Miscellaneous Actions and Proceedings

A wife commenced a New York County action to set aside three trusts created by her husband. The wife alleged that the trusts were created in an effort to ensure that the wife would be deprived of her fair and equitable share of assets in the event of a divorce. In fact, the husband had recently commenced a divorce action in Suffolk County.

In its June 20, 2023, decision in Paulson v. Paulson, the Appellate Division, First Department reversed an Order of Supreme Court New York County Justice Louis L. Nock which granted the husband’s motion to close the courtroom for oral argument on the motions to dismiss the complaint.

In the complaint, the wife had alleged that the husband funded the trusts with both spouses’ assets without the knowledge or consent of the wife. She alleged that the husband, worked in total secrecy with a cadre of hand-picked agents and advisors, to create and fund the trusts that held property now worth billions of dollars. Although the trustees had the authority to make distributions to the wife, in the twenty years since their creation, she had received nothing. Moreover, by the express terms of the trusts, upon the spouses’ divorce, the wife would automatically be eliminated as a trust beneficiary.

The wife pleaded that the husband’s actions raised an issue that was not amenable to resolution in a traditional divorce action. She contended that the complex business relationships and assets at play here and the relief sought against third-party trustees together required the commencement of two (2) separate actions: the divorce action and this action addressed exclusively to the secret trusts.

As a procedural matter, the First Department ruled that Justice Nock did not provide the public and the press adequate notice of the husband’s courtroom closure request. However, the Court also reversed on substantive grounds. “Public access to court proceedings is strongly favored, both as a matter of constitutional law . . . and as statutory imperative” Judiciary Law §4 provides:Continue Reading No Closed Courtroom in Action to Invalidate Husband’s Billion-Dollar Trusts

The petitioner, a resident of Bronx County who was born in the State of Georgia, asked the Court for orders reflecting “their” name and sex designation changes, on petitioner’s New York identification, as well as on their Georgia birth certificate.

In his July 19, 2022, decision in Matter of N.K., New York City Civil Court Judge Jeffrey S. Zellan granted the petition to change the name on the New York State and City -issued identification, as well as on the petitioner’s Georgia birth certificate.

Judge Zellan also granted the application to change the sex designation on any and all New York State and City-issued identification from “female” to the gender-neutral, non-binary gender designation of “X.” The New York aspects were covered under Civil Rights Law §§63, 67 and 67-a.Continue Reading Court authorizes change of name and gender-neutral designation on NY and Georgia identification

Generally, a transfer of a judgment debtor’s real property interest is not effective against a creditor whose judgment was recorded prior to the debtor’s transfer (C.P.L.R. §5203). However, that rule will yield to the equitable interests of a former spouse. So held the Appellate Division, First Department, in its August 19, 2021 decision in Tiozzo v. Dangin.

There, the parties’ 2004 Judgment of Divorce incorporated their surviving Stipulation of Settlement. Under the Stipulation, the wife was “entitled to sole ownership and exclusive use and occupancy” of the marital residence. The husband was to “provide a quitclaim deed to [the wife] only if doing so would not jeopardize the existing mortgage.” In the meantime, the husband was solely responsible to continue to pay the mortgage. The Stipulation further provided:

In the event that the Husband is unable, for any reason, to execute and/or record such quitclaim deed, the Husband agrees and covenants that notwithstanding the joint ownership of the Jane Street property, he will not act in any way or manner or through any deed or omission, whether directly or indirectly, to interfere with the Wife’s exclusive use and occupancy of the said property, including the sale of the said property by the Wife should she so choose.

The wife did not demand a quitclaim deed from the husband until 2019, almost 15 years after the divorce. The wife had then decided to sell the residence when the husband went into default of his obligation to make the mortgage payments.

By then, in February 2019, Lenz Capital Group, LLC (Lenz) had entered a two million dollar judgment against the husband upon his confession of judgment.Continue Reading Ex-Husband’s Judgment Creditor Subordinated to Ex-Wife’s Unrecorded Equitable Realty Interest

Under their 2013 mediated divorce settlement agreement, these ex-spouses agreed to continue to jointly own and operate their distribution business. The agreement reported that their “solid working relationship with a high level of trust in one another’s skills” made “co-ownership a viable solution.” The ex-husband was to receive 30% of the joint business’s profit going forward, and the ex-wife would retain the remaining 70%.

Five years later, the ex-wife commenced this action alleging that after the divorce, the ex-husband began distributing rival products, poached a number of associates from the joint business, ceased recruiting new associates for the joint business, and assisted his new fiancée in establishing her own competing business — all to the detriment of the parties’ joint business. Based on these allegations, the ex-wife claimed that the joint business was no longer viable. She sought, in effect, to terminate the business and obtain such other relief to which she may be entitled.Continue Reading Continuing a Jointly-Owned Business after a Divorce

With litigation so expensive, what claims between former spouses may be heard in small claims court?

In this small claims action, the former wife sought to recover $2,500 from her former husband because he allegedly wrongful retained health insurance reimbursement checks. The wife alleged that she, rather than the ex-husband, had paid the sums to her health providers for which the ex-husband had been reimbursed.

The ex-husband moved to dismiss the small claims action, claiming that the ex-wife’s claims were within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and Family Court. In addition, the ex-husband claimed that, based on the Supreme Court judgment in the parties’ matrimonial action, the ex-wife, whose two prior small claims actions had been dismissed, was precluded from bringing this action under the doctrine of res judicata.

In an order dated November 6, 2015, Nassau County District Court Judge Paul L. Meli, granted the ex-husband’s motion to dismiss this action, concluding that small claims court lacked jurisdiction and that the matter in issue had, in any event, been previously litigated.Continue Reading Small Claims Court Has Jurisdiction to Determine Claim Between Former Spouses

A non-written agreement for cohabitants to share retirement benefits can be enforceable under a breach of contract claim, but will not support claims to impose a constructive trust, or for unjust enrichment or an accounting. Such was the holding of the Appellate Division, Second Department, in its November 13, 2013 decision in Dee v. Rakower.

In the majority opinion written by Justice Leonard B. Austin, the appellate court relied heavily on the facts as pleaded in the complaint. The parties had lived together in a committed, same-sex relationship for nearly 18 years. Two children were born of this relationship; each party being the biological parent of one child, legally adopted by the other.

After the relationship ended in 2007 (before the passage of New York’s Marriage Equality Act [see, Domestic Relations Law §§ 10-a, 10-b]), Ms. Dee commenced this action seeking to enforce the alleged oral “joint venture/partnership” agreement. Under that agreement, Ms. Dee was to share in assets, including Ms. Rakower’s retirement contributions and earnings, in exchange for Ms. Dee leaving her full-time job to care for the parties’ children.

Before they had children, each party was employed full-time, earning a salary and retirement benefits. The parties pooled their respective salaries to meet their shared expenses. The parties purchased a house as joint tenants with rights of survivorship.

After the parties’ first child was born, the parties agreed, it was alleged, that given the cost of child care, Ms. Dee would eschew her full-time employment and work part-time so that she could be home with the children and perform other non-financial services for the benefit of the family and for the parties’ partnership and/or joint venture while Ms Rakower would continue to work full-time. Ms. Dee alleged that her decision to leave her full-time employment was based upon the parties’ specific agreement that Ms. Dee would be entitled to one half of Ms. Rakower’s retirement contributions and earnings for the period.

Ms. Rakower moved to dismiss Ms. Dee’s complaint. Kings County Supreme Court Justice Yvonne Lewis granted that motion, determining that the facts did not support causes of action for breach of contract, to impose a constructive trust, for unjust enrichment or for an accounting.Continue Reading Oral Cohabitation Contract Claim Withstands Motion To Dismiss

The plaintiff former husband brought this state-court action action against his first wife seeking damages for her alleged false statements to the Citizenship and Immigration Service. The former husband blamed those statements for the Service’s conclusion that the the couple had not established a life together as husband and wife. The plaintiff also sought a judicial declaration that the requisite relationship had, in fact, existed.

In his August 28, 2013 decision in Kenan v. Campuzano (2013 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 3929 | 2013 NY Slip Op 32056(U), New York County Supreme Court Justice Arthur F. Engoron dismissed the action.

The plaintiff met his first wife face-to-face in 2006 when he came to New York shortly after finding her on JDate. They married four months later. Two months after that, the wife filed a petition to sponsor her new husband for US citizenship with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”). The couple divorced a year later. At the same time the wife withdrew her petition to sponsor her husband for US citizenship.

Just 3 or 4 months after that, in January or February 2008, the husband married another woman. The second marriage, too, came to an end within a relatively short period of time. However, before it had ended, the second wife, too, petitioned for her new husband’s US citizenship. That petition was denied in part upon USCIS’s determination that the first marriage was “for the sole purpose of evading immigration laws and obtaining an immigration benefit.”

The now twice-divorced husband brought this action to redress the alleged false statements made by his first wife to the USCIS. he also sought a declaratory judgment that the parties had “established a life together under the meaning of the law.”

The first wife moved to dismiss the complaint. Justice Engoron granted that motion.Continue Reading State Court Rejects Action to Declare for Immigration Purposes the Bona Fides of Former Marriage

A wife’s right to reside in what has been her marital residence for four years, and whose right to do so stemmed not merely from the home-owner’s  permission, but from a true family relationship, cannot be summarily evicted as a mere licensee.  Such was the holding of Nassau County District Court Judge Eric Bjorneby in his June 20, 2013 decision in Kakwani v. Kakwani.

Ms. Anjili Kakwani (the “petitioner”), her brother (Amit Kakwani [the “husband”]) and their parents moved into a one family residence in Carle Place in 2004. The petitioner’s mother, as trustee of a family trust, conveyed the home to the petitioner on December 8, 2006.

In March, 2008 Amit Kakwani traveled to India where, for the first time, he met his arranged bride-to-be, the respondent Nisha Kakwani (the “wife”). In September, 2008, the petitioner and Amit traveled to India where the petitioner met her future sister-in-law for the first time. In November, 2008 the respondent moved by herself to the United States and into the Kakwani family home. On December 22, 2008 respondent and Amit Kakwani were married.

Amit and Nisha resided in the master bedroom of the family home, as husband and wife, until sometime in 2012 or early 2013 when Amit moved out of the master bedroom and into another room in the house.
In September, 2013, the petitioner had respondent served with a 10-Day Notice to Quit.

The petitioner brought this summary proceeding pursuant to RPAPL §713(7) to evict the respondent (the petitioner’s sister-in-law) on the ground that respondent was a licensee whose license to reside at the premises had been revoked. (The husband, Amit, was not named as a respondent in this proceeding, nor had rent ever been sought from or paid by Amit [or by his wife, for that matter].)

The wife sought dismissal of the proceeding, claiming that she is a family member not subject to eviction in a summary proceeding brought pursuant to RPAPL §713(7).Continue Reading Summary Proceedings Are Not Available to Evict Wife (Sister-in-Law of Owner)