While there are many factors that affect the outcome of a motion or hearing in a family law case, typically a national health crisis is not one of them. The recent Covid-19 pandemic has significantly altered the course of family law cases in New York City and throughout the nation, however. As such, it is critical for anyone with a family law matter pending in New York City to understand how their case may be affected. If you live in New York and have concerns regarding a family law issue, it is prudent to speak with a New York family law attorney to discuss how recent events may affect your case.

Recent Administrative Orders Relating to New York City Family Courts

On March 7, 2020, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order declaring the entire State of New York in a State disaster emergency due to the fact that many people have been diagnosed with Covid-19, and it is anticipated that the numbers will increase. Pursuant to Governor Cuomo’s authority, he temporarily stayed all deadlines in all cases, including family law cases. In other words, the time limitations for when an action, motion, or other proceeding or process must be commenced, filed, or served is tolled from the date of the order until April 19, 2020. As such, no adverse action can be taken against a party in a family law matter, or any other matter, for failing to file a pleading or response during that time.

This does not mean the courts are closed, however. Instead, pursuant to a press release from the Chief Administrative Judge for the New York State Court System, on March 26, 2020, the New York City Family Court began hearing certain matters by telephone or vide appearance, in an effort to contain and mitigate the spread of Covid-19, while still allowing the court to provide necessary emergency relief to the families and children the family court serves. Specifically, hearings regarding child protective intake cases that involve removal applications, emergency family offense petitions, newly filed cases for juvenile delinquency that involve remand applications, and writ applications regarding parenting time or custody, where there is an order in place, may be heard via remote methods.

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The New York State court system has announced that beginning on Wednesday, March 25 and Thursday, March 26, it will provide critical emergency relief to the children and families.

Such a decision was reached to reduce courtroom density and stem the spread of the Coronavirus.

The New York City Family Court will hear by remote video appearances and/or by telephone the following matters:

Rudyuk Law Fim will continue to update you on new developments and information in light of COVID-19 pandemic which affects divorce litigation and family law procedures in NYC.

Last evening, New York State Unified Court System Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks issued an administrative order outlining additional steps the court system is taking to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

“Effective immediately, the prosecution of any pending civil matters including any discovery that would require in-person appearances or travel is strongly discouraged.

With schools closed and parents’ work schedules altered, co-parenting may become even more challenging. Below are some tips on how to get through the difficult times with the best interest of your children in mind.

Accept the fact that your parenting time may need to change:  Regardless of whether the parents reside next to each other or at different ends of a big cosmopolitan city, your parenting time may have to change. With schools closed and parents working from home, everyone will need to adapt to a new routine. You may now need more help from your ex to watch the children if your day is full of virtual meetings and phone calls. Perhaps facetime with your children will save them and you the risk of being exposed to the disease during your pick-up and drop-off commute. Even if you’ve been following a court-ordered visitation schedule, it is totally fine to alter on consent of both parents. Exchange text messages or emails with proposed new schedules and communicate!!!! Put your animosity towards each other aside and focus on safeguarding your children.

If a quarantine is announced, allow the primary custodian to continue to care for the children and have facetime with them instead of picking them up. Discuss how you can make up the missed time by, perhaps, adding more time with the children during the summer. Maybe spend time with the children in the primary custodian’s house instead of taking them outside. Be smart, be loving, be understanding.

AN IMPORTANT NOTE FROM MY FIRM:

As we all fight the unprecedented pandemic caused by the COVID-19 (Coronavirus), my firm remains readily available to our divorce and family law clients and new clients. If you have any questions or concerns regarding your divorce action, co-parenting during difficult times, child support, family offense or if you need updates or require assistance, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. You can email me at  ksenia@cadicny.com or Diana at assistant@cadicny.com. Also, do not hesitate to call at 212-706-2001 and reach us through Skype: Rudyuk Law Firm.

We are closely monitoring the situation and following information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization, regulators and local public health departments, the New York State Governor, the New York City Mayor.

In many cases in which a couple with a child divorces, absent an agreement, the court will issue an order granting one parent primary physical custody and award the other parent parental access. Custody orders are not permanent, however, but can be modified upon a showing that a modification is necessary due to a change in circumstances. Recently, a New York appellate court once again discussed what constitutes a sufficient change in circumstances to warrant a modification in a case in which a mother appealed the dismissal of a petition to modify custody. If you wish to seek a modification of an existing custody order, it is in your best interest to meet with an experienced New York child custody attorney to help you seek an arrangement that is in the best interest of your child.

Facts and Procedure

It is reported that the mother and the father divorced in 2013. Initially, the mother was awarded physical custody of the couple’s sole child. Custody was then modified via a consent order in December 2015, which granted father physical custody and awarded the mother parental access. Subsequently, in April 2018, the mother filed a petition to modify the 2015 order to grant her physical custody of the child. Following a hearing, the father moved to dismiss the petition, arguing that the mother failed to establish a change of circumstances sufficient to warrant a modification. The court granted the father’s motion, dismissing the mother’s petition. The mother appealed.

Evidence of a Change in Circumstances

Under New York law, an order establishing custody or parental access will only be modified if the party seeking the modification establishes that there has been a change of circumstances that requires a modification to meet the best interests of the child. A court will review the entirety of the facts and circumstances presented in determining what is in a child’s best interests. Further, in determining whether to dismiss a petition for failure to establish a prima facie case, the court is required to accept the evidence presented by the petitioner as true and grant the petition every favorable inference that can be drawn from the evidence.

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Under New York law, property acquired during a marriage is considered marital property, which means that it belongs to both parties. Thus, if a couple divorces, the court will equitably distribute any marital property. In many cases, however, the parties will not only dispute what constitutes a fair division of any marital property but also whether an asset is, in fact, marital property or the separate property of one spouse. In a recent case decided by the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Department, New York, the court explained the process of determining the value of contributions to separate property during divorce. If you and your spouse intend to divorce, it is essential to retain an experienced New York divorce attorney to help you understand how any property may be divided and what steps you can take to protect your interests.

Facts of the Case

The husband and the wife married in 1999 and had four children. In 2013, the wife filed an action for divorce, and the court entered an interim order for child support and maintenance. A trial was subsequently held, after which the court issued a judgment that, in part, awarded the wife a distribution from the appreciation of the marital home, and ordered the husband to pay the wife child support and maintenance until their youngest child reached the age of eighteen. The court also found that the wife owed the husband child support, since he had sole custody of the couple’s oldest child, but stated the payment was in abeyance until the husband paid the wife maintenance that was in arrears. The court also directed the husband to pay the wife’s counsel fees. The husband appealed on several issues.

Marital Versus Separate Property

The first issue the appellate court addressed on appeal was whether the trial court erred in awarding the wife $25,000 for the appreciation of the marital home. The court stated that it is clear under New York law, equitable distribution does not mean equal, and that a trial court has substantial leeway in determining what constitutes a fair division of assets. In the subject case, the court noted that the husband purchased the marital home prior to the marriage, and it was therefore separate property that was not subject to equitable distribution.

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In many instances in which a couple with a child divorces, one spouse will be the primary income earner, while the other will be responsible for raising the child. Thus, it is not uncommon for a court to order one parent to pay child support to the other. Support obligations are not permanent, however, and can be modified under certain circumstances.  In a recent case, a New York court discussed the burden of proof imposed on a party who wishes to obtain a modification of a support obligation. If you receive or pay child support pursuant to a court order and want to seek a modification, you should meet with a New York child support attorney to discuss the evidence that you must produce to obtain a modification.

Facts and Procedure of the Case

The mother and the father divorced in 2014. The mother was granted sole custody of their only child, and the father was ordered to pay approximately $2,500.00 per month in child support. In 2018, the father sought a modification of his support obligation. In his petition, the father alleged that he was wrongfully terminated, resulting in a reduction of his income of over 15%, and that the mother’s income had increased by more than 15%. Following a hearing, the court denied the father’s petition. The father then appealed.

Proving That a Support Modification is Warranted

Under New York law, a party seeking a modification of a child support obligation must establish that there has been a significant change in circumstances that warrants a modification. In assessing whether a change in a parent’s circumstances warrants a modification of a support obligation, the court will evaluate several factors, including the child’s needs, an increase in the cost of living, a loss of income or assets of either parent, and a significant improvement in the financial situation of either parent.

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In many marriages, one spouse will hold strong religious beliefs and will provide religious guidance to any children born of the marriage, while the other spouse will not actively practice religion. Accordingly, when a couple with such differing religious beliefs decides to divorce, the issue of what religious upbringing the couple’s children will have is often a point of contention. Recently, a New York appellate court discussed what role religion should have in determining what custody arrangement is in the best interest of a child in a case involving the divorce of a mixed-faith couple. If you and your child’s co-parent have different religious beliefs, it is advisable to speak with a proficient New York child custody attorney to discuss how those beliefs may affect your custody arrangement.

Facts of the Case

Allegedly, the husband and the wife were married in 2009 and had two children shortly thereafter. The husband and the wife both practiced Hasidic Judaism when they were married, but at some point, the husband became non-religious. The couple subsequently separated, and the wife filed for divorce. The court ultimately awarded the wife sole legal custody of the children and granted the husband parental access. The court also directed the husband to attempt to only provide the children with kosher food and to make reasonable efforts to ensure that the children complied with the requirements of the Hasidic religion. The husband appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in granting the wife sole legal custody and that it was unconstitutional to impose religious obligations on him.

Religion as a Factor in Determining Custody

In any case, in which a court must determine custody, the court’s main concern is what is in the best interest of the child or children involved. The court will assess several factors in determining what is in a child’s best interest, including the health of the parents and child, which parent can better provide for the child, and if a child has existing ties to a religious community, which parent can better serve the child’s religious needs. Religion alone cannot be the determining factor in deciding a custody arrangement, however.

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In many marriages, one spouse will earn substantially more than the other, causing a disparity in income. Thus, in many cases in which spouses do not earn similar wages, the courts will order the higher-earning spouse to pay spousal maintenance. Recently, a New York appellate court discussed the factors weighed in determining whether maintenance should be paid, in a case in which the plaintiff alleged the trial court awarded an inappropriate amount. If you and your spouse earn unequal wages and you are considering filing for divorce, it is wise to consult a knowledgeable New York family law attorney to discuss whether a court is likely to impose a spousal maintenance obligation.

Factual and Procedural Background of the Case

It is reported that the husband and the wife married in 1986. During the course of the marriage, the husband, who is a dentist, opened a dental practice. The wife worked at the practice as a hygienist for most of the marriage. The couple also formed an LLC to purchased commercial real estate. In March 2009, however, the wife filed a divorce lawsuit. A bench trial was ultimately held on the issues of spousal maintenance and the equitable distribution of marital property. At the conclusion, the court granted the wife spousal maintenance in the amount of $50.00 per week, from the date the action was instituted until March 2014, and divided the couple’s property.

Allegedly, the wife subsequently filed a motion to set aside the parts of the court’s decision pertaining to spousal support. The court denied the motion on the grounds that the majority of the arguments in the motion relied on evidence not introduced at trial. The wife then appealed.

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