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Nassau County Family Law Blog

Friday, November 27, 2015

New York Times Reports on Dramatic Increase in "Gray Divorces"

What is a “gray divorce?”

According to a recent article published in The New York Times, the concept of a “gray divorce” – or, later-in-life dissolution –- is becoming a less-stigmatized, more accepted course of action for older couples seeking a fresh start.

Where many couples may have historically opted to just “stick it out,” today’s Baby Boomers are choosing to pursue happiness and freedom from the confines of a marital union long past its expiration date. If you, too, are considering a gray divorce, make sure to be advised by an experienced and reputable family law attorney.

According to statistics, in 2014, couples over the age of 50 were twice as likely to pursue divorce as their 1990 counterparts. The National Center for Family and Marriage Research reports that divorce rates in couples aged 65 and older is even higher. This is, at first, surprising, considering that divorce at this stage would have been unthinkable just a generation ago.

Reasons for Divorces in Later Years

What are the contributing factors to this dramatic increase in divorces among older couples? For one, life expectancies in the United States continue to rise, leading many seniors to yearn to seize their remaining years cloaked in happiness and contentment. Moreover, couples at this age are typically parents to adult-age children, who no longer feel the need to stay together to keep the family intact while children grow up and develop. Also, since older individuals are more likely to have been married before, and since there is a higher rate of divorce among people who have already been divorced, the statistical cards are somewhat stacked against the longevity of a second or third marriage.

Pursuing a divorce later in life presents in own set of challenges, particularly when it comes to dividing assets and marital property. To ensure fair and adequate treatment throughout the process, be sure to contact a knowledgeable and skilled family law attorney.


Saturday, October 31, 2015

NY Court Attempts to Unravel Complex Custody Case

How are New York’s custody laws adapting to the ever-changing Alternative Reproduction Technology (ART) landscape?

Fortunately, advances in modern medical technology have allowed otherwise infertile couples the opportunity to bear and raise their own biological children, often with the help of a gestational carrier or via in vitro fertilization. While the law has historically lagged behind science in virtually every industry, changes in the infertility landscape have likewise resulted in one of the most confounding custody cases in recent memory – involving four separate parents, each with a viable argument for custodial rights.

Four parents, One Child

In an unbelievable parenting experiment gone awry, a member of a same-sex male couple donated his sperm to a member of a same-sex female couple, resulting in the birth of a child. The two couples rented adjacent apartments, which were decorated identically and designed to create a seamless environment for the child as it rotated from time with one couple to the other. However, within a year’s time, the arrangement collapsed, and all four individuals sought custodial rights from the New York Family Court.

The biological perspective

Biologically speaking, child has two parents. These two parents are undoubtedly listed on the child’s birth certificate and maintain the status of holding “parentage” over the child. Biological or adoptive parents with full parental rights intact typically maintain exclusive say over issues like custody and visitation. In a case like this, however, the other non-biological partners may also have a strong argument for the establishment of custodial and visitation rights.

In a statement by counsel for one of the women, “It has been my experience that biology does not [always] win out….” In this case, for instance, the court reviewed the petitions of all four parents to determine the best possible outcome for the child, notwithstanding the biological ties that bind. In the end, the court undoubtedly arranged a custody and visitation plan that not only upholds the best interests of the child, but works to maintain family unity as best as possible.

If you are experiencing a difficult family law situation, please do not hesitate to contact Howard B. Leff in New York City today: 516-739-7500.


Friday, October 30, 2015

Divorce Settlements

What should you ask for in divorce settlement negotiations?

It was a hard decision, but you have finally decided that you want a divorce. Unfortunately, it might get worse before it gets better. At this point, you have to contemplate what your situation will be like after you transition from being part of a couple to being a single person. There are financial and logistical matters to address and an experienced divorce attorney can assist you in identifying and obtaining what you want out of your divorce settlement.

If you have children, they are likely your number one priority. Decisions relating to children can be difficult, but they must be thought through. Do you want custody of your kids or would you prefer visitation? Are you likely to get custody if you petition for it? If do not want or receive custody, can you pay child support? All of these matters can be agreed upon or litigated and incorporated into your divorce settlement agreement. It is always best to negotiate agreements that are as detailed as possible when it comes to custody, visitation and support matters, as these agreements are difficult and expensive to modify after the fact.

Another important matter is where you will live after your divorce. Do you want to stay in the marital home? Can you afford to buy your partner out and make any necessary monthly payments? Or would you rather sell and move somewhere that is better suited to your new status? You can work out all of the details of either buying or selling the family home and including these terms in your divorce settlement agreement.

It is also essential to think about your greater financial future. Can you afford to live on your own after your divorce? Will you need time to get back on your feet? Will you need maintenance during the transition? You must also make an accounting of all of your assets and liabilities, especially those held jointly, and determine how each will be dealt with. Do you have any assets, such as a house, that you will not be able to afford to maintain? Would it be better to liquidate these? You must also think about joint debt. Which spouse should be responsible for which debts?

More than likely, you and your spouse will have differing opinions on many of these issues.  You will have to negotiate and possibly compromise to put together a divorce settlement agreement that works for both of you. That is why it is essential to have the best attorney possible by your side.

Nassau County, New York divorce attorney Howard B. Leff has years of experience working with individuals going through a divorce.  Contact his office today at (516)739-7500 for a consultation.


Thursday, October 8, 2015

NY High Court Considers Appeal of Divorce Court Contempt Order Over Hidden Assets

What are the consequences for hiding assets during a divorce in New York State?

When it comes to divorce, full disclosure is a hallmark requirement of both parties. In order to ensure each spouse is treated fairly during the process, New York law requires that both parties submit their financial information, including all assets and debts, as of the date of separation. If one spouse attempts to shield or hide assets from the other, the former could face significant liability and contempt charges.

In one ongoing divorce case, a husband is accused of hiding the proceeds from the sale of one of his dry cleaning businesses – and this is not the first time he has faced such allegations. According to reports, the feuding spouses share an escrow account wherein the proceeds from any major sales of property or liquidation of other assets are expected to be placed. Allegedly, the husband sold a dry cleaning business and transferred several other pieces of property, but has not made a deposit in the escrow for nearly 5 years.

In the husband’s defense, he claims that the transfers were to family members and were not actually profitable sales. The wife, on the other hand, believes the husband is shielding the assets in a private account, refusing to reveal the amount and location of the funds.

In 2010, the husband spent 15 days in jail for selling another piece of marital property and refusing to disclose the location of the proceeds. According to public records, the property sold for $776,000, but the husband claims he has no idea where that money is located. Moreover, the husband claims he has already obtained a divorce under the laws of the nation of Lebanon – a claim which remains unsubstantiated.

In September, the parties reconvened for a contempt hearing over the missing funds and proceeds, and the three-judge panel is expected to make a decision in the next 30-60 days.

If you are considering divorce on Long Island or in the greater metropolitan New York area and would like to discuss your options in terms of property division or other matters of family law, please contact the office of Howard B. Leff, PC: 516.739.7500. 


Monday, September 21, 2015

Parents Admonished for Dragging Out Son’s Divorce Case

Can grandparents or other third parties get involved in family members’ divorce litigation?

In one recent New York case, meddling paternal grandparents became so entrenched in their son’s ongoing divorce litigation that the case dragged out for nearly 5 years and resulted in sanctions against their attorneys (not to mention massive civil fines).

The couple involved were married in 2005, but things quickly began to unravel when the husband experienced a life-threatening brain aneurysm. Throughout the ordeal, his wife and his parents vehemently disagreed on various aspects of his medical care, and the wife ended up seeking divorce a few years later. As a result of the conflict between the wife and her in-laws, she sought physical custody of their minor child with the right to exclude the paternal grandparents visitation at her discretion.

Upon hearing of this plan to potentially exclude them from their grandchild's life, the paternal grandparents made it their mission to drag out the divorce proceedings for as long as possible, instructing their counsel to “go after the mother with a vengeance.” After several years of legal wrangling, the court demanded to know who was paying the husband’s legal fees – and it was ultimately revealed that his father (a retired healthcare executive) was footing the bill for this apparently neverending divorce case.

While the facts above are well outside the norm, it is not uncommon for grandparents to get involved in divorce cases under New York’s third-party visitation laws. Under the law, grandparents with a close, established interpersonal relationship with their grandchild may be able to petition the court on their own behalf to establish legal rights to visit their grandchild – even if the parents are separated or divorced. These laws may also apply to other third parties such as aunts, uncles or former stepparents, provided the petitioner can prove a bond with the child.

If you are facing a difficult or unusually complicated divorce situation and would like to speak to an experienced New York family law attorney about a custody or visitation matter, please contact attorney Howard B. Leff, P.C. today: 516-739-7500.


Sunday, September 6, 2015

What the Rosie O’Donnell Ordeal Teaches Us About Handling Mental Illness & Disability Within the Family

What are the options for families grappling with a difficult situation?

The headlines were ominous: "Rosie O’Donnell Contacts Police After Daughter Goes Missing." Thankfully, she was found just hours later due to the heroic and thorough efforts of New York police officers. Issues surrounding the child’s disappearance, however, were only just starting to unravel, prompting many to consider dynamics within their own families – and what to do to prevent a similar situation.

In the O'Donnell case, the missing person was still a child – just 17 years old. However, she suffered from a documented mental illness requiring the use of a support animal and a strict medication regimen. Because she is still a child, her parents maintain strict authority over her and can direct her life in a way that best meets her interests. It is important to consider, however, what might have become of  young Chelsea O’Donnell had this happened just one year later. As an adult, her parents would not have the same measure of control over her, and the outcome might have been much more tragic. 

In New York, parents of an adult child with special needs, a disability, a mental illness, or even substance abuse issues may be able to pursue an adult guardianship to help protect their child from certain dangers and hazards. Under Article 81 of New York’s Mental Hygiene Law, parents may be able to obtain a guardianship if two factors are met: (i) the adult child is unable to provide for personal needs or unable to manage property and financial affairs and (ii) the adult child is not aware of, or cannot appreciate, the consequences of such inability.

Once a petition is filed, the Family Court will consider a number of factors prior to awarding the guardianship. Namely, is a guardianship the least restrictive means available to help this person, or are there alternative remedies available in the community? The answer to this question will depend heavily on the proposed ward’s current condition – including any recent history of problematic behavior. From there, the Court will hold a hearing in which family members may be able to object to or support the guardianship. In addition, the proposed ward will have an opportunity to present his or her position.

If you are dealing with a difficult situation involving an adult child, please do not hesitate to contact Howard B. Leff. a highly skilled attorney with 35 years of experience in family law. Located in Garden City and serving the Long Island and greater New York City metropolitan  area, he can be reached at 516-739-7500.


Friday, August 28, 2015

New York Court Holds: No Marriage License? No divorce!

What happens if a ‘marriage’ never technically occurred, and the parties wish to seek relief in divorce court?

It may seem unimaginable, but one recent New York County case has solidified the notion that in divorce court, anything is possible. In Devorah H. v. Steven S., the petitioner filed for divorce from her (presumed) husband, whom she met in an orthodox Jewish chat room in 2003. According to the court’s holding, the parties began living together at some point in 2004, and later moved to a larger apartment to accommodate their five combined children.

At trial, the court accepted testimony from both the parties, as well as the rabbi, who contended he solemnized their union on either December 20 or 21, 2004, and that it was witnessed by two elderly male congregants.

Evidence concerning what actually took took at the "wedding" ceremony is in dispute. First, the plaintiff contends that she was given a bracelet in lieu of a wedding ring as a symbol of their union, however the rabbi claims to have no recollection of this alleged break with tradition. Second, the traditional Jewish marriage contract known as the Ketubah was alleged to be safe in the plaintiff’s possession, however the rabbi insisted it had been destroyed in a “fit of pique on the subway” by the defendant. Lastly, the rabbi exhibited a noted discomfort with discussing the details of the “wedding” at the trial, stating that “I normally like to have a hall, with a chuppah (wedding canopy), seven blessings, two cups of wine, and a whole band and dance for them, but this was something very, very unusual."

In sum, the court was left with the plaintiff’s assertion that a valid wedding and marriage took place), the defendant’s assertion that they were never married, and the rabbi’s vague recollection of an overall uncomfortable and nontraditional experience.

In the end, the court relied on the one indisputable fact: the parties never obtained a marriage license. Despite a centuries-old New York domestic relations law that can work to trump this requirement if a valid wedding and solemnization takes place, the court had a hard time finding that the parties intended to be married at all – and certainly did not engage in a “traditional” wedding ceremony, particularly under the applicable laws of their Orthodox Jewish faith.

In conclusion, the plaintiff’s divorce action was dismissed on the simple premise that she was never really married in the first place. In all likelihood, the parties will be required to decide upon property division and alimony matters on their own since the court cannot intervene as in traditional divorce.

As the above case demonstrates, marriage and divorce laws can be complicated to navigate. If you are considering separation or divorce and would like to speak to an experienced, reputable divorce attorney, please contact Howard B. Leff, who serves clients in and around the Long Island and Metropolitan New York area. He can be reached at 516.739.7500.


Friday, August 14, 2015

Divorce Litigant Goes to Great Lengths to Prove Forgery in Divorce Trial

What happens if a party to a divorce proceeding lies about his or her assets or debts?

One of the most important components of the divorce process is the division of marital property, assets, and debts. When couples decide to dissolve their marriage, they must also give careful thought to how to divide the value of their home, and joint accounts, as well as how to properly divide debts –- which may or may not be eligible for refinancing. 
In light of these divorce milestones, parties are bound by law to be 100 percent forthcoming in disclosing their assets and debts at the outset of the proceedings or risk facing serious legal consequences, including civil contempt. Likewise, lying on a court document or committing perjury to the trial court judge is considered a serious crime that could result in jail time and hefty criminal fines. For these reasons, parties are best advised to avoid the temptation to inflate or underreport financial information. 

In one recent New York divorce case, a divorce attorney resorted to handing the court an old fashioned magnifying glass to highlight the presence of alleged forgery on the opponent’s financial statement. During the maneuver, counsel for one spouse asked the other to closely examine the documents and to testify whether a Whiteout product had been used to alter the page numbers of bank statements. More specifically, the spouse alleged that her ex had submitted bank statements showing only withdrawals, not deposits, and altered the page numbers of the statements to make the packet look complete and legitimate. Overall, the former media executive claimed that he was flat broke and unable to continue the $16,000 per month alimony and child support payments ordered by the original divorce order. 

Citing poor eyesight, the witness/spouse asserted he was unable to testify as to any of the information contained in the documents. The spouse also testified that he has been unable to maintain gainful employment after serving 20 days in jail in 2014 – a sentence which was imposed after the court found he had similarly lied under oath during a separate proceeding. 

If you are facing a difficult situation and would like to discuss your options with an experienced and knowledgeable New York divorce attorney, please contact Howard B. Leff, P.C. today: (516)739-7500. 

 


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Judge Sends Children to Juvenile Detention Amid Parents’ Custody Battle

Can children be taken from parents during a custody battle?


If expectations are not managed or parents fail to follow the terms of the agreement, child custody cases can quickly turn contentious between parents. However, a recent case out of Michigan illustrates one of the more extreme examples of custody litigation gone awry – and showcases the extent of animosity between parties as they fight it out over physical and legal custody of the children. As this case also points out, the true victims in an unmanaged child custody battle are usually the children caught in between – and our office works diligently to ensure that no custody case takes the unbelievable turns that occurred in the instance described below. 

Amid court battle, judge orders permanent juvenile detention

The facts of the custody case begin in 2008 when mother and father of three children went through a divorce, resulting in physical placement of the children with the mother and joint legal custody shared between both parents. The father was entitled to visitation on an intermittent basis, and was sometimes required to submit to supervised visits. 

Allegedly, the mother failed to arrive at a scheduled visit with the father – and this was becoming a common occurrence within the family. However, upon the father’s filing of a contempt of court action against the mother, the court inexplicably ordered the children remanded to a juvenile detention facility, separate from one another, and cut off from virtually all contact with the outside world.

In a frenzied hurry, the mother’s attorney filed a writ of habeas corpus against the judge, demanding the children be released to the custody of their parents. 

As of July 10, 2015, the same judge has ordered the children released, apparently to the custody of a summer camp. It is unclear whether either parent will continue physical placement with the children. 

Regardless of the outcome of this particular case, a child custody matter must always focus on the best interests of the children involved – and parents are encouraged to thoughtfully and carefully negotiate the terms of custody and visitation in a manner congruent with this goal. 

At our law office, we strive to maintain a smooth and seamless transition through the child custody process. If you are considering filing for custody, or would like to discuss your options for a modification, contact divorce and matrimonial attorney, Howard B. Leff at his Nassau County, New York office today: 516(739)-7500. 



Monday, July 13, 2015

New York Legislature Passes Significant Changes to Alimony Laws

How are professional degrees treated with regard to spousal support in New York State?


In New York, spousal support – which is sometimes referred to as “alimony” – is determined based on a number of factors. First, the court will examine the earning potential of each party, as well as whether one spouse maintained a “homemaker” role during the marriage. As part of this review, courts have routinely included the long-term value of a professional degree and/or licensure in determining a party’s likely future income – and increased spousal support for the other party accordingly. More specifically, a spouse with a high-level doctorate degree would be considered to own a substantial “asset” in terms of future earning potential, and courts could consider this fact when quantifying a fair and equitable spousal support sum payable to the other party. 

However, citing concerns with the economy and job markets, the New York legislature recently took another look at this measure, and ultimately decided that professional degrees should not be considered “assets” for purposes of calculating alimony. The following details this important pending change, and we encourage you to contact a competent New York law office if you are considering a possible modification to your spousal support order. 

Details of alimony amendments

Following a months’-long push by advocacy groups including the New York Women’s Bar Association, the Family Law Section of the New York Bar Association and the New York State Maintenance Standards Coalition, the New York senate finally passed the sweeping changes to the alimony guidelines as of June 24, 2015, and received ultimate approval from the Assembly on June 25, 2015. Pending Governor Cuomo’s signature, the bill would overturn the standards added to the Code in 1980 after a wife was unceremoniously met with a disappointing alimony award after putting her career on hold to help her husband complete medical school. If the Governor approves, professionals will be treated no differently than any other litigant in this regard.

Historically, courts have relied on the figures presented by accountants during divorce proceedings to determine the approximate long-term value of a professional degree. However, in a statement by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, “[t]his is a very positive development because the maintenance guidelines will make awards more consistent and predictable, which will make it easier for divorcing couples to understand their financial rights and obligations.”

If you are looking for advice and counsel regarding your spousal support or alimony situation, please contact Nassau County, New York divorce attorney Howard B. Leff today: 516-739-7500. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Star Chef’s Divorce Heats Up

When is a prenuptial agreement considered invalid?

Food Network personality Bobby Flay and his wife, Stephanie March, a television actress filed for divorce in April.  Following the split, March filed court papers to set aside the prenuptial agreement.  The prenuptial agreement requires Flay to pay March a monthly alimony of $5,000 and provides an option to buyout the family home for $1 million.  March alleges that she played a major part in helping Flay build his net worth to almost $20 million during their ten year marriage.  She did this through making integral decisions to help Flay’s restaurants including taste-testing menu items, suggesting menu items and introducing the chef to tapas, a type of Spanish cuisine later offered in Flay’s restaurants. 

Flay’s attorney filed with the court to affirm the validity of the prenuptial agreement.  The prenuptial agreement allegedly contains a no infidelity clause meaning the agreement stays in effect regardless if either spouse has an affair.  March has alleged Flay had multiple affairs during their marriage.  Flay recently accepted a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame during which a plane flew by dragging a banner displaying a single word - “cheater”.  March denies any involvement in the plane incident. 

March alleges her health problems leave her unable to work causing her to face an undue financial hardship.  Flay says those health problems are the result of an elective breast enhancement surgery.  March has also filed for the winnings and sale of a racehorse Flay gifted to her as an anniversary present in 2009.  March argues the winnings totaled $130,000 and the horse sold for $60,000.  Flay denies keeping the earnings from the racehorse.  

Courts can consider many options when determining the validity of a prenuptial agreement.  Couples married in New York can set aside a prenuptial agreement for different reasons but must have concrete evidence to support those reasons.  These are typically based on the health and financial situations of each spouse.  Marital assets are valued on the worth obtained during the marriage and affect the division of assets during a divorce. 

While couples never plan on a divorce before the marriage even begins, prenuptial agreements are useful in helping families sort out marital assets when a couple does decide to part ways. If you are considering divorce but have a prenuptial agreement, it’s important that you contact an experienced family law attorney. For over 35 years, Howard B. Leff has helped New Yorkers develop prenuptial agreements and has represented clients in complex divorce proceedings where a prenuptial agreement is in place.  Contact his office at (516) 739-7500 today for a free consultation.       


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