Recently in Marriage Category

July 16, 2014

Who Supports the Boomerang Kids After a Divorce?

Who Supports the Boomerang Kids After a Divorce By Andrea VaccaWorking 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.

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Andrea Vacca
570 Lexington Avenue
Suite 1600
New York, NY 10022
avacca@vaccalaw.com

May 12, 2014

Conscious Coupling: Using Prenuptial Agreements to Build a Healthy Marriage

Conscious Coupling: Using Prenuptial Agreements to Build a Healthy Marriage By Andrea VaccaGwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin have made the news lately with their "conscious uncoupling" - a new term for a mindful divorce that is an excellent example for separating couples to learn from.

Like most people, I had never heard of this term until it was talked about in the media. As it turns out, whether I knew the term for it or not, the philosophy behind conscious uncoupling is exactly why I encourage my clients to use the collaborative law process or mediation when they are ending their marriages. It is also the reason why I use these non-adversarial processes to help couples enter into prenuptial agreements; it's what I call conscious coupling.

Conscious coupling - as opposed to Paltrow's and Martin's uncoupling - is best embodied in a well thought-out and fair prenuptial agreement. Instead of focusing on keeping as much of a party's income and assets out of the hands of the other spouse in the event of divorce, a prenuptial agreement that is entered into consciously will focus more on:

- Each party's needs and interests
- The type of life that the couple is planning together
- The long-term implications of the decisions that they're making

Conscious coupling requires the parties to be communicating with each other during the negotiation process of their prenuptial agreement. When someone takes an "I'll just let the lawyers get involved" kind of attitude, there is the potential for the process to become very adversarial, very quickly - and even worse, it might turn into a fight between two lawyers' egos. That approach really doesn't make a lot of sense if you're planning to have a healthy, honest and long-term marriage.

The way that I like to facilitate prenuptial agreements is to either:

- Mediate the process, which means the couple meets with me together, and we discuss what is important to each of them. For example, if one person wants the prenup to protect their premarital assets and limit the amount of spousal support they may have to pay in the event of divorce, what will the other person need to feel safe and secure entering into the marriage?

- Work collaboratively, which means that the parties sit down with their collaborative attorneys and everyone can talk about their interests and needs, as well as the goals for their marriage. By encouraging honesty and transparency, the parties are encouraged to talk to each other, not at each other - and certainly not through their attorneys.

Whether through mediation or the collaborative process, my clients are entering into the marriage with a lot more clarity about what they each need and what's important to them.

There is a lot to consider before entering into a prenuptial agreement, but the end result is a much better agreement that will allow each party to feel secure during the marriage. This is because the terms were arrived at much more consciously - and not based on fear and anxiety and the other raw emotions that are so common when discussing money issues at the beginning of a marriage, or the end.

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Andrea Vacca
570 Lexington Avenue
Suite 1600
New York, NY 10022
avacca@vaccalaw.com

February 12, 2014

To Do No Harm

To Do No Harm By Andrea VaccaThe 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.

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Andrea Vacca
570 Lexington Avenue
Suite 1600
New York, NY 10022
avacca@vaccalaw.com

January 6, 2014

Tips to Help Reduce Time and Costs When Negotiating Divorce Agreements

Tips to Help Reduce Time and Costs When Negotiating Divorce Agreements By Andrea VaccaIt is possible to make the divorce process more time- and cost-effective?

When potential clients consult with me in connection with their divorce, one of the first questions they ask is, "How much do you expect this to cost?" and one of the second questions is, "How long do you expect this to take?" Time and money are, understandably, major concerns of anyone entering the divorce process, so I know that these clients want to hear answers that reflect a best case scenario. I can never predict the exact end date or the costs involved, but I can tell these clients that the more of these tips they follow, the more likely their divorce process will run smoother and be more cost-efficient:

1. Make sure your spouse knows that you want to end the marriage. It's understood that asking a spouse for a divorce can be difficult, emotional and frightening, but try to find a way to broach the subject before you retain an attorney. Perhaps you can engage a therapist, marriage counselor or trusted friend to help you have this conversation. One of the least productive ways to start the conversation is to have an attorney send a letter to your spouse announcing your intention to divorce him or her. Remember, your spouse will have to first get over the emotional shock before any productive discussions can take place.

2. Resolve some of the less emotional topics on your own.
Before you meet with your lawyer, find a way to have a discussion with your spouse to determine what issues may be easier to resolve. Perhaps you can agree about how to divide certain assets. Or maybe you've already agreed on a parenting schedule. Any issues that you can agree on ahead of time, even if just in theory, will help you create a framework for the lawyers to work with and speed up the negotiation process.

3. Aim to be amicable. Finding solutions to unresolved issues will go a lot faster if you both intend to work fairly together to reach a compromise. Hire amicable-minded attorneys who are either collaboratively-trained or very settlement-oriented. These attorneys will encourage you to focus on your interests as opposed to your positions and they will help you stay out of court because they are used to settling their cases without relying on the involvement of judges.

4. Utilize other specialized professionals. If agreeing on financial aspects is the largest hurdle, hire a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst to help sort out the details. If emotional or communication issues are causing roadblocks, consider a divorce coach. Relying on your attorney for emotional support or for technical financial assistance can be unproductive and can lengthen the time before settlement is reached. You also get more for your money - these specialized professionals will charge much lower hourly rates than your lawyer.

5. Meet regularly. To prevent the process from stopping, starting, or even regressing, be as prepared and organized as possible and be willing to meet regularly so the settlement process can move forward in a linear fashion.

6. Cooperate, collaborate, compromise. Holding firm to your position and drawing a line in the sand will take more time and therefore cost more money. Be honest, ready to negotiate, and willing to give in on some issues.

The legal, financial and emotional complexities of your divorce will undoubtedly influence how long the issues take to resolve, but by following these tips you can be assured that the process will move forward as cost-effectively as possible.


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Andrea Vacca
570 Lexington Avenue
Suite 1600
New York, NY 10022
avacca@vaccalaw.com

July 2, 2013

Supreme Court Strikes Down DOMA

Vacca - DOMA.jpgOn June 26, 2013, the United States Supreme Court declared parts of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. The decision, a huge civil rights victory for the gay community, will require federal law to recognize same-sex marriages the same way they recognize heterosexual marriages. This will grant same-sex spouses (at least in states that recognize same-sex marriage, such as New York) countless benefits that had previously been denied them under the statute. Now, same sex couples will be able to file joint income tax returns, enjoy spousal and survival status under Social Security, inheritance and estate laws, and be entitled to COBRA and other health insurance benefits. Effects on immigration have been among the most dramatic and immediate, as American citizens can now apply for permanent resident visas, or green cards, for their foreign-born same-sex spouses. Couples began receiving notification of approval for green cards as early as June 28.

As matrimonial attorneys, we are excited about this decision, not only because of the impact it will have on the same-sex couples that are married or contemplating getting married in New York, but also because of the ways in which it will affect the practice of matrimonial law. Previously, any agreement between same-sex couples, whether prenuptial or separation, required drafting around the federal benefits to which married heterosexual couples are automatically entitled with no way to compensate for the omission. Granting same-sex spouses the same federal rights as their heterosexual counterparts allows not just for more equality but also more uniformity under the law.

We applaud the Supreme Court for recognizing this and look forward to further advancements in same-sex rights.

Vacca - image - headshot - skt - apr 18 2013.jpgAndrea Vacca
570 Lexington Avenue
Suite 1600
New York, NY 10022
avacca@vaccalaw.com

May 15, 2013

The Power of Positive Psychology in Divorce - 5 Concepts

Vacca - pB - concepts to positive divorce - SKT - May 10 2013.pngOne of the reasons I am passionate about collaborative law is because I am able to learn so much from it. Recently my desire to learn led me to discover a new way of looking at the world through the lens of Positive Psychology. Positive Psychology is the scientific study of well-being, happiness and what helps people to thrive as opposed to just survive. I decided to delve deeper into the subject and I emerged from my studies with a Certificate in Positive Psychology. For this post, I thought I'd share some of what I've learned along the way and how it is applicable to my clients who are divorcing.

1) The importance of feeling all emotions

Positive psychology is not about positive thinking, it's about realizing that experiencing difficult emotions is a necessary step to realizing the more positive emotions in life. In other words life can be difficult at times, especially when you are going through a divorce; but don't get down on yourself if you feel down. Give yourself permission to feel hurt, angry or fearful. Only then will you truly be able to feel the joy, gratitude and peacefulness that exist in other parts of your life and in your other relationships.

2) Strive for post-traumatic growth

Most people have heard about post-traumatic stress, but there is also such a thing as post-traumatic growth. Like Nietzsche said:

That which does not kill us makes us stronger.

He was absolutely right. One of the books that has had a great impact on me is called What Doesn't Kill Us: The New Psychology of Post-Traumatic Growth by Stephen Joseph. In it, he uses a great example involving a vase: When a marriage ends, people feel their life has been shattered, almost like a beautiful vase that fell to the floor and shattered into dozens of different pieces.

What do you do? Do you try to put that vase back together to make it look like it did before, knowing that it never will? Do you want that vase so badly that you don't care what it looks like? Or do you say, "I'm going to make a new piece of art from these beautiful pieces."

In other words, you will see that the beautiful pieces of your life that remain, such as your kids, your friends or your work, can be put together to create a fulfilling and happy life. The end of your marriage (although traumatic) does not have to ruin every other aspect of your life.

3) Look at your divorce as a peak experience

When I say "peak experience" I don't mean one of the most wonderful things that has ever happened to you, but an experience that takes you to a new place where you can see a new landscape. Any kind of trauma can be a peak experience.

For example, when a person has a near-death experience, life never looks the same - usually for the better. If you were to look back on your divorce, what strengths did you call upon that you didn't know you had or just hadn't used in years? More importantly, when you look forward, what places do you see yourself going from here?

4) Have a growth mindset

If you have a growth mindset during your divorce, you will regularly be asking yourself, "What will make me more empowered?"

Take it one step at a time. The first step is believing in yourself, and your ability to get through difficult situations and learn from them. You'll be able to better grow through those challenges, but you have to believe in yourself.

For instance, you might not have been a financially aware partner. Your spouse might have taken care of the finances, and it can be really overwhelming and scary to people to step into that role - but once you do it yields incredible freedom and you realize you're actually good at it. Or maybe you even like it.

5) Learn to be resilient

Are you viewing yourself as a survivor or a thriver? Do you want things to be better and be different? Achieving those goals often comes down to how you talk to yourself. If you say, "I want to be better on the other side of this; I want to learn and grow" then you're going to be better able to create that reality for yourself.

I hope this post has given you an idea of how the principles of positive psychology can help you or someone you know grow from their divorce. There are many resources available that can help you learn more about it. For more reading recommendations from me, email me at avacca@vaccalaw.com.

Vacca - image - headshot - skt - apr 18 2013.jpgAndrea Vacca
570 Lexington Avenue
Suite 1600
New York, NY 10022
avacca@vaccalaw.com

October 3, 2012

How to Protect the Family in the Face of Divorce

I help couples end their marriages without destroying their families. That's not just a tagline on my website or part of my elevator speech; it's the actual reason that I no longer use adversarial methods to help my clients who are divorcing or separating. An article in the New York Times that focused on Al and Tipper Gore reminded me that all families - even celebrity families - benefit when the parents are able and willing to divorce with as little acrimony as possible.

By way of background, after more than 40 years of marriage, Al and Tipper Gore separated in 2010 when they grew apart and realized they wanted different things out of life. The article focused on where they and their 4 adult children are now in their lives post-divorce, and how the family support system has remained intact.

A friend of the Gores from Nashville, Christine Leverone Orrall, was quoted as saying that "Tipper and Al may live in different parts of the country, and may be very happy with their own lives these days, but the children always bring them together. I think they're showing how you can be happy and healthy apart while still focusing on their children and their life together as a family."

According to Tony Coehlo, chairman of Al Gore's 2000 campaign, "Al and Tipper were the happily married couple of American politics for 30 years. They packaged themselves that way for political consumption, and have unpackaged that image in the interest of their own happiness. They are still a family, but they have become the kind of family that they want to be."

Whether a couple is contemplating a late-life "gray divorce" and have adult children, like the Gores, or whether they've been married just a few years and have a toddler at home, the goal can be the same: it is possible to end the marriage while protecting the family.

Many couples stay together for the sake of the family while sacrificing their own individual happiness in the process. They may consider divorce, but after witnessing the struggles of friends and family members who divorce with a lot of animosity and anger, they want to protect themselves from that sort of pain. But divorce does not have to acrimonious. It is rarely - if ever - easy; and there is no question that it can be incredibly difficult financially, emotionally and spiritually. However, when both spouses are committed to respecting each other and keeping the animosity and anger in control, they can each move through the divorce and toward a new life that isn't weighed down by the difficult emotions that were played out in their divorce and/or exacerbated by attorneys who are trying to "win" their case.

One important lesson I have learned in my 20 years of practicing divorce law is that no one wins at the end of an adversarial litigated divorce. Neither spouse is happy, the children have frequently suffered, and an enormous amount of money has been spent fighting a war which simply cannot be won.

Regardless of their age, children want and need parents who are there for them emotionally as well as physically; but this may not be possible when their parents are suffering in an unhappy marriage. Couples who are committed to divorcing with respect and dignity are not only setting a good example for their children during the divorce process, but are better able to keep their family strong and healthy after it is over.

June 7, 2012

Navigating the Gray Divorce With Dignity

My article on Navigating the Gray Divorce With Dignity was recently published by the Huffington Post.

April 25, 2012

Navigating Your Gray Divorce - Part II

"To be one, to be united is a great thing. But to respect the right to be different is maybe even greater." - Bono

In my last blog, I discussed the phenomenon of "gray divorce" and touched on some of the unique issues that older couples face when divorcing. In this post, I will share some thoughts on how effectively the mediation and collaborative law processes can meet the unique needs of these parties.

In my mediation and law practice, I have observed that unlike younger couples who are divorcing, older couples are frequently more civil toward each other and their interactions are less characterized by anger. As a mediator and collaborative lawyer, my role is to help the parties avoid court intervention and resolve their issues in a way that will keep the focus on their needs and goals, rather than their "positions." This works particularly well in cases of gray divorce. To rework a phrase popularized in the '60s, while older couples might choose to separate because they are no longer making love, it is often not because they are making war.

Mediation and Collaborative law are two cost and time effective ways to end a marriage while adding an element of grace and dignity to what could morph from a civilized discussion into volatile, emotionally and financially draining situation if not handled properly

Older couples appreciate the fact that time is extremely precious and they don't want to squander it on a lengthy and protracted court battle, nor do they wish to deplete their savings with retirement on the horizon. In addition, many find great benefit when they have the opportunity to work with mediators or collaborative lawyers trained to be creative problem solvers who can find solutions that would not necessarily be available to them if they allowed a judge to decide their fate. A particularly important issue for these couples is access to medical insurance. Additionally, as a result of the current economic climate, I have noticed that more frequently, older couples are providing some sort of support for their adult children and/or grandchildren.

I recently worked with a couple in their early 60's who, after spending the better part of a year in court with traditional divorce attorneys, came to the realization that they weren't getting any closer to a resolution. They eventually talked to each other without their lawyers and realized that they agreed on more issues than they disagreed; they then asked me as a mediator to help them to bridge their small gaps rather than continue with the long, protracted and expensive legal battle that they saw eroding the respect and care that they still had for each other after their long marriage. We reached an agreement after just two mediation sessions and in the end this couple decided that it did not actually serve their interests to divorce at this time. For them, the most viable and practical solution was to divide their assets but to stay married for another five years so that the Wife could keep the self-employed Husband on her insurance plan and then retire at a time that would maximize the amount of her pension. This solution would have been impossible in a court of law, as a judge would not be empowered to order a distribution of their assets without also ending their marriage (which would thereby end the husband's right to remain covered as a spouse under his wife's medical insurance policy).

The team approach of a collaborative divorce has also been extremely effective for my gray divorce clients where we can use a neutral divorce coach to help the couple bridge communication gaps in a non-adversarial way and we can use a neutral financial professional to help them figure out how they can utilize their assets and live on their fixed incomes in way that will allow them to both feel financially secure post-divorce.

Many later-in-life divorcing couples express to me how important it is to them to end their marriage in a way that preserves the "good times" of their long-term relationship and accomplishes the dissolution in a way that is cost effective. They might still love each other but simply want to live apart simply because they have grown apart. However, they recognize that they still have a family unit that needs to be maintained and still want to be able to share family moments as their children get married and have children of their own.

In a recent Daily Beast post about divorced couples who celebrate this next stage of their lives by jointly throwing "divorce parties," Andrew Cherlin, a professor at Johns Hopkins and author of The Marriage-Go-Round" explained that because divorce rates have been high for several decades, couples may be learning how to do divorce a little better and in a way that minimizes the pain. His theory is that happy divorces are on the rise because unlike in the past when "divorce was so stigmatized that only the most miserable left their marriages, now the 'moderately unhappy' are getting out too, which might make for some less acrimonious splits."

Divorce parties may not be every couple's goal, but neither is the desire to hate and despise each other once the divorce is over. The collaborative law and mediation processes can help these less adversarial couples preserve what was good and move into their post-divorce lives with respect for each other and dignity for themselves.

March 16, 2012

Navigating The Gray Divorce - Part I

Is 60 the new 40?

If we follow the guideposts reflected in pop culture, the answer is a resounding "yes." The new face of MAC Cosmetics is a 90-year-old woman. Christopher Plummer won this year's best supporting actor Academy Award for his role in Beginners, in which he portrayed a a 70-year-old man who reveals that he is gay following the death of his wife. Online dating services such as Gray Date and Our Time are emerging for singles 50 and up. This could be because the phenomenon of couples divorcing after the age of 50 has grown exponentially in the past two decades.

In my own mediation and law practice, I am seeing a definite trend towards what is known as "Gray" Divorce. While the overall divorce rate has gotten lower, according to Gray Divorce and Remarriage, "Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964 already have a divorce rate triple that of their parents."

Late-life divorces can occur for many of the same reasons that they occur in younger couples including economic issues, lack of intimacy and substance abuse. Interestingly, however, a recent Wall Street Journal article entitled The Gray Divorces explains that infidelity is not a major factor in late-life divorce and that seems to be the case among my clients as well.

A key factor in the rise in these divorces is the increased financial independence of women. A recent study by American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) reported that 66 percent of the divorces studied were initiated by the wife. One reason for this is that women over 50 are more likely to have their own careers and be more financially independent from their husbands than were women of previous generations. I hear many clients explain that they were unhappy for many years, but they stayed together until they knew their children were well settled in their own lives. These clients have often lost an emotional connection to their spouse but are not necessarily angry; they are simply seeking a more fulfilling quality of life as they look at the next 20 or 30 years ahead.

Untangling the tapestry of any marriage brings about legal, financial and emotional challenges, but the issues faced in late-life divorces can be even more challenging. In the coming weeks, I will discuss the unique issues that older couples face when divorcing and how well mediation and the collaborative divorce process meet the needs of these parties.

Additionally, on March 29 from 5:30-7:30 p.m., I will be conducting a workshop Navigating Your Divorce With Dignity in conjunction with Certified Financial Planner and Divorce Financial Analyst Ivy Menchel and and Certified Divorce Coach Karen McMahon. There is no charge, but seating is limited. Please contact me for details.

February 27, 2012

Duplicative Awards Are Improper Under NY Temporary Maintenance Formula

The issue of temporary maintenance for a spouse pending the conclusion of a divorce is often a challenging and divisive aspect of the divorce or separation process, and clarity in how awards should be granted is a key aspect of promoting equity. Kudos to the First Department for providing clarity to the new temporary maintenance guidelines that were signed into law in 2010. In what is the first Appellate Division case to date interpreting this legislation, in Khaira v. Khaira, the Appellate Division First Department ruled that it was an error of a motion court to duplicate an award of temporary maintenance by directing the husband to pay in accordance with the formula set forth in the guidelines and then adding an obligation that he pay the wife's housing expenses as well.

By way of background, the legislature's approach to temporary maintenance awards experienced a seismic change in 2010 when Domestic Relations Law § 236(B)(5-a) was signed into law, bringing with it a formula that must be used to determine the amount of support. Before it was passed, judges had much more leeway in ordering temporary maintenance. The statute, which is designed to create greater consistency, requires the court to explain any deviation that it makes from the result which is calculated using a specific formula. Rather than aiming merely to "tide over" the non-monied spouse, the new provision creates a substantial presumptive entitlement based upon a formula using a percentage of each spouse's income.

Initially, many divorce lawyers were not happy about the new law, as they considered it to be both rigid and potentially inequitable.

In the Khaira opinion, Hon. David B. Saxe, an Associate Judge at the Appellate Division, First Department wrote:

"No language in either the new temporary maintenance provision or the [Child Support Standards Act] specifically addresses whether the statutory formulas are intended to include the portion of the carrying costs of their residence attributable to the non-monied spouse and the children. As one commentator has pointed out, the new law 'does not factor in child support issues or payment of household expenses. Is the recipient supposed to pay for everything in the house from this money? Is the payor supposed to stop paying those bills? What about all the double counting of housing, child care, and medical insurance between this law and the child support law?" (Referring to an article by Lee Rosenberg, in the February 25, 2011 issue of the New York Law Journal entitled "Multiple Flaws Abound in New Interim Spousal Support Statute").

Judge Saxe went on to say that "....in the absence of a specific reference to the carrying charges for the marital residence, we consider it reasonable and logical to view the formula adopted by the new maintenance provision as covering all the spouse's basic living expenses, including housing costs as well as the costs of food and clothing and other usual expenses."

This clarification from the Appellate Division was sorely needed as it helps to limit the issues that divorcing couples need to resolve whether they are mediating, collaborating or litigating.

September 25, 2011

Same-Sex Divorce: It's Complicated

New York is now the seventh (and largest) jurisdiction to recognize same-sex marriage. This is an important and wonderful right for many couples and their families, which was evident in the media as we saw the first of these smiling and ecstatic couples marrying on July 24, 2011 and the days that followed.

While it may not seem romantic to think about these happy couples facing divorce and separation after they have waited so long for the right to marry, same-sex couples need to be extra vigilant to protect themselves and their families in the event that they decide to end their marriage. Some of the issues about which they need to be concerned include:

Lack of Federal Rights
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), defines marriage as a legal union between persons of the opposite sex and permits states to refuse to legally acknowledge same-sex marriages performed in other states. The result is that a multitude of federal rights and obligations given to heterosexual spouses are unavailable to same-sex spouses. The Obama administration has refused to defend DOMA, claiming it is unconstitutional, but its existence makes divorces for same-sex couples even more complicated. For example, same-sex couples are not entitled to tax-free distribution of their spouse's pension and retirement funds, they cannot deduct spousal support payments from their income, they do not have the option of collecting social security based upon their spouse's income if they've been married for at least 10 years, and they are not entitled to COBRA benefits which would allow them keep their medical insurance offered through their spouse's employer for 36 months following divorce. Same-sex couples who divorce must consider this lack of federal rights when dividing their property and determining issues of spousal support.

Jurisdiction Issues
If a same-sex couple marries in New York, moves to one of the 44 states that do not recognize same-sex marriage, and then decides to divorce after being away from New York for one year, they will neither be able to divorce in that new state nor in New York. This is because the new state does not recognize their marriage and New York no longer has jurisdiction over it. It is therefore imperative that same-sex spouses think very carefully before moving to a state that does not recognize their marriage and that they draft a postnuptial agreement to define and protect their rights and obligations.

Child-Related Issues
In New York, there is a presumption that a child born during a marriage is the child of both spouses. The complication for same-sex divorcing couples in determining custody and child support arises when the non-biological parent has not adopted the child and they are living in a state that does not recognize their marriage. To protect both parents' rights and avoid the complications that may arise if the parents move away from New York, it is imperative that the non-biological parent adopt the child as soon as it is born.

The Importance of Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements
While prenuptial and postnuptial agreements cannot change the fact that a state may not have jurisdiction over the marriage of same-sex partners, it can make it clear that New York law will govern the issues of a marital dissolution. Additionally, these agreements offer many other protections that same-sex spouses and their children need in the event of divorce. For example, prenuptial and postnuptial agreements can outline:
- How child custody and child support will be handled (as long as children are already born at the time the agreement is written).
- How to handle the division of property between spouses given the fact that while these transfers are not taxed by states recognizing same-sex marriage, they are still taxed by the IRS.
- How to handle spousal support, which is also given preferential tax treatment by New York, but not by the IRS.

Same-sex couples need to make sure they have all the legal and tax information they need before they marry. By having honest conversations with their future spouses (and themselves) and speaking with lawyers and accountants who can advise them on divorce, trusts and estates and tax issues, they will be able to deal with many issues that if left unaddressed, could have long lasting negative repercussions for them and their children.

February 13, 2011

As The Divorce Rate Increases, Divorce Financial Professionals Are Available To Help Clients Make Decisions Based Upon Economic Realities

NPR reported this week that the divorce rate is on the rebound due to the fact that the economy is improving. Some of the reasons cited for this change are the fact that credit is getting somewhat easier to obtain, investment and retirement accounts are benefiting from the rise in the stock market and housing prices are no longer in free fall. I see all of these factors playing a role in my clients' decisions to divorce. But another reason for the increase in cases is that many people have been waiting 2 or 3 years now for their financial situation to improve and they realize they cannot wait any longer. Regardless of whether the economic circumstances are ideal, they have decided to end their marriages. But these clients are not jumping into divorce blindly regardless of the financial consequences. They are ready to face the economic realities head on and figure out a way to allow them to separate from their spouse.

It is for this reason that I strongly recommend that my clients and their spouses hire a financial professional who is certified in divorce financial planning and/or who is certified in collaborative divorce. These professionals can work with one party or with the couple together to help them determine what asset and debt allocation makes the most sense and what support may need to be paid to assure that both parties are living as well as possible post-divorce. If clients to take the time to examine these issues in the divorce process, they have a better chance of achieving their ultimate goals of having more financial security and less emotional stress after the marriage is over.

October 15, 2010

New York Lawyers Can Expect An Increase in Cases Due to No Fault Divorce

New York's new no fault divorce law - which allows a couple to divorce if one party claims there has been an irretrievable breakdown in the marriage - went into effect on October 12, 2010. Will this increase the number of people filing for divorce? Crains New York Business recently asked me that question, along with other divorce experts, and we all stated in one way or another that we expected that it will. Many unhappy spouses have been waiting for this law to become a reality and New York's divorce attorneys can expect an influx of new cases in their offices over the next 6 months to a year.

There are 2 types of clients that will be seeking a divorce. The first is the client who may have had grounds under the old law, but had no desire to recount every nasty thing that their spouse said or did to them over the past 5 years. As I stated in Crains, "This is definitely good news. Having a trial on grounds is one of the worst things anyone can do. Clients don't want it, lawyers don't want it. It will destroy the family, and it will destroy any goodwill there was."

The second type of client is the one who has tried couples therapy, who has tried "working on the marriage," and who has tried to make the best of a bad situation. But regardless of what they did, there was no denying the love was gone. Their home life was not dangerous to their physical wellbeing, but it was crushing them emotionally and spiritually. As attorneys, we are now able to help both of these types of clients to move forward with their lives at a significantly lower financial and emotional cost than it would have cost in the past. This is good news for everyone involved.

October 8, 2010

Cohabitation Agreements Make Sense For New York Parents Who Choose Not To Marry

The New York Times recently reported that marriage rates are down in the U.S, and for the first time the number of young adults who have never married are exceeding the number who have. Instead of marrying, more and more couples are choosing to live together. Many of them are choosing to have children as well. Sociologist Andrew Cherlin of Johns Hopkins explained that the decline in marriage among adults ages 25 to 34 is related not only to the recession, but also to more acceptance in society of couples who aren't married, even when they choose to have children together.

This trend is expected to continue, but because New York State does not automatically provide biological parents with all the rights of married parents, cohabitating parents need to be proactive in establishing their legal rights. For example, in New York, biological fathers need to sign an acknowledgment of paternity pursuant to Family Court Act §516-a at the time of the child's birth in order to be granted custodial rights in the future and to provide the child with rights to the father's estate in the event of his death. It is not enough to have the father's name on the birth certificate. This acknowledgment can protect both parents from expensive and time-consuming court proceedings later if the couple separates. Absent the acknowledgment, the parties could find themselves in Family Court with the father trying to prove he is the biological parent and entitled to custody and parenting rights, and/or the mother trying to prove she is entitled to child support. Additionally, if the biological father dies before paternity is established, the mother may end up in Surrogate's Court trying to prove that the child is the father's legal heir.

But even with a signed acknowledgment of paternity, if a biological mother unilaterally moves with the child away from the biological father he will need to seek a court order to have the child returned. It would be unlikely that the police would get involved if his custodial rights were not yet established by agreement or through the Family Court. To prevent this type of nightmare, it's suggested that when the couple is happy and are able to negotiate on good terms, they retain family law attorneys to draft a legally binding agreement stating their rights regarding the children, child or spousal support (if they marry in the future) and economic issues between them such as the division of property and joint debts. They should also speak with a trusts and estates attorney to establish their rights in the event of death. Unmarried couples can easily establish their rights through the execution of these necessary documents. They just need to be proactive when times are good so that they can protect themselves if the relationship ends.