Four recent decisions address the issue of whether “stay at home” orders and the generalized pandemic threat are sufficient to deprive a child of regular and meaningful personal contact with both parents.

No, held Bronx County Family Court Judge Ariel D. Chesler on May 7, 2020 in Matter of S.V. v. A.J.

A generalized fear of the coronavirus crisis we all face is insufficient to severely limit and perhaps harm a child’s relationship with a parent.

There, the parties were the parents 4- and 2-year-old children who lived primarily with their mother. Prior to the father’s current application, numerous Family Court petitions had been filed. However, no temporary or final custody orders had been entered. A January 16, 2020 order granted the father alternate weekend visitation. Moreover, a Criminal Court final Order of Protection directed the father to stay away from the mother. As a result, the children were being exchanged at a police precinct.

The visitation order had been followed until the New York and New Jersey quarantine orders were issued. Then, the mother unilaterally decided not to produce the children for three alternate weekend visits beginning March 27th. In response, the parties arranged through their attorneys for daily video conference visits to take place between the father and the children. However, when further efforts by the parties to resolve the issue failed, the father petitioned the court to enforce the temporary order schedule, schedule makeup visits, and to direct daily video conferences.

Continue Reading Visitation in These COVID-19 Times

Please indulge me; it’s one of my pet issues. And I apologize in advance for what may be my most boring blog post to date.

Writing math narratively is very difficult. When drafting a divorce settlement agreement, I try to include examples whenever formulas are written out. When reading decisions, I often draw a flow chart to help me follow the calculations.

Calculations done by the court establish rules of law. When an appellate court does it, that’s the way it’s going to be done in all cases like that in the future. All the more reason that the reader be able to follow and understand the calculations made by the court. For each calculation, you need to know how much went from where to where and why.

Sometimes, I can’t follow those calculations made by the court. Take the February 26, 2020 decision of the Second Department in Alliger-Bograd v. Bograd. The Court modified the equitable distribution credits awarded by retired Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Carol MacKenzie; reducing from $81,829.15 to $23,350.00 the amount to be paid by a husband to the wife, in addition to the wife acquiring the husband’s interest in the marital residence.

I am not sure whether the decision provides all the numbers used to get to the final result. The marital residence being acquired by the wife was worth $545,000.00 There was a mortgage and a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) that totaled $321,000.00. At first look, there was $224,000.00 in equity.

Continue Reading Math in Divorce Decisions: How Much Goes from Where to Where and Why?

Under appropriate circumstances, post-divorce spousal support may last much longer than the marriage itself. So held the Appellate Division, Second Department, in its September 2019 decision in Murphy v. Murphy.

The parties were married in 2004. They had no children together. Prior to the marriage, the wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

In 2013, after 8½ years of marriage, the wife commenced this action for a divorce. After three years, the parties were able to enter a stipulation resolving the issue of equitable distribution. The issue of maintenance was tried before Supreme Court, Suffolk County Justice Carol MacKenzie. At the time of trial, the wife was 42 years old and the husband 47.

The critical issue presented was whether the wife was capable of working, and if so, in what capacity, as a result of the symptoms that she alleged she experienced due to multiple sclerosis. Justice MacKenzie concluded that the wife was incapable of maintaining employment. The wife was awarded maintenance of $10,760 per month terminating 25 years after trial when the wife turned 67 years old.

Continue Reading Love, Honor and Support

A breach by one ex-spouse of a divorce settlement stipulation may or may not excuse a breach by the other. The obligations of the parties may or may not be independent.

In its July, 2019 decision in Lainez v. Orellana, the Appellate Division, Second Department, held that the answer could be found the clear and unambiguous language of the stipulation. The parties could have made the obligations interdependent; they did not. The obligations, then, were not dependent.

In the parties 2011 divorce settlement agreement, the husband agreed to transfer his interest in the marital residence to the wife, and the wife agreed to hold the husband harmless with respect to all mortgage payments and do everything in her power to remove his name from the mortgage.

Following the divorce, the wife continued to live in the marital residence. However, neither party performed his or her obligations under the settlement and the husband had made the post-agreement monthly mortgage payments.

Continue Reading Does One Party’s Breach of a Divorce Settlement Excuse a Breach by the Other?

In its June, 2019 decision in English v. Smith, the Second Department reminds to properly memorialize any agreed-upon understandings or changes to a divorce settlement agreement.

The parties’ Separation Agreement was incorporated but not merged into their 2015 judgment of divorce. The father was to pay the mother child support. In addition, the parents would share equally in the costs of their child’s undergraduate and graduate education, extracurricular activities, and uncovered medical, dental, orthodontic, eye care, and mental health treatment.

The agreement also provided that neither the agreement nor any provisions thereof could be modified or waived except by a writing “duly subscribed and acknowledged by both parties with the same formality as” the separation agreement itself.

The parties’ child began attending University College in Dublin, Ireland, on a full tuition scholarship in 2015. The father stopped making child support payments to the mother in May 2015. The father contended that the parties had agreed that they would equally share in paying the child’s living expenses in lieu of the father paying child support to the mother.

Continue Reading Modifying Support? Do it Right. Claimed Off-Sets Denied

In 2011, after the parties separated, the mother received sole custody of the parties’ only child, who resided with her. The father was awarded access every weekend. The father subsequently filed a petition seeking increased access. After a hearing, Kings County Family Court Judge Maria Arias denied the pro se father’s petition.

The father appealed, contending that the Family Court should have granted his request for a copy of a forensic report prepared by a court-appointed forensic evaluator, and that the court erred in admitting the forensic report into evidence. In its July 10, 2019 opinion in Raymond v. Raymond, the Second Department affirmed.

Continue Reading Pro Se Father Denied Copy of Forensic Report Although Received in Evidence

In this divorce action, Strauss v. Strauss, the husband had obtained access to wife’s iPad and private text messages. He falsely told her that he did not have the iPad and that it was lost. The husband did provide the text messages to his counsel. However, it was not until two years after the fact that it was disclosed that the husband was in possession of the iPad and text messages They announced that they intended to use the text messages at the parties’ custody trial. The husband did not explain how or why he was legally permitted to retain wife’s iPad without her knowledge, and to access and take possession of wife’s personal data located on her iPad.

The lower court, New York County Supreme Court Justice Deborah A. Kaplan, granted the wife’s motion for sanctions and awarded $180,000.00 in fees to the wife’s counsel, Cohen Clair Lans Greifer Thorpe & Rottenstreich LLP, for the “frivolous conduct” of her husband and his counsel.

Continue Reading Husband and Counsel Sanctioned for Taking Wife’s iPad and Keeping Secret for 2 years

It took nine years to affirm a five-year maintenance award. In an April 24, 2019 decision of the Appellate Division, Second Department, the Court in Rogowski v. Rogowski affirmed a March, 2010 divorce judgment under which the wife was awarded maintenance for five years of $2500 per month plus 60% of the husband’s annual employment bonus in excess of $14,200. The action for divorce had been commenced in 2008.

The Court held that held that Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Arthur Diamond did not improvidently exercise his discretion when determining the amount and duration of maintenance. The Court emphasized the parties agreed that the wife would quit work and care for the children, and the parties’ respective incomes and future employment prospects.

Continue Reading Maintenance Award of 60% of Annual Bonus Is Affirmed

The separation agreement was the product of mediation; the wife was afforded the opportunity to consult with counsel; and the wife elected to sign the agreement, notwithstanding the advice of counsel not to do so.  “These facts, standing alone, do not shield the separation agreement from judicial scrutiny. The validity of the agreement is dependent upon an examination of the totality of the circumstances, including an examination of the terms of the agreement, to see if there is an inference of overreaching.”

So held the Appellate Division, Second Department in its April 24, 2019 decision in Mizrahi v. Mizrahi. Reversing the decision of Queens County Supreme Court Justice Margaret Parisi-McGowan that upheld the agreement without a hearing, the appellate court also noted the record disclosed no information regarding who retained and paid for the services of the mediator, and how the mediator arrived at the substantive terms of the agreement.

The Second Department noted:

because of the fiduciary relationship existing between spouses, a marital agreement should be closely scrutinized and may be set aside upon a showing that it is unconscionable or the result of fraud or where it is shown to be manifestly unjust because of the other spouse’s overreaching. To rescind a separation agreement on the ground of overreaching, a wife must demonstrate both overreaching and unfairness.

Here, the court held that without a hearing to determine the totality of the circumstances, including the extent of the parties’ incomes and assets and the circumstances surrounding the execution of the separation agreement, it could not be determined on this record whether equity should intervene to invalidate the parties’ separation agreement.

Continue Reading Inference of Mediated Separation Agreement Invalidity Sufficient to Warrant Hearing