the lower court erred in concluding that the child’s return to parental custody and control neither revived his unemancipated status, nor reinstated the support obligations of his parents

A child’s unemancipated status may be revived provided there has been a sufficient change in circumstances to warrant the corresponding change in status. . . . Generally, a return to the parents’ custody and control has been deemed sufficient to revive a child’s unemancipated status.

Although most of the cases concerning a revival of a child’s unemancipated status have involved a child’s return to the home that he or she abandoned versus the home of the noncustodial parent, the Fourth Department concluded that the return to the noncustodial parent’s supervision and control does not preclude a revival of unemancipated status.

The mother argued that because the father had stipulated to the earlier order that the child was emancipated, therefore termination the father’s support obligation, the father was required to establish an unanticipated and unreasonable change of circumstances. However, the Court held that despite the father’s stipulation that the child was emancipated, the child is not bound by the terms of that agreement, and the issue in this case was the child’s right to receive adequate support. Even assuming, arguendo, that the father was required to show an unanticipated and unreasonable change of circumstances, the appellate court would nevertheless have concluded that the child’s substance abuse treatment and return to parental custody and control constituted such a change of circumstances.

In our view, the reversion to unemancipated status under the facts of this case would promote the underlying statutory principles requiring parents to support children until they reach the age of 21.

The Fourth Department therefore reversed, granting that part of the father’s motion seeking an award of child support; remitting the matter to Supreme Court to calculate the amount of child support owed by the mother to the father.

Catharine M. Venzon, Esq., of Venzon Law Firm PC, of Buffalo, represented the father. Leonard G. Tilney, Jr., Esq., of Lockport, represented the mother.

Lifetime Maintenance (Alimony) Awarded To Wife Capable of Working

Posted in Maintenance

Alimony handedIn its June 4, 2015 decision in Orioli v. Orioli, the Appellate Division, Third Department, affirmed an award of lifetime maintenance (alimony).

The parties were married in 1989 and had two children. In 2009, the wife commenced this action for divorce. Chenango County Supreme Court Justice Kevin M. Dowd awarded the wife nondurational maintenance of $78,000 per year, to be decreased to $50,000 per year once she reached the age of 62. Maintenance would only terminate upon either party’s death or the wife’s remarriage.

The Third Department affirmed, holding that Justice Dowd did not abuse his discretion in his award of maintenance to the wife.

The amount and duration of a maintenance award is left to the sound discretion of a trial court that has considered the statutory factors and the parties’ predivorce standard of living.

A spouse’s ability to become self-supporting with respect to some standard of living in no way (1) obviates the need for the court to consider the predivorce standard of living; and (2) certainly does not create a per se bar to lifetime maintenance.

Indeed, Justice Dowd had addressed the numerous statutory factors and the predivorce standard of living when making the permanent award.

Among other things, he considered the evidence that the marriage was of a long duration (20 years). Justice Dowd further considered that one of the parties’ children resided with the wife, that maintenance would be taxable for the wife and tax deductible for the husband.

It was also noted that the wife had wastefully dissipated $120,000 of marital assets, and lacked candor in her statement of net worth.

Justice Dowd also considered that as of 2009, the husband had reported income of approximately $425,000, while the wife had no income that year. On the other hand, the wife was now capable of working and earning at least $32,000 a year. She did not require additional time or training to gain such employment. Her earning capacity was not affected by her choice not to work during portions of the marriage.

Finally, Justice Dowd recognized that the wife had enjoyed a comfortable standard of living that was commensurate with the husband’s income.

Given the totality of the evidence, we agree that it is unlikely that the wife will become self-supporting so as to attain the lifestyle to which she had been accustomed to during the course of the approximately two-decade marriage.

Accordingly, the appellate court concluded that nondurational maintenance in the amount awarded, which included a reduction in that award at a set future date, was not an abuse of discretion.

William H. Getman, of Woodman & Getman, of Waterville, represented the wife. Michael S. Sinicki, of Hinman, Howard & Kattell, LLP, of Binghamton, represented the husband.

Does Shared Custody Result In Less Stress Than Other Post-Divorce Parenting Plans?

Posted in Custody and Visitation

Difficult choiceA recent Swedish study based on a survey of almost 150,000 6th and 9th-grade students revealed that children who live equally with both parents after parental separation suffered from fewer psychosomatic problems than those living mostly or only with one parent. As might be expected, children of separated parents generally reported more psychosomatic problems than those in intact “nuclear” families.

A group of Swedish university and government child experts published their results online April 28, 2015 in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health in the article, Fifty moves a year: is there an association between joint physical custody and psychosomatic problems in children?

Using responses along the range of “never,” “ seldom,” “sometimes,” “often” and “always,” the survey investigated correlations between parenting arrangements and “psychosomatic” problems including difficulties in (1) concentration and (2) sleeping; suffering from (3) headaches and (4) stomach aches; feeling (5) tense, (6) sad and (7) dizzy and (8) loss of appetite. The students were asked to respond to the survey questions with

The authors noted that during the past 20 years, it has become more common for children in the Western world to live alternatively and equally with both parents after a parental separation. In Sweden, this practice of joint physical custody is particularly frequent and has risen from about 1–2% in the mid-1980s to between 30% and 40% of the children with separated parents in 2010.

Over the same period, however, there has been an increase in self-reported pediatric psychosomatic symptoms. Already, stressful circumstances such as bullying, economic stress in the family, peer and teacher relationships, schoolwork pressure and lack of emotional support from the parents have been shown to be related to psychosomatic symptoms in Swedish adolescents.

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“I’m Moving In With Daddy”: The Child Support Perspective (Part II)

Posted in Agreements and Stipulations, Child Support (C.S.S.A.)

OverstuffedIn contrast to its decision in Zaratzian, the subject of yesterday’s blog post, the Second Department, in Eagar v. Suchan, held the same day that a father was entitled to receive child support from a mother after their two children moved in with him.

In Eagar, the parties’ 1999 Settlement Agreement which was incorporated, but not merged into their judgment of divorce, contained separate provisions for child support and the payment of college expenses for the children. At the time, the then 7- and 5-year old sons of the parties lived with their mother.

After the parties’ two children began to reside with the father, he petitioned to terminate his child support obligation.

After a hearing, Suffolk County Support Magistrate (and former Judge) Barbara Lynaugh granted the father’s petition. She determined that the parties’ older child, then 21, was emancipated, and directed the mother to pay child support to the father for the parties’ younger child, then 19, in the sum of $344 per week. Family Court Judge Martha L. Luft denied the mother’s objections to the ruling.

The Appellate Division, Second Department affirmed. It held that Magistrate Lynaugh properly exercised her discretion when applying the Child Support Standards Act formula percentage to the combined parental income in excess of the statutory cap. “Here, the Support Magistrate properly articulated her reasons for applying the statutory percentages to parental income over the statutory cap, and her determination was not an improvident exercise of discretion.” It appears that the mother’s C.S.S.A.-adjusted annual income was approximately $105,000.00, which (applying the 17% formula) resulted in a $344.00 per week award.

The appellate court did not discuss the language of the parties’ Stipulation of Settlement, or why that language allowed for an affirmative award to the father.

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“I’m Moving In With Daddy”: The Child Support Perspective (Part I)

Posted in Agreements and Stipulations, Child Support (C.S.S.A.)

Packed and Ready to GoAmong the hardest jobs of the matrimonial lawyer is to draft divorce settlement agreements that anticipate post-divorce events and then resolve them with precision. Two May 20, 2015 decisions of the Second Department highlight just how hard those jobs can be when it comes dealing with the child who switches his or her primary residence.

In Zaratzian v. Abadir, the appellate court affirmed a decision of Westchester County Supreme Court Justice John P. Colangelo that applied one couple’s Agreement to resolve their conflict in a manner neither party may have wanted.

Under their 2006 divorce settlement Agreement, the parties, both medical doctors, agreed to equally-shared time with their three children, and older daughter, then age 12, and 10 and 6-year old sons. Following the father’s remarriage in 2008 and the pregnancy of his new wife, the time-sharing arrangement broke down. The daughter resided only with the mother, the older son with the father and the younger son continuing to switch. Subsequent Family Court custody proceedings resulted in both boys living with their father.

Under the Separation Agreement, the father had agreed to pay the mother $1,500 per month in maintenance until the emancipation of one of the children. Until then, the father would pay an additional $1,500 per month in child support for all three unemancipated children. Upon the emancipation of one child, maintenance would stop, but child support would be increased to $1,750 per month. Upon the second emancipation, child support would be reduced to $1,000 per month.

The support Article of the Agreement contained the following typewritten provision:

Both parties agree to be bound by the provisions set forth in this Article III and each party agrees that neither party shall at any time make any application to modify the financial provisions of this Article III or the financial provisions of the divorce decree subsequently entered between the parties.

The Agreement defined various emancipation events, including:

Permanent residence away from the residence of the Father and the Mother. A residence at boarding school, camp, or college is not to be deemed a residence away from the residence of the Wife, and hence, such a residence at boarding school, camp, or college is not an emancipation event.

The emancipation Article also contained the following handwritten provision:

Notwithstanding any other term or provision contained in this agreement, in the event one or more of the children reside primarily with the Father, he shall be permitted to make any application he deems appropriate to modify his child support obligation as set forth in Article III and the resulting order shall supercede the terms of this agreement.

Following the Family Court proceedings, the mother moved in Supreme Court for an order relating to the payment of private school tuition for the daughter (she later asked for child support for the daughter computed under the Child Support Standards Act). The father cross-moved for an order requiring the mother to pay him C.S.S.A.-computed child support for the parties’ two sons.

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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.