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.


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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.


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