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New York Matrimonial Trial Handbook

The New York Matrimonial Trial Handbook by Joel R. Brandes is available online in the print edition at the Bookbaby Bookstore and other bookstores. It is now available in Kindle ebook editions and epub ebook editions in our website bookstore. It is also available at Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble and Goodreads.

The New York Matrimonial Trial Handbook was reviewed in the New York Law Journal. Click here to read the review.

The New York Matrimonial Trial Handbook was also reviewed in Readers Favorite Book Reviews. Click here for that review.

The New York Matrimonial Trial Handbook was written for both the attorney who has never tried a matrimonial action and for the experienced litigator. It is a “how to” book for lawyers. This 836 page handbook focuses on the procedural and substantive law, as well as the law of evidence, that an attorney must have at his or her fingertips when trying a matrimonial action. It is intended to be an aid for preparing for a trial and as a reference for the procedure in offering and objecting to evidence during a trial. The handbook deals extensively with the testimonial and documentary evidence necessary to meet the burden of proof. There are thousands of suggested questions for the examination of witnesses at trial to establish each cause of action and requests for ancillary relief, as well as for the cross-examination of difficult witnesses. Table of Contents

Friday, May 30, 2008

Clear and Unambiguous French PreNuptual Agreement Upheld to Deny Wife Equitable Distribution


Clear and Unambiguous French PreNuptual Agreement Upheld to Deny Wife Equitable Distribution


In Van Kipnis v Van Kipnis, --- N.Y.S.2d ----, 2007 WL 2003419 (N.Y.A.D. 1 Dept.), the Plaintiff wife and defendant husband were married in Paris, France, in 1965. Prior to the ceremony, and at the request of the wife, the parties agreed to execute a "Contrat de Mariage" (Contract), which is a form of prenuptial agreement under the French Civil Code. The expressly stated purpose of the Contract was to opt out of the "community property regime," which is the custom in France, in favor of a "separation of estates" property regime. The first article of the Contract, which is titled "MARITAL PROPERTY SYSTEM," provided: "The future spouses declare that they are adopting the marital property system of separation of estates, as established by the French Civil Code. Consequently, each spouse shall retain ownership and possession of the chattels and real property that he/she may own at this time or may come to own subsequently by any means whatsoever. They shall not be liable for each other's debts established before or during the marriage or encumbering the inheritances and gifts that they receive. The wife shall have all the rights and powers over her assets accorded by law to women married under the separate-estates system without any restriction." Shortly after the marriage the parties moved to New York, where they resided throughout their 38-year marriage. The husband acquired liquid assets of approximately $7 million and the wife of approximately $700,000-$800,000 The parties kept their assets completely separate throughout the course of their marriage. However, the parties jointly owned a country home in Lenox, Massachusetts, valued at $625,000, and a cooperative apartment at 860 Fifth Avenue, in Manhattan valued at $1.8 million. At the hearing, the wife testified that the Contract was executed for the sole purpose of opting out of the community property system of France, and instead adopting a complete separation of estates, whereby each party could not be held liable for the other's debts. She also admitted, however, that the husband executed the Contract at her insistence, that he had no money at the time of the marriage and that she had never moved to set the Contract aside during the marriage. The husband offered a similar understanding of the Contract. Expert testimony established that article 1536 of the French Civil Code provides different choices of matrimonial regimes; that by signing the Contract the parties opted out of France's community property regime and chose a regime of separate property; that the legal effect of this selection was that each
spouse retained the unfettered right to administer, enjoy and freely dispose of his or her separate property throughout the marriage and continuing through its dissolution; and that divorce is never mentioned in a marriage contract. The Referee upheld the Contract., finding that "it is clear that these parties entered into a prenuptial agreement ... which governed the economics of their 38 year marriage, and is likewise applicable in the circumstances of their divorce." Thus, the Referee determined that the parties were to retain ownership of the assets held in their respective names. With respect to the jointly held properties, the Referee recommended that wife be awarded the co-op apartment and reimbursed $75,000 for repairs and furnishings therein, and that the husband be awarded the Massachusetts country home. The Referee also ruled that the Contract did not constitute a waiver by the wife of the right to receive maintenance. In determining the amount and duration of maintenance, the Referee considered, inter alia, the marital standard of living, which it described as "relatively modest," in arriving at a sum of $7,500 per month, payable until either the husband or wife dies or the wife remarries. In
addition, after subtracting the amount of fees allegedly attributable to the wife's challenge to the Contract, which it found were not compensable, the Referee awarded the wife an additional $92,779 in attorneys' fees. On appeal, the wife argued that the enforceability of the Contract was irrelevant since, even if enforceable, it was not applicable to this divorce proceeding, since the intent was to shield each spouse's assets from the other's creditors during the marriage, and not to govern the distribution of property upon divorce. She noted that although the Contract specifically provides that each spouse "shall not be liable for each other's debts established before or during the marriage," it makes no mention of the disposition or distribution of property in the event of divorce, and contains no express waiver of property rights if the parties decided to divorce. She also noted that both parties testified that neither of them understood the Contract as having any relevance to divorce. The First Department held that because the Contract unambiguously provides for separate ownership of property and extrinsic evidence should not have been considered to create an ambiguity or vary its terms, it would affirm that portion of the order which found the contract to be enforceable and applicable. It rejected the wife's argument that the Contract should not be enforced
because it is not "an agreement for the disposition of ... property" within the meaning of Domestic Relations Law [DRL] 236(B)(5). Although the wife was correct that the Contract was not an agreement for the disposition of property, DRL
236(B)(3) authorizes enforcement of agreements that include "(2) provision for the ownership, division or distribution of separate and marital property" (emphasis added). Moreover, DRL 236(B)(1)(d)(4) defines "separate property" as including
"property described as separate property by written agreement of the parties." Thus, the DRL specifically authorizes agreements to treat what might otherwise be marital property as separate property for purposes of equitable distribution. This
is precisely what occurred in this case, where the Contract described each spouse's property held at the time of marriage or acquired thereafter as separate property. The court's award of $7,500 per month in maintenance, which would result in an approximate annual pre-tax incomes of $126,000 for the wife and $335,000 for the husband, was a proper exercise of discretion as was the $92,779.57 in attorneys' fees to the wife. Although the wife requested an additional $177,000 in fees (the husband had already paid $160,000), the Referee correctly ruled that under DRL 237 the wife was not entitled to fees incurred in challenging the enforceability of a prenuptial agreement. Moreover, because the legal bills submitted by the wife's attorney failed to clearly delineate those legal services that were unrelated to the wife's challenge to the agreement, and thus compensable under DRL 237, the court properly exercised its discretion in awarding the amount that it did.

Provisions in Settlement Agreement Which Govern Award of Attorney's Fees, Rather than Statutory Provisions, Control.

Provisions in Settlement Agreement Which Govern Award of Attorney's Fees, Rather than Statutory Provisions, Control.


In Berns v Halberstam, --- N.Y.S.2d ----, 2007 WL 4465050 (N.Y.A.D. 2 Dept.) the parties settlement agreement was incorporated but not merged into their judgment of divorce. The judgment of divorce stated that the father would have scheduled visitation with the parties' two daughters pursuant to the agreement. Article XXIV of the agreement provided that each party would pay his or her respective attorney for the rendition of services in connection with the agreement and the representation of him or her in "any lawsuit pending or to be commenced by and between the parties." Article XXVI set forth two specific circumstances where one party must pay for the other party's attorney's fees. The mother commenced proceedings for modification of the visitation provision, seeking to suspend the father's right to alternate weekend visitation. The parties settled these proceedings on the record, whereby the father's visitation rights were modified. The mother moved for an award of an attorney's fee, not pursuant to Article XXVI of the agreement, but rather pursuant to Family Court Act 651 and Domestic Relations Law 237(b). Family Court granted the mother's motion for fees related to legal work performed on two dates where the father caused unnecessary delay in the proceedings. The Appellate Division reversed. It held that where the parties have agreed to provisions in a settlement agreement which govern the award of attorney's fees, the agreement's provisions, rather than statutory provisions, control. Viewing Articles XXIV and XXVI in conjunction with each other, the agreement was clear and unambiguous. Article XXIV was a general waiver of attorney's fees, each party accepting responsibility to pay their respective counsel, and Article XXVI set forth two specific exceptions to the general waiver. The modification petition did not give rise to one of the two specific instances where an award of attorney's fees would be contractually required under Article XXVI. The modification petition was subject to the general waiver provisions of Article XXIV, which precluded an award of attorney's fees

Error to Award Joint Custody of Son From Previous Marriage. Equitable Estoppel Not Applicable

Error to Award Joint Custody of Son From Previous Marriage. Equitable Estoppel Not Applicable


In Gulbin v Moss- Gulbin, --- N.Y.S.2d ----, 2007 WL 4197590 (N.Y.A.D. 3 Dept.) the Appellate Division held that Supreme Court erred by awarding plaintiff joint custody of her son from a previous relationship. When the parties married, defendant was already the biological mother of two sons, one of whom was now emancipated. The parties were the biological parents of two more sons. Supreme Court, in reliance upon a long-standing parent/child relationship between plaintiff and defendant's second son, awarded joint custody to the parties with the children's principal residence being with defendant, subject to scheduled visitation rights for plaintiff. Notwithstanding a close and loving relationship, a nonbiological parent does not have standing to request custody or visitation when a biological parent is fit and opposes shared custody or visitation (see Matter of Alison D. v. Virginia M., 77 N.Y.2d 651, 655-657 [1991]; Matter of Multari v.Sorrell, 287 A.D.2d 764 [2001]; Matter of Rose v. Walrad, 278 A.D.2d 537, 538 [2000]; Matter of Cindy P. v. Danny P., 206 A.D.2d 615, 616 [1994], lv denied 84 N.Y.2d 808 [1994] ). Despite these cases, plaintiff, in reliance upon Jean Maby H. v. Joseph H. (246 A.D.2d 282 [1998] ), asserted that defendant was equitably estopped from asserting that he lacked standing to seek custody of and visitation with her second son. The Third Department held that "The purpose of equitable estoppel is to preclude a person from asserting a right after having led another to form the reasonable belief that the right would not be asserted, and loss or prejudice to the other would result if the right were asserted" (citing Matter of Shondel J. v. Mark D., 7 N.Y.3d 320, 326 [2006] ). Here, the doctrine was inapplicable. The record revealed that shortly after the parties married, and while this son was only three or four years of age, defendant informed him that plaintiff was not his biological father. Moreover, defendant refused to consent to his adoption by plaintiff precisely for the reason that it would impact on the issue of custody and visitation in the event of a divorce. Under these circumstances, it could not be concluded that defendant led plaintiff to form a reasonable belief that her claim to custody of her second son would not be asserted. Because defendant refused to stipulate as to the custody of this child and plaintiff admitted that defendant was a fit parent, Supreme Court erred in reaching this issue.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wilful Violation of Support Order Can Be Established Without Testimony by a Formal Judicial Admission

Wilful Violation of Support Order Can Be Established Without Testimony by a Formal Judicial Admission




In Matter of Columbia County Support Collection Unit v Interdonato, --- N.Y.S.2d ----, 2008 WL 1969647 (N.Y.A.D. 3 Dept.) the Appellate Division rejected Respondents argument on appeal that Family Court erred in finding a willful violation of the support orders and ordering that he be committed based on unsworn testimony. It held that it is well settled that when there is no admission by a respondent, a determination of a willful violation of a support order must be predicated upon proof adduced at a hearing. A formal judicial admission by a respondent may, however, obviate the need for a hearing inasmuch as the respondent, by his or her admission, waives the production of evidence by the opposing party with regard to the facts admitted and the respondent's admission is deemed conclusive with regard to those facts. Here, respondent's unequivocal admission before the Support Magistrate in open court to the facts giving rise to petitioner's claim of respondent's violation of Family Court's orders, that he failed to make the required child support payments, was made with sufficient formality and conclusiveness to be deemed a formal judicial admission even in the absence of an oath. Furthermore, proof of a failure to make required support payments is prima facie evidence of a willful violation. Accordingly, Family Court's order was not based upon unsworn testimony, but was properly made following respondent's admission and, as such, it was affirmed.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Court of Appeals Holds Agreement Can't Confer Jurisdiction on Family Court

Court of Appeals Holds Family Court Lacked Subject Matter Jurisdiction to Entertain Wife's Application for Increased Spousal Maintenance Despite "De Novo" Provision of Separation Agreement

In Matter of Johna M.S. v Russell E.S., --- N.Y.3d ----, 2008 WL 1860165 (N.Y.) Petitioner wife and respondent husband executed a written separation agreement in 2003. No divorce action was commenced. The agreement provided that the husband would pay the wife $100 per week in spousal maintenance and $250 per week in child support. The section of the agreement pertaining to maintenance stated: "while this agreement will resolve these issues for the present time, the Wife shall not be foreclosed from seeking additional maintenance in negotiation with the Husband, or failing such negotiation, then filing in a court of appropriate jurisdiction for a modification of the present provisions concerning the payment of maintenance. Any application by the Wife shall be treated as a 'de novo' application to the court, since it is not possible to set future maintenance at this time because it is impossible to forecast the Wife's needs or the Husband's income/earning capacity."
The wife commenced a Family Court Act article 4 proceeding seeking an upward modification of maintenance and child support. The Support Magistrate dismissed that portion of the wife's application seeking additional spousal maintenance for lack of jurisdiction. The court noted that no proof was offered that the wife was likely to become a public charge (see Family Court Act 463); thus, the parties were bound by the terms of the separation agreement on the issue of spousal maintenance. Family Court affirmed, as did the Appellate Division. The Court of Appeals affirmed. It held that Family Court is a court of limited jurisdiction that cannot exercise powers beyond those granted to it by statute. It generally has no subject matter jurisdiction to reform, set aside or modify the terms of a valid separation agreement. Nor can an agreement of the parties confer on Family Court the power to modify the terms of a separation agreement. A statutory exception to the rule prohibiting the modification of separation agreements, not applicable here, exists where a spouse "is likely to become in need of public assistance or care" (Family Court Act 463). Family Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to entertain the wife's application for increased spousal maintenance. Although the parties' separation agreement purported to permit Family Court to treat any application by the wife as "de novo," such language cannot confer jurisdiction upon Family Court. The wife's petition to Family Court for increased maintenance expressly stated that it was "an application to the Court for an upward modification of spousal support," premised on the insufficiency of current maintenance due to a loss of certain Social Security benefits. In practical terms, the wife was not presenting a new, or "de novo," application for maintenance to Family Court. She was seeking increased maintenance from that provided under the separation agreement. Thus, because the wife was seeking a modification of a spousal maintenance award set forth in a separation agreement, Family Court was without jurisdiction to entertain the petition and grant the requested relief. Justice Smith dissented in an opinion

2 Dept Holds Interim Counsel Fee Should Not Be Denied or Deferred Where Warrantred

Second Department Holds Counsel Fees to Nonmonied Spouse Generally Warranted Where a Significant Disparity in Parties Financial Circumstances and Should Not Be Denied, or Deferred Absent Good Cause, Articulated in a Written Decision
In Prichep v Prichep, --- N.Y.S.2d ----, 2008 WL 1987254 (N.Y.A.D. 2 Dept.) the Second Department, in an opinion by Justice Prudenti, held that because of the importance of such awards to the fundamental fairness of the proceedings, an award of interim counsel fees to the nonmonied spouse will generally be warranted where there is a significant disparity in the financial circumstances of the parties and should not be denied, or deferred until after the trial, which functions as a denial, without good cause, articulated by the court in a written decision. It cited as examples of good cause, where the requested fees are unsubstantiated or clearly disproportionate to the amount of legal work required in the case. It based this conclusion on the fact that when an action for a divorce is commenced, it is often the case that most of the marital assets available for the payment of legal fees are possessed or controlled by one of the spouses, usually the husband. In order to ensure that the parties will have equal access to skilled legal representation, the Domestic Relations Law authorizes awards of interim counsel fees to the nonmonied spouse during the course of the litigation. The court pointed out that when a party to a divorce action requests an interim award of counsel fees, as opposed to a final award, a detailed inquiry is not warranted. The husband commenced the divorce action in 1998. In June 2005, the wife made a pretrial motion for interim counsel fees of $35,000. The wife's motion papers noted that, although the court previously had awarded her interim counsel fees of $20,000, she currently owed her attorneys $53,009. The wife pointed out that the husband was a "highly successful vascular surgeon," earning $420,100 per year, while she worked part-time as an early intervention therapist, earning $4,015 per year. In opposition to the wife's motion, the husband argued that the wife had "over-litigated" the case, creating and submitting voluminous and unnecessary papers, and thus generating excessive counsel fees. Supreme Court denied the wife's motion "without prejudice to renewal before the trial court to determine the financial circumstances of the parties, the nature and complexity of the case, which includes the valuation of a medical practice, the fees filed and legal services rendered and the expertise of the attorneys." The wife thereafter moved to renew her prior motion and for an additional award of interim counsel fees of $40,000. Her attorney submitted an affidavit asserting that the wife now owed his firm $159,000 in legal fees, as well as invoices and attorney time records documenting billings in that amount. In the alternative, the motion sought leave to withdraw as her counsel. Supreme Court denied the motion for fees but granted the law firm's request to the extent of relieving it as counsel for the wife. An award of interim counsel fees ensures that the nonmonied spouse will be able to litigate the action, and do so on equal footing with the monied spouse. Such an award "is appropriate 'to prevent the more affluent spouse from wearing down or financially punishing the opposition by recalcitrance, or by prolonging the litigation' "(citing Gober v. Gober, 282 A.D.2d 392, 393, quoting O'Shea v. O'Shea, 93 N.Y.2d at 193; see Charpie v. Charpie, 271 A.D.2d 169). If the playing field were not leveled by an award of interim counsel fees, "a wealthy husband could obtain the services of highly paid (and presumably seasoned and superior matrimonial counsel, while the indigent wife, essentially, would be relegated to counsel willing to take her case on a poverty basis".

3d Dept Holds No Interim Counsel Fee witout a Hearing

Third Department Holds That Absent Stipulation No Pendente Lite Counsel Fee Award Without A Hearing
In Bush v Bush, 46 A.D.3d 1140, 848 N.Y.S.2d 721 (3d Dept, 2007) Defendant cross-moved for among other things, interim counsel fees in the amount of $85,172.81. Supreme Court awarded defendant interim counsel fees of $25,000. The Appellate Division reversed. It held that to justify an award of counsel fees, a sufficient evidentiary basis must exist for the court to evaluate the respective financial circumstances of the parties and value of the services rendered' Moreover, Supreme Court cannot award counsel fees based solely upon written submissions, unless so stipulated to by the parties. The proof submitted concerning the financial circumstances of the parties was limited to written submissions by respective counsel. As the record
did not contain evidence of a stipulation agreeing thereto, the proof of the financial circumstances of the parties was inadequate for Supreme Court to properly assess the award of counsel fees. The Appellate Division reversed and remitted to Supreme Court for an evidentiary hearing (citing its 2003 decision in Yarinsky v.Yarinsky, 2 A.D.3d 1108 [3 Dept 2003] ).

Website Back to Speed

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Technical Problems with our New York Divorce and Family Law Website

Visitors to our website New York Divorce and Family Law at www.brandeslaw.com and www.nysdivorce.com will experience delays in opening the home page and accessing Articles from that page. Our web hosting service has been working on correcting the problem. Visitors who want to see Articles are advised to click on any link from the home page to go to another page. Aricles can then be accessed that page.
Court of Appeals Holds Family Court Lacked Subject Matter Jurisdiction to Entertain Wife's Application for Increased Spousal Maintenance Despite "De Novo" Provision of Separation Agreement

In Matter of Johna M.S. v Russell E.S., --- N.Y.3d ----, 2008 WL 1860165 (N.Y.) Petitioner wife and respondent husband executed a written separation agreement in 2003. No divorce action was commenced. The agreement provided that the husband would pay the wife $100 per week in spousal maintenance and $250 per week in child support. The section of the agreement pertaining to maintenance stated: "while this agreement will resolve these issues for the present time, the Wife shall not be foreclosed from seeking additional maintenance in negotiation with the Husband, or failing such negotiation, then filing in a court of appropriate jurisdiction for a modification of the present provisions concerning the payment of maintenance. Any application by the Wife shall be treated as a 'de novo' application to the court, since it is not possible to set future maintenance at this time because it is impossible to forecast the Wife's needs or the Husband's income/earning capacity."
The wife commenced a Family Court Act article 4 proceeding seeking an upward modification of maintenance and child support. The Support Magistrate dismissed that portion of the wife's application seeking additional spousal maintenance for lack of jurisdiction. The court noted that no proof was offered that the wife was likely to become a public charge (see Family Court Act 463); thus, the parties were bound by the terms of the separation agreement on the issue of spousal maintenance. Family Court affirmed, as did the Appellate Division. The Court of Appeals affirmed. It held that Family Court is a court of limited jurisdiction that cannot exercise powers beyond those granted to it by statute. It generally has no subject matter jurisdiction to reform, set aside or modify the terms of a valid separation agreement. Nor can an agreement of the parties confer on Family Court the power to modify the terms of a separation agreement. A statutory exception to the rule prohibiting the modification of separation agreements, not applicable here, exists where a spouse "is likely to become in need of public assistance or care" (Family Court Act 463). Family Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to entertain the wife's application for increased spousal maintenance. Although the parties' separation agreement purported to permit Family Court to treat any application by the wife as "de novo," such language cannot confer jurisdiction upon Family Court. The wife's petition to Family Court for increased maintenance expressly stated that it was "an application to the Court for an upward modification of spousal support," premised on the insufficiency of current maintenance due to a loss of certain Social Security benefits. In practical terms, the wife was not presenting a new, or "de novo," application for maintenance to Family Court. She was seeking increased maintenance from that provided under the separation agreement. Thus, because the wife was seeking a modification of a spousal maintenance award set forth in a separation agreement, Family Court was without jurisdiction to entertain the petition and grant the requested relief. Justice Smith dissented in an opinion
Second Department Holds Counsel Fees to Nonmonied Spouse Generally Warranted Where a Significant Disparity in Parties Financial Circumstances and Should Not Be Denied, or Deferred Absent Good Cause, Articulated in a Written Decision

In Prichep v Prichep, --- N.Y.S.2d ----, 2008 WL 1987254 (N.Y.A.D. 2 Dept.) the Second Department, in an opinion by Justice Prudenti, held that because of the importance of such awards to the fundamental fairness of the proceedings, an award of interim counsel fees to the nonmonied spouse will generally be warranted where there is a significant disparity in the financial circumstances of the parties and should not be denied, or deferred until after the trial, which functions as a denial, without good cause, articulated by the court in a written decision. It cited as examples of good cause, where the requested fees are unsubstantiated or clearly disproportionate to the amount of legal work required in the case. It based this conclusion on the fact that when an action for a divorce is commenced, it is often the case that most of the marital assets available for the payment of legal fees are possessed or controlled by one of the spouses, usually the husband. In order to ensure that the parties will have equal access to skilled legal representation, the Domestic Relations Law authorizes awards of interim counsel fees to the nonmonied spouse during the course of the litigation. The court pointed out that when a party to a divorce action requests an interim award of counsel fees, as opposed to a final award, a detailed inquiry is not warranted. The husband commenced the divorce action in 1998. In June 2005, the wife made a pretrial motion for interim counsel fees of $35,000. The wife's motion papers noted that, although the court previously had awarded her interim counsel fees of $20,000, she currently owed her attorneys $53,009. The wife pointed out that the husband was a "highly successful vascular surgeon," earning $420,100 per year, while she worked part-time as an early intervention therapist, earning $4,015 per year. In opposition to the wife's motion, the husband argued that the wife had "over-litigated" the case, creating and submitting voluminous and unnecessary papers, and thus generating excessive counsel fees. Supreme Court denied the wife's motion "without prejudice to renewal before the trial court to determine the financial circumstances of the parties, the nature and complexity of the case, which includes the valuation of a medical practice, the fees filed and legal services rendered and the expertise of the attorneys." The wife thereafter moved to renew her prior motion and for an additional award of interim counsel fees of $40,000. Her attorney submitted an affidavit asserting that the wife now owed his firm $159,000 in legal fees, as well as invoices and attorney time records documenting billings in that amount. In the alternative, the motion sought leave to withdraw as her counsel. Supreme Court denied the motion for fees but granted the law firm's request to the extent of relieving it as counsel for the wife. An award of interim counsel fees ensures that the nonmonied spouse will be able to litigate the action, and do so on equal footing with the monied spouse. Such an award "is appropriate 'to prevent the more affluent spouse from wearing down or financially punishing the opposition by recalcitrance, or by prolonging the litigation' "(citing Gober v. Gober, 282 A.D.2d 392, 393, quoting O'Shea v. O'Shea, 93 N.Y.2d at 193; see Charpie v. Charpie, 271 A.D.2d 169). If the playing field were not leveled by an award of interim counsel fees, "a wealthy husband could obtain the services of highly paid (and presumably seasoned and superior matrimonial counsel, while the indigent wife, essentially, would be relegated to counsel willing to take her case on a poverty basis".
Third Department Holds That Absent Stipulation No Pendente Lite Counsel Fee Award Without A Hearing

In Bush v Bush, 46 A.D.3d 1140, 848 N.Y.S.2d 721 (3d Dept, 2007) Defendant cross-moved for among other things, interim counsel fees in the amount of $85,172.81. Supreme Court awarded defendant interim counsel fees of $25,000. The Appellate Division reversed. It held that to justify an award of counsel fees, a sufficient evidentiary basis must exist for the court to evaluate the respective financial circumstances of the parties and value of the services rendered' Moreover, Supreme Court cannot award counsel fees based solely upon written submissions, unless so stipulated to by the parties. The proof submitted concerning the financial circumstances of the parties was limited to written submissions by respective counsel. As the record did not contain evidence of a stipulation agreeing thereto, the proof of the financial circumstances of the parties was inadequate for Supreme Court to properly assess the award of counsel fees. The Appellate Division reversed and remitted to Supreme Court for an evidentiary hearing (citing its 2003 decision in Yarinsky v.Yarinsky, 2 A.D.3d 1108 [3 Dept 2003] ).

First Department Critical of Law Guardian too!

Law Guardian May Not Be Unsworn Witness and Must Comply with Law Guardian Rules of the Chief Judge

In Naomi C v Russell A, --- N.Y.S.2d ----, 2008 WL 304936 (N.Y.A.D. 1 Dept.) the Appellate Division affirmed without a hearing Court’s dismissal of a petition to modify a custody order. The Appellate Division pointed out that with the parties present, the court asked the Law Guardian, on the record, to discuss the position of the 10-year-old child regarding how well the current custody arrangement was working. Although the court was warranted in dismissing the petition on its face, the questioning of the Law Guardian (now called Attorney for the Child) by the court was " something that should not be repeated". Although the court was correct to disallow the "cross-examination" of the Law Guardian by petitioner's counsel, the court should not consider the hearsay opinion of a child in determining the legal sufficiency of a pleading in the first place. Most importantly, such colloquy makes the Law Guardian an unsworn witness, a position in which no attorney should be placed. It emphasized that the attorney for the child is subject to the ethical requirements applicable to all lawyers, including but not limited to becoming a witness in the litigation. (Citing Rules of the Chief Judge [22 NYCRR] 7.2[b] ).

New York Recent Decisions of Interest

Second Department Removes Law Guardian Failure to Comply With Rules of Chief Judge

In Cervera v Bressler, --- N.Y.S.2d ----, 2008 WL 1748331 (N.Y.A.D. 2 Dept.) the parties' entered into a stipulation, later so-ordered by the court, in which they agreed to joint custody, with primary physical custody with the mother, visitation to the father
on alternate weekends and one weekday per week, and the removal of certain restrictions on visitation that had been imposed temporarily. In July 2005, the attorney for the child moved by order to show cause for supervised visitation, based on various allegations by the mother, including one allegation of sexual molestation. The sexual molestation allegation was subsequently determined to be unfounded. Although a hearing on the motion was scheduled at least once, it never took place, and visitation by the father remained supervised since July 28, 2005. The Appellate Division held that supervised visitation was appropriately required only where it is established that unsupervised visitation would be detrimental to the child and because no hearing was ever held on the order to show cause visitation remained supervised, and telephone contact between father and daughter was monitored, for about 2 1/2 years, based solely on the hearsay allegations of the mother. These consisted of the allegations of molestation, which were determined by OCFS to be unfounded, and stories of various incidents, the details of which were disputed by the father and, were insufficient to show that unsupervised visitation would be detrimental to the child's well-being. Under these circumstances, it was unacceptable to the Second Department that the hearing had not been held, although ordered more than 2 1/2 years earlier. This arrangement resulted in the violation of the father's right to reasonable access and visitation.
It also held that the court should not have required the father to pay the cost of supervising his visitation without determining the economic realities, including his ability to pay and the actual cost of each visit. Finally, it held that the court improvidently exercised its discretion in denying the father's motion to remove Joshua D. Siegel as the attorney for the child. It referred to the new rules that had been recently promulgated by the Chief Judge and stated that an attorney for the child should not have a particular position or decision in mind at the outset of the case before the gathering of evidence. On the other hand, attorneys for children are not neutral automatons. After an appropriate inquiry, it is entirely appropriate, indeed expected, that an attorney for the child form an opinion about what action, if any, would be in a child's best interest. An attorney for the child is not an investigative arm of the court. While attorneys for the children, as advocates, may make their positions known to the court orally or in writing (by way of, among other methods, briefs or summations), presenting reports containing facts which are not part of the record or making submissions directly to the court ex parte are inappropriate practices. Here, in the order to show cause , and the affirmation in support, as well as in every affirmation submitted thereafter, the attorney for the child included facts which were not part of the record, but which constituted hearsay gleaned from the mother. This behavior on the part of the attorney for the child, as well as his repeated ad hominum attacks on the father's character, was both unprofessional and improper, as it amounted to the attorney for the child acting as a witness against the father, in violation of the Rules of the Chief Judge (see 22 NYCRR 7.2[b] ).

Law Guardian Rebuked for Failure to Follow Rules of Chief Judge and Wishes of Child

In Matter of Delaney v. Galeano,--- N.Y.S.2d ----, 2008 WL 1823048 (N.Y.A.D. 2 Dept.) the attorney for the child appealed from an order of the Family Court, which, after a hearing, denied his motion to hold the respondent mother in contempt. Upon receipt of a copy of a letter dated June 15, 2007, from the 14-year-old child to the effect that he did not want the appeal to proceed, the Appellate Division issued an order to show cause directing the parties or their attorneys to show cause why an order should not be made dismissing the appeal in the above-entitled proceeding as withdrawn. After argument of the appeal the motion was granted and the appeal was dismissed as withdrawn. The Appellate Division held that where "the child is capable of knowing, voluntary and considered judgment, the attorney for the child should be directed by the wishes of the child" (22 NYCRR 7.2[d][2]). Here, the child on numerous occasions has expressed concern that his attorney was not representing his wishes. Additionally, he requested that the appeal be withdrawn, prompting the Court to require the parties or their attorneys to show cause why the appeal should not be dismissed as withdrawn. In response to that order to show cause, the attorney for the child failed to demonstrate any basis upon which the child's preference may properly be disregarded (see 22 NYCRR 7.2[d][3] ).

Latest New York Decisions Now Posted (and discussed)

This blog is written as a public service to provide useful information to the New York bench, bar and litigant. We have tried to decide on a format for the posting on this blog which will differ from the other blogs on the web. Almost all of the divorce and family law blogs we have visited contain general discussions of recent cases reported in the media which are newsworthy, but are not really important or helpful for the attorneys, judges and litigants involved in the New York Court System.

We have decided to use our blog to create an alternative source for some of the information available on our New York Divorce and Family Law web site.

This site will report on recent New York decisions regarding New York Divorce and Family Law which, in our opinion, are important for those involved in the New York court system. Where appropriate, our postings will contain editorial comment. We welcome your contributions and comments.