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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 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

Monday, May 23, 2016

Laws of 2015 Affecting the Practice of Matrimonial Law


Laws of 2015, Chapter 572 amended CPLR 2103 effective January 1, 2016.

CPLR 2103(b)(2) was amended to provide that where a period of time prescribed by law is measured from the service of a paper and service is made by mail outside of the state of New York, but within the geographic boundries of the United States, six days shall be added to the prescribed period. The definition of mailing in CPLR 2103(f)(1) was amended to authorize mailing in the United States, rather than the state of New York.

The purpose of the amendment was so that the rule for mailing service would correspond with that for overnight delivery service in CPLR 2103(b)(6). The Sponsors memorandum in support of the legislation also noted a decision by the Appellate Division, First Department, holding the service by mail made outside the State was insufficient (M. Entertainment, Inc. v. Leydier, 62 A.D.3d 627 (reversed on other grounds, 13 N.Y.3d 827). The amendment authorizes service by mail outside the state, but within the geographical boundries of the United States.

Laws of 2015, Chapter 567 (effective June 18, 2016)


Domestic Relations Law§ 240, subdivision 1 (a) was amended and subdivision (c-1) was added to Family Court Act § 651 (c-1). The purpose of the legislation was to underscore that custody standards apply in cases where custody and visitation petitions brought under these sections are heard jointly with child protective dispositional or permanency hearings in Family Court under Article 10 or 10-A of the Family Court Act.

The following provision was inserted into Domestic Relations Law§ 240 subdivision 1 (a):

Where a proceeding filed pursuant to article ten or ten-A of the family court act is pending at the same time as a proceeding brought in the supreme court involving the custody of, or right to visitation with, any child of a marriage, the court presiding over the proceeding under article ten or ten-A of the family court act may jointly hear the dispositional hearing on the petition under article ten or the permanency hearing under article ten-A of the family court act and, upon referral from the supreme court, the hearing to resolve the matter of custody or visitation in the proceeding pending in the supreme court; provided however, the court must determine custody or visitation in accordance with the terms of this section.

The following provision was added to Family Court Act §651:

(c–1) Where a proceeding filed pursuant to article ten or ten-A of this act is pending at the same time as a proceeding brought in the family court pursuant to this article, the court presiding over the proceeding under article ten or ten-A of this act may jointly hear the hearing on the custody and visitation petition under this article and the dispositional hearing on the petition under article ten or the permanency hearing under article ten-A of this act; provided, however, the court must determine the custody and visitation petition in accordance with the terms of this article.

 
Laws of 2015, Ch 447

Laws of 2015, Ch 447 amended Domestic Relations Law §237 (a) effective November 20, 2015, and applicable to all actions whenever commenced, to provide that an unrepresented litigant shall not be required to file an  affidavit  detailing  fee  arrangements  when making  an  application  for  an  award  of  counsel  fees and expenses. However, as a condition precedent to not being required to file such affidavit the unrepresented litigant must have submitted an affidavit that he or she  is  unable to  afford  counsel  with supporting proof, including a statement of net worth, and, if available, W-2 statements  and  income  tax  returns  for himself  or herself.  
According to the New York Assembly Memorandum in Support of the Legislation the purpose of the amendment was “to make clear that indigent pro se litigants may make an application for an award of fees necessary to obtain counsel without the formal requirement of an affidavit detailing fee arrangements with counsel, provided proof has been submitted of an inability to afford counsel.”



See Laws of 2015, Ch 269, which provides that section three of the act, which amended Domestic Relations Law 235[B][5-a] dealing with Temporary Maintenance Awards, “ shall take effect on the thirtieth day after it shall have become a law and shall apply to matrimonial actions commenced on or after such effective date.” The other sections of the Act are effective January 23, 2016.

Laws of 2015, Ch 387, approved October 26, 2015, effective January 24, 2016.

          The statutory provisions for child support have been amended to reflect the fact that spousal maintenance is money no longer available as income to the payor, but constitutes income to the payee,  so long as the order or agreement for such maintenance lasts.

           Domestic Relations Law § 240(1-b)(5)(iii) and Family Court Act § 413(1)(b)(5)(iii) were amended to add a new subclause (I) to each that requires that alimony or spousal maintenance actually paid to a spouse who is a party to the action must be added to the recipient spouse's income, provided that the order contains an automatic adjustment to take effect upon the termination of the maintenance award. According to the New York Assembly Memorandum in Support of Legislation this addition would be based upon an amount already paid, e.g., an amount reported on the recipient spouse's last income tax return, and would not simply be an estimate of future payments.

         Domestic Relations Law § 240(1-b)(5)(vii)(C) and Family Court Act § 413(1)(b)(5)(vii)(C) were amended to clarify that, where spousal maintenance payments are deducted from the payor's income, the order must contain a specific provision adjusting the child support amount automatically upon the termination of the spousal maintenance award. According to the New York Assembly Memorandum in Support of Legislation this relieves the custodial parent of the burden of moving for a modification of the child support order upon the termination of maintenance but leaves open the possibility for either or both parties to seek a modification of the automatic adjustment if, at the point where maintenance terminates, the income of either of the parties has changed in an amount that would qualify for modification under Family Court Act § 451(3)(b)(ii) or Domestic Relations Law § 236B(9)(b)(2)(ii), e.g., in excess of 15% or a lapse of three years or more. The specific adjustment in the amount of child support is without prejudice to either party's right to seek a modification in accordance with Family Court Act § 451(3) or Domestic Relations Law § 236B(9)(b)(2) with the proviso that in a subsequent action for modification, the inclusion of the specific adjustment shall not by itself constitute a "substantial change of circumstances."

          Laws of 2015, Ch 347, § 1 amended Social Services Law § 111-i to align the timing of the adjustment of the Combined Parental Income Adjustment with the adjustment of the poverty income guidelines amount for a single person and the self-support reserve.

Laws of 2015, Ch 369

Laws of 2015, Ch 369, § 2 repealed Article 5-B of the Family Court Act and enacted the 2008 version of the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) as a new Article 5-B of the Family Court Act. Chapter 369 was signed into law on September 25, 2015. Section 1 is effective on December 24, 2015. New Article 5-B to the Family Court Act applies to any action or proceeding filed or order issued on or before the effective date of new Article 5-B, consistent with new section 580-903 of the Family Court Act which shall be effective on January 1, 2016.

Laws of 2015, Ch 269

Laws of 2015, Ch 269 amended Domestic Relations Law §236 [B][1][a], Domestic Relations Law §236 [B][5][d][7], Domestic Relations Law §236 [B][6], Domestic Relations Law § 248, Domestic Relations Law §236 [B][9][1], Family Court Act § 412, effective January 23, 2016, and amended Domestic Relations Law § 236 [B][5-a], effective October 25, 2015.


 Summary of the Amendments

          The amendments eliminated “enhanced earning capacity as a marital asset” for purposes of equitable distribution (Domestic Relations Law §236 [B] [5] [d] [7]) but did not eliminate as a factor the direct or indirect contributions to the development during the marriage of the enhanced earning capacity of the other spouse. They adopted mandatory guidelines with formulas for the calculation of maintenance and spousal support awards, (Domestic Relations Law §236 [B] [6] and Family Court Act § 412), added actual or partial retirement as a ground for modification of post-divorce maintenance where it results in a substantial diminution of income. (Domestic Relations Law §236 [B] [9] [1]) and made Domestic Relations Law § 248 gender neutral.

Income Cap Lowered

          The amendments lowered the income cap for the formula portion of temporary maintenance awards, (Domestic Relations Law § 236 [B] [5-a]) from the current $543,000 to $175,000 of the payor's income.
            An income cap of $175,000 cap applies to post-divorce maintenance awards and spousal support awards.

Temporary Maintenance

           There is a new formula for determining temporary maintenance.
In determining temporary maintenance, the court can allocate the responsibility for payment of specific family expenses between the parties.
            The temporary maintenance award must terminate no later than the issuance of a judgment of divorce or the death of either party. This amendment is intended to clarify that the Supreme Court has the power to limit the duration of temporary maintenance.

          New Formulas for Calculating Temporary Maintenance, Post-Divorce Maintenance and Spousal Support

There are now mandatory formulas for the calculation of maintenance and spousal support awards.
There are two formulas to be used in calculating maintenance and spousal support: one where child support will be paid and where the temporary maintenance payor, post-divorce maintenance payor or spousal support payor is also the non-custodial parent for child support purposes; and one where child support will not be paid, or where it will be paid but the temporary maintenance payor, post-divorce maintenance payor or spousal support payor is the custodial parent for child support purposes.
            Those formulas are as follows:
           a. With child support where the temporary maintenance payor, post-divorce maintenance payor or spousal support payor is also the non-custodial parent for child support purposes: (i) subtract 25% of the maintenance payee's income from 20% of the maintenance payor's income; (ii) multiply the sum of the maintenance payor's income and the maintenance payee's income by 40% and subtract the maintenance payee's income from the result; (iii) the lower of the two amounts will be the guideline amount of maintenance;
b. Without child support, or with child support but where the temporary maintenance payor, post-divorce maintenance payor or spousal support payor is the custodial parent for child support purposes:  (i) subtract 20% of the maintenance payee's income from 30% of the maintenance payor's income; (ii) multiply the sum of the maintenance payor's income and the maintenance payee's income by 40% and subtract the maintenance payee's income from the result; (iii) the lower of the two amounts will be the guideline amount of maintenance.

 Post-Divorce Maintenance Guidelines

          The definition of income for post-divorce maintenance includes income from income-producing property that is being equitably distributed.
Factors the court may consider in post-divorce maintenance now include termination of child support, and income or imputed income on assets being equitably distributed.  
           There is an “advisory” durational formula for determining the duration of post-divorce maintenance awards. However, nothing prevents the court from awarding non-durational, post-divorce maintenance in an appropriate case. In determining the duration of maintenance, the court is required to consider anticipated retirement assets, benefits and retirement eligibility age.
 Modification of Post-Divorce Maintenance
            Actual or partial retirement is a ground for modification of post-divorce maintenance assuming it results in a substantial diminution of income.
  Spousal Support Guidelines for Family Court
            Spousal support guidelines are established for Family Court using the same two formulas set forth for maintenance guidelines, as follows: one where child support will be paid and where the spousal support payor is also the non-custodial parent for child support purposes; and one where child support will not be paid, or where child support will be paid but the spousal support payor is the custodial parent for child support purposes. The $175,000 income cap applies.
The court may adjust the guideline amount of spousal support up to the income cap where it finds that the guideline amount of spousal support is unjust or inappropriate after consideration of one or more factors, which shall be set forth in the court's written or on the record decision.
Where there is income over the cap, additional spousal support may be awarded after consideration of one or more factors, which shall be set forth in the court's written or on the record decision.
           A new factor for the court to consider in spousal support awards as well as maintenance awards is termination of a child support award.
          The Family Court may modify an order of spousal support upon a showing of a substantial change in circumstances. Unless so modified, spousal support orders set pursuant to the guidelines shall continue until the earliest to occur of a written or oral stipulation/agreement on the record, issuance of a judgment of divorce or other order in a matrimonial proceeding, or the death of either party. This is not intended to change current law with respect to Family Court's ability to terminate spousal support. (See NY Legis. Memo 237 (2015)).

Effective Date


           The amendments become effective January 25, 2015 and apply to all matrimonial and Family Court actions for spousal support commenced on or after such effective date, including the provisions regarding post-divorce maintenance and spousal support awards. However, the provisions regarding temporary maintenance take effect October 25, 2015.

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