Articles Posted in Family Law

Before marriage was made available to every American, same-sex couples struggled with issues that married couples could take for granted – like hospital visitation rights, after-death services and inheritance rights.

In order to achieve that same peace of mind that married couples enjoy, gays and lesbians came up with some brilliant solutions to bridge the dire straits in which they found themselves. In New York City, the government began a Domestic Partnership registry which granted hospital visitation, health insurance coverage and the inheritance of rent-controlled apartments, among other things. But because those provisions only applied to government-run agencies, lesbians and gays took matters into their own hands to protect themselves and their partners in the private sector through the use of wills, healthcare proxies and burial instructions. Continue reading

People going through divorce often feel angry, confused, and alone.

They turn to their friends and family when they are contemplating divorce, in the middle of a divorce and all throughout the process.  In fact, I often get calls from family members or friends inquiring about the legal services that I can provide to their loved one.

Supportive friends or family members instinctively seek to protect a person they  love by saying negative things about his or her spouse.

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What looks like just another celebrity breakup might actually be instructive for any divorcing couple.

Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner are going the way of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin in choosing a non-adversarial way to divorce while living in the public eye.

During her divorce, Paltrow made headlines for describing the process as “conscious uncoupling.” Many attorneys, including myself, appreciated the spotlight she had shone on non-adversarial divorce.

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A high-net-worth couple going through a divorce can benefit greatly by staying out of court.

Couples with considerable assets (which I will define here as more than $5 million) are often lead to believe that their divorce will be a “no holds barred,” brutal, lengthy process with astronomical legal bills and complicated offers and counter-offers. Because of this belief, many high-net-worth couples assume that mediation or the collaborative law process will not work for them.

They couldn’t be more mistaken. In my experience, the opposite is true; high-net-worth families have more to gain by keeping things civil and private. Unfortunately, many attorneys who practice litigation harbor a killer instinct that grows along with their clients’ assets, and they see a litigated divorce as the only way to satisfy that instinct.

I have compiled a short list of only some of the advantages that high-net-worth couples receive when they keep their divorces out of court.

  • Specialized support: High-net-worth divorces can be complicated, but they don’t have to be high-conflict. The best results come from a team approach. For instance, in the collaborative law process specialized professionals such as divorce coaches and financial neutrals (who come from a Certified Divorce Financial Analysts (CDFA) or CPA background) are part of the team. These professionals are available to help couples who are using the mediation process as well.

Divorce coaches help spouses to decrease the emotional triggers that are prevalent in most divorces and can overwhelm and hijack the negotiation process if not properly tended to. For example, they can help in situations where both spouses have strong voices and may be highly competitive with each other, as well as when there is a large power imbalance between the spouses with one having a very strong voice and the other having almost none.

Financial neutrals have expertise in understanding some of the more complicated assets that high-net-worth couples have on their balance sheets such as private equity investments, stock options, art collections, and privately owned businesses, as well as the more complicated tax implications of divorce.

  • Flexibility and privacy: Keeping your divorce “under the radar” and out of court means that you will have more opportunities to come up with creative solutions; this is something that a judge could never provide. Also, negotiations will be private so that information about your family and your assets will never be disclosed in an open courtroom.
  • Controlling one’s destiny: People with high net worth are accustomed to calling the shots in life. If you and your spouse cannot reach a voluntary agreement, a judge will make decisions for you. If you don’t like people making decisions for you in general, why give that up in a divorce?

Choosing mediation or collaborative law makes more sense financially. If mediation or collaborative law is the right process for you, the cost savings over litigation will be substantial.

If you would like to learn more about the differences between mediation and collaborative law versus litigation, I have recently put together a guide titled Why Court Should Be the Last Resort for Your Divorce. To obtain a copy, or to arrange a consultation, contact me today.

Sometimes people in the middle of divorce litigation realize that the court system just isn’t working for them. Time is going by, the costs are piling up, and they seem further from resolution than ever.

At this point, it may be time for them to look at an alternative process, such as mediation, but where do they start? For divorcing couples in New York City for whom finances are tight, I highly recommend looking into FamilyKind, which has been a great resource for many who have found themselves caught in expensive litigation with few results to show for all the money and efforts they’ve expended.

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The feeling of or ability to be in control can be an elusive concept to many, and the lack of control can be a source of anxiety to those who crave it. When it comes to personal matters, like divorce, the need for control may be even greater. The feeling like one is not in control of his or her own future or relationship is a common frustration expressed by divorcing couples who are litigating and at the mercy of the court system. Luckily, there are alternative options for couples wishing to seize control of their divorces.

Mediation and collaborative law are private processes. These processes keep everything between just you, your attorneys and any other professionals who you invite into your case.

Besides offering privacy and dignity, the mediation and collaborative law processes also provide a degree of control that is absent from the court system:

  1. You meet at times that are convenient for you and your spouse and that work with your schedules, not the judge’s.
  2. You’re not sitting around the courthouse, for hours at a time, waiting for your case to be called while your attorney is billing for the time she is sitting next to you, checking her emails.
  3. While you are expected to provide full financial disclosure, you’re trusted to do so and you will be asked questions in a respectful way.
  4. You won’t be cross-examined and attacked by your spouse’s attorney.

Over the years I have noticed that mediation and collaborative law tend to attract many business owners and consultants. My theory is that these types of clients are used to having more autonomy and control over their personal lives, and they don’t want to give that up just because their marriage is ending. Yet, striving for this type of control around your divorce process makes sense even if you are holding down a job with regular hours. Divorce is hard enough without also fearing that you are going to lose your job, or that your childcare provider is going to quit on you because you can’t keep your schedule regular.

In mediation and the collaborative process, you and your spouse are in control of the times when you meet and the issues that are discussed at each meeting. You are encouraged to say what is important to each of you as you work toward your agreement. If you expect that this kind of communication will be encouraged in court or that you will have the chance to “explain your story to the judge,” you will be very disappointed. Once you are in litigation, not only will your attorney tell you not to talk to your spouse, he or she will also make it clear that you are not to speak to the judge unless you are asked a direct question. While the attorneys are arguing your case to the judge and arguing with each other, you and your spouse will be expected to sit quietly and just wait to be told what’s going on.

Don’t just sit there! Take control of your divorce by exploring mediation and the collaborative law process at


Andrea Vacca
570 Lexington Avenue Suite 1600 New York, NY 10022

Working outside of the court system allows divorcing parents of the boomerang generation to consider, discuss and plan for when their adult children return home.

In the New York Times Magazine, there was recently an article about the boomerang generation. Kids are coming out of college and moving back home with their parents, perhaps after unsuccessfully trying to live on their own.

Regardless of whether this is a savvy way for kids to save money without sacrificing a certain lifestyle, or a sign that they are just not able to take care of themselves in this economy, the fact is that these boomerang kids aren’t a temporary phenomenon. They appear to represent a new life stage. The article states:

“One in five people in their 20s and early 30s is currently living with his or her parents.”

So, there is a 20% chance that adult kids might boomerang. And even if they aren’t living at home, there is a great chance that these kids are still partially dependent on their parents for help with rent and other expenses. When the parents of this generation are still living together, they can have a conversation that asks, “What are we willing to do to support our adult children?” But when the parents are divorced, that conversation is a lot harder to have.

A real benefit of resolving a divorce outside of the court system, through collaborative law or mediation, is that these parents can have a facilitated discussion, during their negotiations, about what would happen if their adult child returned to live with one of the parents.

A judge in a litigated divorce will not want to hear anything about this possibility, because courts only require child support to be paid until the age of 21 in New York (and even younger ages in other states). If divorcing parents are relying on a court to tell them what the child support should be, the parent with whom the child moves home is going to be stuck supporting the child on his or her own. There will be no obligation for the other parent to help out financially, and the courts will not be able to change that fact.

Divorcing parents need to have a conversation about, and plan for, the boomerang generation. One option that clients have considered is to set money aside from their distribution of assets and hold those funds in a joint account in the event the child moves back home. If holding funds aside is not an option at the time of the divorce, the divorcing parents can make sure the agreement clearly states that if an adult child asks to move back home, the parents will use mediation, or work with a financial neutral professional, to figure out how to share the costs. The adult child can even be a part of the discussion. Some questions that need to be answered are:

  • What will be the increased costs when the child is living at home?
  • What will be the child’s financial and non-financial responsibilities?
  • How much extra is needed from the other parent and what can they afford to give?

With college loans rising, and companies being slow to make new hires, the boomerang generation is becoming a more permanent subset of the economy. What is now a 20% chance of adult children returning home may increase until the economy is – once again – able to support them. The boomerang generation is the new reality, and it makes sense for divorcing parents to at least consider this issue as part of their divorce negotiations.

Andrea Vacca
570 Lexington Avenue Suite 1600 New York, NY 10022

Andrea Vacca will be amongst the panelists at an upcoming free event, Emotional Economics of Divorce

When? Tuesday, March 18, 2014 from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM (EDT)

Where? Citrin Cooperman, 529 5th Ave, 4th Floor, New York, NY 10175

Click here to register.


Marriage may be about love, but divorce is all about the money.

Divorce experts share vital information on strategies and decisions that can significantly benefit you as you navigate the legal and financial challenges presented by your divorce. Receive tips on staying calm, being prepared and creating the best possible financial outcome for everyone.

Topics of discussion will include:

  • Understanding legal and financial considerations as you negotiate your divorce
  • Learn what a divorce financial analyst is and how one is integral to the legal process – before, during and after your divorce
  • Tools that will enable you to stay calm and clear as you negotiate difficult conversations with your soon-to-be-ex
  • The secret to overcoming fear and uncertainty regarding the outcome of your divorce
  • How you can use this challenging time to grow personally while going through your divorce with grace and dignity
  • Understanding the roles of a forensic accountant in a divorce matter and the legal issues that may affect economic aspects of your divorce
  • How to avoid unnecessary costs during the divorce process
  • Process options to keep your divorce less adversarial and avoid litigation

Speakers will be available for Q & A after the program and refreshments will be served.

Click here to register and to read more about the event.


Andrea Vacca
570 Lexington Avenue Suite 1600 New York, NY 10022

The Hippocratic Oath, which reads in part: I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel, is often summarized by the phrase “Do no harm.” This simple yet powerful credo is an excellent approach for solving problems in many situations, including divorce.

Contrary to the approach of traditional divorce litigation, which often serves as a poison pill, the approach of collaborative lawyers is to do no harm. When our divorcing clients come to us, they are scared, angry, and confused. Our job is not to instigate and play on those fears and anxieties. Our job is to help calm them down by helping them to find their voice and get their needs met in a way that will help them move forward with their lives. It is for this reason that I choose to collaborate, rather than litigate divorce and family law cases.

Not every attorney sees things this way. An example is a conversation I recently had with a woman just starting the divorce process. She told me that although she wanted her divorce to be as amicable as possible, the last attorney she had called immediately told her he would file motions with the court to “scare” her husband. He bragged of his experience using the courts to intimidate people, and he promised her that he would win her as much money as he could. He basically said, “We’ll go after your husband with no holds barred.”

On the other hand, sometimes it is the client who insists on going to court. For example, if betrayal is the reason for the breakup there may be a high level of emotion, which might compel a party to want his or her “day in court” to air the grievances. This knee-jerk reaction to betrayal and anger may be understandable on the surface, but people who expect to have emotional needs met in a courtroom are always disappointed.

I encourage my clients to try another way.

The collaborative law process is a less harmful alternative to litigated divorce. It starts with a contract signed by both the attorneys and the clients affirming that:

  • The attorneys and clients will not act in an adversarial way toward each other.
  • There will be no use of threats of any kind.
  • If there are children, their best interests will be the priority.
  • The clients are encouraged to work with other related professionals, such as mental health and financial professionals.
  • If an agreement cannot be reached in the collaborative process, the clients will retain other attorneys to litigate the case for them.

By following these basic tenets, we as collaborative attorneys are promising to do no harm and honoring the trust that our clients are placing in us.

But it is up to the clients to explore all of their options and choose the right lawyer for their needs. Clients need to understand that if they immediately choose to litigate and start their divorce within the court system, they will likely miss the opportunity to come to a peaceful, thoughtful and voluntary settlement. Working with a collaborative team helps spouses reach an agreement that meets as many of their their long- and short-term needs as possible – as opposed to the scorched earth and poisonous, winner-takes-all model of litigation.

Andrea Vacca
570 Lexington Avenue Suite 1600 New York, NY 10022

If you’re in the middle of a litigated divorce and are unhappy with the way things are going, you can change course.

You might have started the divorce process with the goal of ending the marriage quickly and feeling as financially secure as possible at the end. You might have hired the first attorney who came highly recommended from a friend or relative who has been through their own divorce. And all seemed fine in the beginning. Your attorney said she understood that you didn’t want to make your divorce World War III. She understood that you wanted to remain friends for the sake of your children. But as soon as it became clear that you and your spouse saw things differently, and conflict arose, the battle was on. Your attorney told you the judge is likely to see it your way and may have even encouraged you to write down all the divisive and emotionally painful issues between you and your spouse that would help you score points in court. And of course, your spouse’s attorney told him or her the same thing.

Now, 6 months or 1 year later, you see how combative and unproductive the legal proceedings actually are, you’re feeling more anger toward your spouse than ever and you’re wondering, “How did I get here? This isn’t how I wanted my divorce to go.”

It’s not too late to change course. For parting spouses who find themselves in an unwanted battle, turning away from litigation and toward a less adversarial approach to their divorce is still possible.

Some recent experiences with couples who moved from traditional (and costly) litigation to mediation or collaborative law have provided me with insights that I would like to share with you, or anyone you might know who is going through a divorce:

  • If you don’t like the way things are going, explore a different approach: If you feel that the original process you chose for your divorce was a mistake, make a change as soon as possible. The longer a divorce continues in court, the more positional each side becomes. Things are said in court that cannot be “unsaid.” Emotional damage can be done in the process that could make it more difficult for you and your spouse to ever come to a resolution or to be cooperative when living your post-divorce lives.
  • Your divorce lawyer is unlikely to be supportive of you trying a different process: He may tell you that he does not believe your spouse is capable of being reasonable and you need the “protection” that a court can provide. What he may not tell you is that he doesn’t want to lose you as a client. This may be especially true if you still have a robust sum in your checking account. All attorneys hate to lose a client, but this is especially true when the client can afford to pay legal fees. If your attorney attempts to dissuade you from trying mediation or collaborative divorce, certainly listen to what he is saying, but remember that you are the one going through the divorce – not your attorney. The choice of process needs to be up to you and your spouse.
  • It takes two reasonable people to move away from litigation and toward a non-adversarial process: You may need to be the brave one who initiates a conversation with your spouse to find out if he or she is also unhappy with the litigation process. If you haven’t had a civil conversation with your spouse in months, this can feel pretty scary. In that case, you may need some outside advice about how to facilitate the conversation. There are excellent divorce coaches who can help you get clear about what isn’t working for you in the current process, what your true goals are for this divorce and how to explain all of this to your spouse in a way that feels safe.

If you have questions about divorce mediation and collaborative law and how they can change the tone of your divorce into one characterized by cooperation, call me at 212-768-1115 or visit my website.


Andrea Vacca
570 Lexington Avenue Suite 1600 New York, NY 10022