In a January 15, 2013 decision in Alvarado v. Alvarado, Richmond County Supreme Court Justice Catherine M. DiDomenico, held that the husband’s veteran’s and Social Security disability benefits are separate property for purposes of equitable distribution. Moreover, the veteran’s disability benefits could not be considered on a maintenance award. The Social Security benefits could.

As discussed in the comment, below (far more detailed than may be appropriate for this blog), veteran’s disability payments should be able to be considered when making maintenance awards in divorce actions.

In Alvarado, as a result of his military service in the United States Marine Corps prior to the marriage, the husband was now receiving monthly veteran’s disability benefits. The husband successfully argued to Justice DiDomenico that the veteran’s benefits were not to be considered. The Uniformed Services Former Spouse’s Protection Act (USFSPA) declared them to be separate property. 10 U.S.C. § 1408. The Court rejected the wife’s argument that veteran’s disability payments should be considered for purposes of maintenance.

Congress enacted USFSPA in direct response to the 1981 U.S. Supreme Court decision in McCarty v. McCarty, 453 U.S. 210, which had held that federal law as it then existed completely pre-empted the application of state divorce property law to military retirement pay. USFSPA authorized state courts to treat disposable retired pay as marital property. However, Federal disability benefits remained excluded, and any military retirement pay waived in order for the retiree to receive veterans’ disability benefits also remained excluded. Mansell v. Mansell, 490 U.S. 581 (1989).

Justice DiDomenico noted that while the Second Department had yet to address the issue, the Third and Fourth Departments had held that state courts are prohibited from distributing veteran’s disability benefits in an action for divorce. The Court cited Hoskins v. Skojec, 265 AD2d 706 (3d Dept. 1999), leave to appeal denied,  94 NY2d 758 (2000), and Newman v. Newman, 248 AD2d 990 (4th Dept. 1998). Similarly, Justice DiDomenico ruled, Social Security Disability Benefits are separate property and are not subject to equitable distribution. DRL § 236 (B) (1) (d) (2); Miceli v. Miceli, 78 AD3d 1023 (2d Dept. 2010).

However, as Justice DiDomenico held, Social Security Disability Benefits are to be considered by the Court when determining a payor spouse’s ability to pay maintenance, citing Cerabona v. Cerabona, 302 AD2d 346 (2d Dept. 2003). and Carl v. Carl, 58 AD3d 1036 (3d Dept. 2009).  Justice DiDomenico also noted that in Carl, it was stated that while disability benefits obtained from other sources may be considered for purposes of maintenance, veteran’s disability payments are precluded from consideration.


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Calulator on 100s 3.jpgTwo decisions last month of Queens County Supreme Court Justice Pam Jackman Brown provide insights on how courts might cope with the overlap of the statutory temporary maintenance formula and the payment of marital residence carrying charges.

Yesterdays blog reported upon the Second Department’s November 21, 2012 agreement in Woodford v. Woodford with the First Department in Khaira v. Khaira that the statutory temporary maintenance formula is intended to include the portion of marital residence carrying costs attributable to the nonmonied spouse.

In the November 5, 2012 decision in Liebman v. Liebman, Justice Jackman Brown balanced the factors presented by directing the husband to continue to make the marital residence carrying charge payments, but deducting the full amount of those charges from the presumptive maintenance formula.

The wife had sought an award of temporary maintenance based upon husband’s 2011 W-2 income. The wife also asked that in addition to the calculated temporary maintenance sum, the husband should be directed to continue to pay the maintenance, mortgage and carrying charges on the marital residence.

The Court found that the presumptive temporary maintenance award would be $6,337.70 monthly. However, under the facts presented, Justice Jackman Brown found that the presumptive award would be unjust or inappropriate. Specifically, the Court adjusted the presumptive temporary maintenance award after considering factor: (q) any other factor which the court shall expressly find to be just and proper.

The Court noted that the statute is silent regarding whether the Court shall order the presumptive maintenance award in proceedings in which the payor spouse has agreed or is directed to maintain the mortgage and/or carrying charges on the marital residence. In Liebman, it was undisputed that the husband had been paying the carrying charges, including the mortgage, maintenance and insurance, in the sum of $1739.91 monthly.

The Court deducted the sum of $1,739.91 from the husband’s presumptive monthly temporary maintenance obligation $6,337.70, and awarded the wife $4,597.79 monthly. The Court also directed the husband to continue to pay the mortgage, maintenance and insurance on the marital residence.


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Calulator on 100s 5.jpgThe statutory temporary maintenance formula is intended to include the portion of marital residence carrying costs attributable to the nonmonied spouse. So concluded the Appellate Division, Second Department in its November 21, 2012 decision in Woodford v. Woodford.

Accordingly, the appellate court vacated so much of Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice James F. Quinn

Rocket launch child.jpgIn its November 14, 2012 decision in Shah v. Shah, the Appellate Division, Second Department, held that Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Mark D. Cohen did not improperly “double count” the income generated by the husband’s business when he awarded the wife four years of maintenance.

That business was started by the husband and a partner during the marriage, and was purportedly transferred by the husband for no consideration to his partner shortly before commencement of the divorce action. Justice Cohen awarded the wife 30% of the value of the husband’s interest in the business and additionally awarded the wife $4,000 per month for four years.

Among the issues presented on the appeal was whether the income generated by the business should have been considered when making that maintenance award.

Put differently, the question is (or should be) if the income generated by assets has already been “divided,” should that income again be “divided” through a maintenance award.

That issue became focused when the Court of Appeals in Grunfeld v. Grunfeld (94 N.Y.2d 696 [2000]) recognized the inequity of double-counting income, at least when awarding maintenance after the asset value of a license or degree has been divided. In 1985, in O’Brien v. O’Brien (66 N.Y.2d 576), the Court of Appeals had determined that New York would be unique and recognize the enhanced earnings attributable to attaining a license or degree as property to be divided upon a divorce. Earnings enhanced during the marriage through some achievement are an intangible asset capable of being divided.


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Focus.jpgUnder a 2004 stipulation of settlement that was incorporated, but survived the entry of the judgment of divorce that ended the parties seven-year marriage, the ex-husband/father was to pay $250,000.00 in annual maintenance and $140,000.00 in annual child support emancipated.

The stipulation further provided that the father would be able to apply for a reduction of his child support and spousal maintenance obligations in the event of an “involuntary, substantial, adverse change” in income. Moreover, if a downward modification were to be granted, the parties’ stipulation would be deemed amended to the extent of any relief afforded. The particular provision provided:

Anything herein to the contrary notwithstanding, in the event of an involuntary, substantial, adverse change in the Husband’s income, including income produced by his assets (such as involuntary loss of employment), he shall have the right to make application to a court of competent jurisdiction, which must include a sworn statement of net worth, for an appropriate modification of child-related support and/or spousal maintenance obligations hereunder, and if granted, the parties’ Agreement shall be deemed amended to the extent of any relief afforded on such application.

The September 10, 2012 decision of Westchester County Supreme Court Justice John P. Colangelo in Mark P. v. Teresa P., resolved such an application to reduce his support obligations. The father based his application on the reduction of his annual income from $3.3 million in 2004, when the stipulation was signed to $651,000.00 in 2011, and an anticipated $251,000.00 in 2012. The father, a securities trader, claimed that the reduction in his income was due to “changes in the securities industry, the economy and a general decline in securities’ sales volume . . . .”

The ex-wife/mother contended that the agreement’s support reduction paragraph should be read only to provide the threshold setting the father’s right to apply for a support reduction, but not necessarily to obtain such a reduction. The mother claimed that the provision did not alter the standards for granting a reduction in child support (a substantial unanticipated an unreasonable change in circumstances) or spousal maintenance (extreme hardship).

Justice Colangelo agreed with the mother, and denied relief to the father. Although the Court acknowledged that the parties had “sought” in their stipulation to provide a “less restrictive standard than that provided by prevailing law,” the Court held that the any easing of the standard was “more circumscribed” than the father argued. Justice Colangelo noted that “conspicuous by its absence is any standard to apply once the threshold to apply for reduction was met.” Thus, the Court would apply “well established principles of whether a reduction in amount is warranted.” The father failed to meet that standard.

Justice Colangelo discussed several decisions which honored agreement provisions that only lowered the threshold to apply for relief, but also held that meeting the threshold did not mandate a reduction.

Only by an explicit agreement . . . may the parties successfully substitute a different standard for support payment reduction from the well-worn standards established by statutory and case law.


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Generations.jpgWhat are the support rights and obligations of a couple who have habitually lived often the generosity of their parents?

That was the question Monroe County Suprme Court Justice Richard A. Dollinger answered in his July 23, 2012 decision in G.R.P. v. L.B.P. when determining temporary support.

The divorcing couple have been married for 20 years and have 3 children. Throughout the marriage, they enjoyed a “substantial” lifestyle: a comfortable home, country club and health club memberships, annual vacations in resort communities including skiing in Colorado and winters in Florida.

However, that lifestyle always exceeded the couple’s earned income. The husband had been employed as a photographer in a business owned by his father, but the business stalled and was closed in the last 18 months. The husband claimed $8,470 in annual income as of July 2011. Although the husband held two undergraduate degrees, he never earned significant sums, with annual earnings in 2000-2009 approximating $35,000. The husband provided no evidence of his efforts to find employment, except a “meek statement” of trying to find work as a self-employed photographer.

In considering his obligation to support his family, this court declines to give any significant credence to the husband’s employment efforts. Again, the only reasonable conclusion is that the husband’s parents have financed most of, if not all, the family’s expenses for at least two years, if not significantly longer.

The wife, who also held an undergraduate degree, earned $25,000 annually from her employment.

Nonetheless, the husband in his statement of net worth listed expenses of $94,812 annually. The wife estimated expenses at more than $107,000 annually. Moreover, neither party’s budget included any expenses for the education of the oldest child, now attending college.


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Prenuptial Agreement.jpgThe premarital agreement of the parties limited their rights to obtain spousal support upon divorce. It also contained a waiver of their rights to counsel fees.

Nevertheless, recently-retired New York County Supreme Court Justice Saralee Evans awarded the wife $6,000 per month in unallocated pendente lite support (an award not specifying how much of it

Gavel main.jpgThe rule of law discussed by Monroe County Supreme Court Justice Richard A. Dollinger in Lomaglio v. Lomaglio is undoubtedly correct. An ex-husband may not be required to provide health insurance beyond the period he is required to pay his ex-wife maintenance. The question is was he allowed to correctly apply the law?

With allusions to Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore, Justice Dollinger answered his own question:

When does a trial court judge get to review or opine, expand upon or possibly modify an appellate division ruling? Answer: “hardly ever.”

Domestic Relations Law §236B(8) is straightforward enough. A divorcing spouse may not be required to provide health insurance beyond the support period:

8. Special relief in matrimonial actions. a. In any matrimonial action the court may order a party to purchase, maintain or assign a policy of insurance providing benefits for health and hospital care and related services for either spouse or children of the marriage not to exceed such period of time as such party shall be obligated to provide maintenance, child support or make payments of a distributive award.

So why is Justice Dollinger’s just-published February, 2012 opinion implementing this provision front page news (New York Law Journal 5/21/2012)? It is because 12 years ago, the Appellate Division Fourth Department appears to have held that Mr. Lomaglio would be obligated to provide health insurance to his ex-wife, permanently, although the 18-month period for which he was obligated to provide maintenance to his ex-wife had expired.


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Prenup.jpg

When your lawyer tells you that you are about to make a really bad deal, you disregard that advice at your peril.

That is one lesson to be learned from a split-decision of the Appellate Division First Department in its April 17, 2012 decision in Barocas v. Barocas. The court affirmed a decision of Supreme Court New York County Justice Ellen Gesmer which for the most part denied a wife’s attack on the prenuptial agreement she signed with her future husband in 1995.

Their marriage two weeks after the agreement was signed is now ending in divorce. Under the parties’ agreement, Deborah Barocas will not receive any maintenance (personal support). (The agreement contained no provision regarding the support for the parties’ two children.) Moreover, under the agreement, Deborah will also not share in any property accumulated by Victor during the marriage. Indeed, the agreement provided that Deborah would forfeit any gifts or jewelry she had been given by Victor before and during the marriage. Over their 15 years of marriage, Victor accumulated some $4,600,000 in assets, while Deborah had only $30,550 in an I.R.A.

Deborah was born in Guyana, the second of seven children. She arrived in the United States in 1981, at the age of twenty-one. She obtained a GED in 1982, and worked menial jobs. In 1989, she worked part-time as a receptionist for Victor’s family business. While working there, the parties began to date. In 1993, she moved into Victor’s Sutton Place apartment. Other than sporadic attempts at small business ventures, Deborah did not work outside the home for the duration of the marriage. She has no further education and no special skills.

Now attacking that agreement, Deborah noted that she has no other assets or sources of income. She alleged that she can no longer work, as she is now 50 years old and that her husband had thwarted her efforts to get a college education and pursue a career during the marriage.

The three-judge majority of this five-judge appellate court upheld Justice Gesmer’s decision to uphold the property division provisions of the prenuptial agreement. With regard to those provisions, Deborah Barocas failed to establish that her execution of the agreement was the result of inequitable conduct on her husband’s part. Rather, the parties fully disclosed their respective assets and net worth.

Moreover, the agreement was reviewed by independent counsel. Indeed, Deborah’s own lawyer admittedly had told her that the agreement was “completely unfair” and advised against signing it. The fact that the husband’s attorney recommended the wife’s attorney, and that the husband paid Deborah’s counsel’s fees, was insufficient to demonstrate duress or overreaching sufficient to base an attack upon the agreement.  Still further, the claim that Deborah believed that there would be no wedding if she did not sign the agreement, that the wedding was only two weeks away and that wedding plans had been made, was an insufficient basis to attack the agreement on the grounds of duress.

Although application of the provisions would result in plaintiff [husband] retaining essentially all the property, courts will not set aside an agreement on the ground of unconscionability where inequitable conduct was lacking and simply because, in retrospect, the agreement proves to be improvident or one-sided . . . . The circumstances surrounding the execution of the agreement disclose no issue of fact as to whether there was overreaching. We therefore adhere to the general rule that “‘[i]f the execution of the agreement . . . be fair, no further inquiry will be made’. . . .


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Calulator on 100s 6 red.jpgIn the first appellate decision to apply the October 12, 2010 temporary maintenance amendment to the Domestic Relations Law, it was held that the recipient’s share of marital residence carrying charges is within the temporary maintenance award, itself. It was improper to have the payor spouse pay carrying costs directly in exhange for a credit against income before calculating maintenance.

In the February 7, 2012 decision in Khaira v. Khaira, the Appellate Division, First Department, considered the breadth of D.R.L. §236B(5-a). No longer was the temporary (pendente lite) maintenance award used simply to “tide over the more needy party,” but rather to provide “consistency and predictability in calculating temporary spousal maintenance awards.” The amendment “creates a substantial presumptive entitlement.”

The First Department modified the April 1, 2011 order of New York County Supreme Court Justice Deborah A. Kaplan.  In the case before it, Justice Kaplan had “properly followed the initial procedures” to determine that the presumptive temporary maintenance award would be $138,000.00 per year ($11,500.00 per month), at least based on the husband’s first $500,000.00 of income. Justice Kaplan, then, analyzed the reasonable needs of the wife and children after taking into account husband’s payment of the mortgage and health insurance and expenses. Justice Kaplan, then, awarded the wife $13,870.00 in monthly unallocated spousal and child support payments, in addition to requiring the husband to pay the $5,317.00 monthly mortgage payments and the family’s $855.00 monthly health care premiums and medical expenses. The award and expenses totaled $20,041.00 per month. Justice Kaplan, however, did not discuss the factors required by the amendment to be considered when making an award in excess of the formula applied to the first $500,000.00 of a spouse’s income.

Before remanding the issue to Justice Kaplan for redetermination, the First Department focused on the “suggestion” inherent in her decision “that the formula was intended to cover the support needs of the non-monied spouse, such as food and clothing, but not the cost of the mortgage payments for her residence.” However, because any specific reference to the carrying charges for the marital residence was absent from the temporary maintenance formula amendment, the First Department considered:

[It was] reasonable and logical to view the formula adopted by the new maintenance provision as covering all the spouse’s basic living expenses, including housing costs as well as the cost of food and clothing and other usual expenses.

The First Department noted that prior to the amendment, it was common to award support both in cash payments to the spouse as well as to third-parties. That practice was “not only eminently reasonable, but also the most expedient way of covering payment of the necessities, and protecting the home as a marital asset.” The “new approach” changes that, instead awarding “the amount that will cover all the payee’s presumptive reasonable expenses.”

The First Department did not rule out the possibility of a direct mortgage payment, but, as required by the statute, only after the analysis of income in excess of the $500,000.00 cap was made.

The impact of this decision is clear.  However, it also reveals the lack of logic in the remaining support calculations required by the various support provisions.


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