Larkin Axelrod Ingrassia & Tetenbaum LLP

Requiring the wife to pay the carrying charges of the marital residence pendente lite was proper in light of the awards to the wife of temporary maintenance and child support. So held the the Appellate Division, Second Department, in its June 12, 2013 decision in Fini v. Fini, affirming the order of Orange County Supreme Court Justice Lawrence Ecker.

Moreover, Justice Ecker properly based his $7,500 per month temporary maintenance award upon the wife’s needs and the standard of living of the parties prior to commencement of the divorce action as the husband’s “evidence of his gross income was insufficient, and was not reconcilable with his prior spending habits or the parties’ standard of living.”

On appeal, the husband failed to demonstrate that the pendente lite award left him unable to meet his financial obligations. There was no basis in the record to disturb the award of temporary maintenance. Any perceived inequities would best be remedied by a speedy trial.

The husband was represented by William J. Larkin III of Larkin, Axelrod, Ingrassia & Tetenbaum, LLP, of Newburgh. The wife was represented by Adam W. Schneid of Most & Schneid, P.C., of White Plains.

Two decisions within the last 10 days confirm the need for agreements relating to support to be in (an acknowledged) writing, and then incorporated in a court order.

In one, the Second Department affirmed the award of maintenance arrears without a hearing despite the claimed reduction of maintenance under an oral modification of the parties’ separation agreement. In the second, Albany County Family Court Judge W. Dennis Duggan directed a father to pay 71% of his older son’s private middle school expense, despite the mother’s conceded agreement to pay the full tuition.

In its January 30, 2103 decision in Parker v. Navarra, the Second Department affirmed the award of maintenance arrears by Dutchess County Supreme Court Justice James V. Brands. The ex-husband alleged that he and his ex-wife had orally modified the maintenance provisions of their separation agreement and, alternatively, that the ex-wife should be equitably estopped from enforcing the maintenance provisions of the separation agreement. The ex-husband had requested an evidentiary hearing so that he could present the testimony of witnesses on those issues. Justice Brands denied the request for an evidentiary hearing, awarding arrears on the basis of the parties’ submissions.

The Second Department affirmed, noting that the ex-husband failed to make a showing sufficient to entitle him to a hearing on this issue:

Where, as here, the parties’ separation agreement contains a provision that expressly provides that modifications must be in writing, an alleged oral modification is enforceable only if there is part performance that is unequivocally referable to the oral modification. The defendant did not demonstrate that the plaintiff’s acceptance of reduced monthly maintenance payments was unequivocally referable to an alleged oral modification by, for example, demonstrating that consideration was given in exchange for the plaintiff’s alleged oral agreement to accept reduced maintenance payments.

Moreover, to establish a defense of equitable estoppel, the ex-husband was required to have shown that the ex-wife’s conduct induced his significant and substantial reliance upon an oral modification. Again, the ex-husband was required to have shown that the conduct relied upon to establish estoppel was not otherwise  compatible with the agreement as written.

Continue Reading Support Modification Agreements: Get’em in Writing; Get’em into Court (Part II)