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Family Law

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. 



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.       


Friday, June 26, 2015

New York Senator Introduces Bill to Eliminate LGBT Bias in Adoption

What is the legal landscape for same-sex couples looking to adopt a child? 


Adoption is a highly-regulated matter, and is accordingly treated very differently in the various U.S. jurisdictions. Some states, including New York, have explicitly prohibited any form of discrimination in the adoption process, and prohibit adoption agencies from refusing adoption consideration based on one’s status as an LGBT individual. Other states have taken the opposite view, and are openly biased against same-sex couples seeking to adopt a child in need of a family. 

In the eyes of U.S. Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), this bias simply must end – and the proposed Every Child Deserves a Family Act is drafted to yank federal funding from any adoption agency refusing to work with LGBT applicants solely based on their sexual orientation and/or marital status. 

Basics of the Act

There are a variety of avenues through which children are adopted in the United States. In many cases, children are adopted through the foster care system – often by the foster parents themselves. Other children are required to live in a shelter or facility until a family becomes available, while some remain wards of the state until age 18 and are never offered the opportunity of experiencing a cohesive family. 

In several states, LGBT individuals or couples are either subjected to more rigorous evaluation standards, or are excluded from eligibility all together. Under the proposed Act, any agency that accepts federal funding for assistance with adoption services would be prohibited from engaging in any discriminatory practices with regard to vetting potential foster or adoptive parents – or the agency’s funding would be revoked. 

The statistics surrounding un-adopted children are staggering, with as many as 23,000 American youths aging out of the system before ever being adopted. Currently, there are over 102,000 children awaiting adoption in the United States. 

If you are considering adoption, or would like to discuss the New York laws surrounding adoption procedures, please do not hesitate to contact Nassau County family law attorney Howard Leff today at (516)739-7500.
 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Study Shows Drop in Severe Mental Illness Cases in Children

Which parent is responsible for healthcare decisions of children after divorce?


A recent study by The New England Journal of Medicine reported a substantial drop of severe mental illness in the past generation of children.  This finding was a surprising one due to the general criticism of current health trends including over-diagnosing and treating kids.  Although some child psychiatrists do find some kids are treated when they do not need it, more often than not, kids who need the treatment are the ones who go without treatment.  It appears the percentage of children with a severe mental illness dropped approximately two percent from 12.8% to 10.7%  
 
Some doctors believe that the explanation for the drop is that parents are monitoring children at an earlier age and getting psychiatric care at an earlier time.  Parents are educating themselves about mental health care treatments for children.  Although this is good news, doctors are still concerned for those children whose parents are waiting too long to seek treatment for children.  

This issue may come to a head in a situation when there is a custody agreement in place under which one parent is primarily responsible for a child’s health care.  In this case, the parent who is responsible for the child’s healthcare may be reluctant or even refuse to seek mental health treatment for a child with a psychological disorder, while the other parent believes it is necessary.  While custody agreements can be difficult to modify, in situations like these the court may feel that it is necessary to change the arrangement or order the parent with primary custody to seek treatment for the child in question.

If you are concerned that your spouse or former spouse is making poor decisions regarding the health of your child or about your role as a parent in making health decisions for your children, contact attorney Howard B. Leff.  Howard B. Leff is an experienced family law attorney based in Nassau County, New York who can help you with your child custody case.  Please contact his office at (516) 739-7500 for a consultation. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Woman Sentenced to Probation For Leaving Kids in Car

What are the consequences of being accused of child abuse?

In 2014 a jobless and allegedly homeless mother made national news for leaving two of her kids in a hot car in Arizona with the windows cracked for an hour in 70-degree temperatures while attending a job interview at an insurance agency.  The woman claimed she was unable to afford a sitter or childcare for the children and was arrested immediately after the interview for felony child abuse.   

After the incident made the national news, strangers donated over $100,000 to the family which the mother allegedly spent the money on nonessential items such as cell phones, cable TV, and other entertainment for the family.  The court initially agreed that it would dismiss the felony abuse charges if the mother put some of the donation money into a trust fund under all of her children’s names.  The mother missed deposit deadlines relating to that court agreement because she was concerned that the trust was written to restrict the children’s access to the money to use only if they attended college.  After she missed the deadline, the court reinstated the felony abuse charges, and the mother recently pled guilty to the felony abuse charges.  

The court was concerned about the mother’s apparent lack of responsibility and determined the mother lied during trial regarding her status as homeless and jobless.  During the trial, the court found the mother was living with family and had turned down job offers prior to attending the interview where police arrested her.  Attorneys for the mother argued she is a military veteran, which makes it hard for her to admit the reality of her situation.  The mother also requested a transfer to Chicago where she expects to have better familial support.

The court referred to the mother’s decisions as “criminally poor judgment” and developed a probation sentence to coincide with her children’s status as adults based on the youngest child’s age.  The mother will serve 18 years supervised probation, which includes a court’s monitoring of the trust funds and she must attend a parenting class and a treatment program for domestic violence offenders.

While tough to be a part of, child abuse and other family offense situations are never easy for family members or those associated with family members, and can have a huge impact on family law cases such as custody battles. Also, donations made towards the welfare of the children need to be properly managed according to court requirements and using this type of money improperly can reflect on a litigants character.

Howard B. Leff is an experienced New York family law attorney who can help you through the process of defending yourself or complying with court orders regarding children’s trusts or alleged abuse cases and any other family law issue.  Please contact his office at (516) 729-7500 for a consultation. 


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

One Set of Twins, Two Different Fathers?

I’ve heard it is possible for a set of twins to have two different fathers. How would New York family law handle this scenario? 


In an unbelievable feat of fertility, a woman in New Jersey recently gave birth to a set of twins with two distinct and distinguishable sets of DNA. In other words, the twins were half-siblings – with two different fathers. As implausible as this scenario may seem, statistics reveal that one in 13,000 paternity actions involving twins reaches the same result – and family law attorneys must be prepared for the unexpected, notwithstanding the seemingly impossible odds. 

New Jersey Mom Delivers Twins, Paternity Challenge Ensues

In the case out of nearby New Jersey, the issues surrounding paternity began once the twins reached approximately 18 months of age – at which point the putative father (of both children) initiated a lawsuit challenging his status as the party legally responsible for the children. Turns out, he was half right. The results of the DNA test revealed that he was, in fact, the father of one of the twins, with a former paramour revealed to be the father of the remaining child. 

Impact Under New York law

Under New York law, a man is presumed to be the father of a child if, at the time of birth, the man is married to the child’s mother. If, however, the mother is unmarried at the time of birth, establishing paternity may be more of a conundrum. If both mother and presumed father (known as the “putative” father) are in agreement, the father may voluntarily consent to paternity, sign the birth certificate, and continue with the full rights and obligations of a biological parent. Otherwise, the father or mother may petition to establish paternity by filing for recognition as the father in a New York court of law, which will require the administration of a DNA test. 

If you are considering a paternity action or would like more information about the process under New York laws, contact experienced family law  and paternity attorney, Howard B. Leff, right away by dialing (516)739-7500.


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