Going farther than simply holding that the lower court temporary support award was inadequate, the Appellate Division, Second Department, in its September, 2015, decision in Kaufman v. Kaufman, discussed the detailed decision necessary to deviate from presumptive temporary maintenance and child support formulas. Doing so, the court reversed the May 15, 2013 order of Supreme Court Justice Edward A. Maron and remanded the matter for new determinations. The appellate court also substantially increased the interim counsel fee award. Domestic Relations Law § 236(B)(5-a) [amended after this decision], sets forth formulas for courts to apply to the parties’ reported income in order to determine the presumptively correct amount of temporary maintenance. “In any decision made pursuant to that section, the lower court shall set forth the factors it considered and the reasons for its decision.” “[A] court may deviate from the presumptive award if that presumptive award is unjust or inappropriate.” Under such circumstances, the court must “set forth, in a written order, the amount of the unadjusted presumptive award of temporary maintenance, the factors it considered, and the reasons that the court adjusted the presumptive award of temporary maintenance.”

Additionally, when a court is unable to perform the needed calculations as a result of being “presented with insufficient evidence to determine gross income, the court shall order the temporary maintenance award based upon the needs of the payee or the standard of living of the parties prior to commencement of the divorce action, whichever is greater” (Domestic Relations Law § 236[B][5-a][g]).

Continue Reading Making It Tougher To Deviate From Presumptive Formulas on Temporary Support Awards

New York’s Domestic Relations Law §25, enacted in 1907, provides that a marriage is valid, even in the absence of a marriage license, if it was properly solemnized. However, New York County Supreme Court Justice Matthew F. Cooper, in his May 29, 2014 decision in Ponorovskaya v. Stecklow held that D.R.L. §25 could not be used to validate a marriage ceremony that failed to meet the  legal requirements of Mexico where the ceremony was performed. While so holding, Justice Cooper called for the statute to be amended or repealed, and joined the debate on whether Universal Life Church “ministers” could “properly solemnize” marriages.

Justice Cooper’s recitation of the facts merits quotation:

[Ms. Ponorovskaya], who is a clothing designer and business owner in Manhattan, and [Mr. Stecklow], a lawyer, began their relationship in 2004. While in Mexico for a 2009 New Year’s celebration, [Mr. Stecklow] proposed to [Ms. Ponorovskaya] overlooking the Mayan ruins in Tulum. The parties subsequently planned a Mexican destination wedding at the Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa. . . . On February 18th, the couple had a wedding ceremony on the resort’s beach. The ceremony was performed under a chuppah, a canopy under which a couple stands during a Jewish wedding. Certain Hebrew prayers were recited, vows were exchanged, and there was a glass-breaking ritual, as is customary at Jewish weddings.

Despite these traditions, the ceremony was not performed by a rabbi. Instead it was conducted by [Mr. Stecklow]’s cousin, Dr. Keith Arbeitman, a dentist who lives in New York. In 2003, in order to perform a marriage for friends, he became an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church (“ULC”), a distinction easily achieved by paying a fee on the ULC’s website. . . . [A]t oral argument on the motion, [Ms. Ponorovskaya]’s counsel produced a certificate that he printed off the internet certifying that Dr. Arbeitman is indeed a minister in good standing with the ULC. Likewise, during the ceremony Dr. Arbeitman told the audience, “I am an ordained minister — this will be a legal union.”

Continue Reading Invalidity of Licenseless Mexican Marriage Calls For Dismissal of New York Divorce Action

It is certainly not a rare problem. When confronted with fraudulent income tax returns, what is a divorce court to do? Should they be used as swords or shields?

In her January 31, 2014 decision in Morille-Hinds v. Hinds, Supreme Court Queens County Justice Pam Jackman Brown appears to have disregarded the failure to report a husband’s income on the parties’ joint income tax returns when recognizing his claim to a 50% share of marital property. Nevertheless, those returns were honored when fixing the wife’s entitlement to child support.

The parties, both 54, married in 1993. The wife had commenced this divorce action in 2007. The husband had appealed from the 2009 decision of Judicial Hearing Officer Stanley Gartenstein who had awarded him only 15% of the marital property. The J.H.O. had also imputed to the husband an annual income of $80,000 for the purpose of determining his child support obligation. The Second Department reversed, holding that decision was patently unfair to the husband. The case was sent back for a retrial on the issues of equitable distribution and child support.

Continue Reading Fraudulent Tax Returns in Divorce Actions: Sword or Shield?

Whether the payment of union dues is to be deducted for the purpose of determining C.S.S.A. income is to be decided on a case by case basis. Rejecting the deduction in S.H. v. S.H., a June 17, 2013 opinion withdrawn from publication, Supreme Court Clinton County Acting Justice Timothy J. Lawliss held that the father failed to meet his burden to show that those dues did not reduce his personal expenses.

In this divorce action, the father was employed at a union plant and paid monthly union dues to the United Steel Workers.

This opinion concerned only whether or not union dues paid by the father should be deducted from the father’s gross income prior to calculating the father’s income for child support purposes.

Domestic Relations Law §240(1-b) sets forth the methodology the Court must follow to determine the non-custodial parent’s child support obligation. Pursuant to D.R.L. §240(1-b)(b)(5), income for support purposes shall mean, but shall not be limited to, the sum of the amounts determined by the application of clauses (i), (ii), (iii), (iv), (v) and (vi) of that sub-paragraph, reduced by the amount determined by the application of clause (vii) of that sub-paragraph.

Union dues are not a specifically allowed deduction under D.R.L. §240(1-b)(b)(5)(vii), nor does the subsection contain a catch all “other” category leaving deductibility to the Court’s discretion. The question before the Court, then, was whether or not union dues qualify as a deduction under the only possible category: “unreimbursed employee business expenses except to the extent said expenses reduce personal expenditures” (subsection [vii][A]).

Continue Reading Union Dues Do Not, Here, Reduce Income For C.S.S.A. Purposes