Use Will to Appoint Guardian for Minor Children

On August 6, 2012, in Estate planning, by John A. Weber IV, ESQ.

Use Will to Appoint Guardian

Use will to appoint guardian for your minor children.

It’s hard to plan for the worst, but failing to do so may only make things harder.  When drafting a will, it is all too easy to imagine that it will only be used when our children are grown, perhaps with families of their own. But thinking this way may cause us to focus too narrowly on deciding who gets our property.  What if things don’t happen according to this timeline?  What if you die before your children are able to take care of themselves?  Who will care for them?  Who would you like to make this decision – yourself or a court?

New York’s Domestic Relations Law allows parents to use wills to appoint guardians for their minor children.  Guardians can be appointed to take physical custody of children, and to look after the finances and assets that are left to those children.  Further, parents can choose a different guardian for each of these tasks – one to look after the child, one to administer the child’s finances.  When a guardian is appointed, courts will generally respect the parent’s decision (although a court could find that the guardian is unfit).  However, if a parent doesn’t appoint a guardian, the court will make this decision itself.  If you feel uncomfortable about leaving such a decision in the hands of a court, The Law Firm of Vaughn and Weber can help you draft a will that appoints a guardian for your child.

If you have questions about this or other legal issues, call The Law Firm of Vaughn, Weber & Prakope, PLLC at (516) 858-2620 to schedule a free consultation.

Child Custody and Sexual Orientation

On July 26, 2012, in Divorce, Family Law, by John A. Weber IV, ESQ.

Child Custody and Sexual Orientation

Although Same-Sex partnerships have finally gained approval by the New York State Legislature, unique family law and child custody issues still arise in this context.  The first sentence of Section 110 of the Domestic Relations Law provides that “An adult unmarried person, an adult married couple together, or any two unmarried adult intimate partners together may adopt another person.” Section 117 of the Domestic Relations Law severs all legal ties between adoptive children and their birth families, and gives them the same legal status, with regard to their adoptive families, as birth children.   This much is relatively straightforward. Homosexual couples can adopt children together. And when they do, they are entitled to the same rights as heterosexual couples.

But family law issues between same sex couples and children can easily become more complicated. One famous New York case is exemplary. In Matter of Alison D. v. Virginia M., 77 N.Y.2d 651, (1991), a same-sex couple decided to have a child. The child was conceived (through artificial insemination) before, but born after the couple’s Vermont marriage. The couple cared for the child as married parents for two and a half years, sharing childcare expenses, including the mortgage on the family’s house, until the relationship ended. When the couple separated, the birth mother kept physical custody of the child, and eventually ended contact with the non-birth parent. The non-birth parent petitioned the court for shared custody. Despite the fact that both parties shared the child’s expenses, and that the couple intended to treat the couple as their child, the court held that the non-birth mother did not have standing to petition for custody.

The court reached this conclusion because the Domestic Relations Law only gives parents, siblings, and grandparents standing to petition for the custody of a child. In New York, individuals do not become parents simply by marriage. In all but extraordinary circumstances, individuals must adopt their spouse’s children before they will have standing to petition the court for custody of those children. As recently as 2010, the Court of Appeals has reaffirmed its position that only the legislature can extend the the categories of people that can petition for custody. (See Debra H. v. Janice R., 14 N.Y.3d 576.)

Courts once viewed same-sex conduct as a reason to deny custody to parents. If a different-sex couple divorced, and one partner subsequently entered into a same-sex relationship, courts would tend to award custody to the other partner. (Although courts always considered a variety of factors, this factor weighed heavily toward denying custody.) However, since courts began to recognize same-sex marriages in other states, and especially now that same-sex marriage has been legalized in New York, the same-sex conduct of an individual only becomes relevant to a custody determination in situations in which different-sex conduct would be relevant – that is, where a parent’s sexual conduct threatens the well-being of a child, regardless of the sex of the partner.

Individuals in same-sex relationships – or different-sex relationships, for that matter – that want to secure custodial rights to a child should seriously consider adoption. Nevertheless, there are exceptional circumstances in which non-parents can petition for custodial rights to a child.

Long Island Divorce Attorneys

If you have any questions regarding the effect of sexual orientation on custody determinations, and would like to set up a free consultation with an attorney, call the Law Firm of Vaughn, Weber & Prakope, PLLC at 516-858-2620 today!

Divorce and Temporary Maintenance Awards

On May 3, 2012, in Divorce, Family Law, by John A. Weber IV, ESQ.

Temporary Maintenance Awards During Divorce.

Divorce actions can take years to resolve. During the course of a long proceeding, a financially dependent spouse, suddenly cut off from the other spouse’s support, may have a hard time making ends meet, even though that spouse should (and will eventually) be awarded support payments from the wealthier spouse. New York law allows a remedy for such situations. Courts may order a wealthy spouse to make payments to a financially dependent spouse until the divorce action is resolved and more permanent payments are determined. Such a payment is called “temporary maintenance,” and is calculated according to a formula set out in New York’s Domestic Relations Law.

Generally, the formula is as follows: 20% of the dependent spouse’s yearly income is subtracted from 30% of the wealthier spouse’s yearly income (up to a statutorily determined cap of $500,000). Then, the dependent spouse’s yearly income is subtracted from 40% of both spouse’s combined yearly income (again, a $500,000 cap is applied to the wealthier spouse’s income). The temporary maintenance award will be the lower of these two numbers.

For example, assume that the wealthier spouse’s income is $100 per year, and the dependent spouse’s income is $50 per year. 20% of the less wealthy spouse’s income ($10) is subtracted from 30% of the wealthier spouse’s income ($30). The result is $20. Then, the less wealthy spouse’s income ($50) is subtracted from 40% of the spouses’ combined income. The spouses’ combined income is $150. 40% of $150 = $60. Subtracting $50 (the less wealthy spouse’s income) from $60 (40% of the spouses’ combined income) leaves $10. The temporary maintenance award will be the lower of these two numbers – $10. This amount is the temporary maintenance payment the wealthier spouse would be ordered to pay the dependent spouse in this situation, until the divorce action is resolved. The court may order different amounts in certain high income cases, or take into account other factors as is it sees fit.

If you are considering initiating a divorce action or are already involved in a divorce action, and would like to speak with an attorney, The Law Firm of Vaughn & Weber, PLLC is here to assist you.   Call (516) 858-2620 to speak with a Family Law Attorney today!

*Contributions to the research and preparation of this blog were made by Jason Mays, J.D. (awaiting admission in NYS).

Amidst all of the emotions that a divorce case brings to the forefront, there are certain details that need to be respected.  One of these details is often met with hesitation.  That would be compulsory financial disclosure required by New York Domestic Relations Law.  Clients seem to be very curious as to how far they can push this requirement without complying.  It need only be said that failure to comply with required financial disclosure can result in penalties under CPLR §3126.  Such penalties can result in having equitable distribution issues resolved in favor of the other party; the Court prohibiting you from being allowed to introduce certain relevant financial evidence necessary to support your case; or even dismissal.  Although it can be tedious to complete the disclosure paperwork, it is still better than losing your share of the marital assets for failing to comply.  If you have any questions regarding this matter or need assistance with a divorce in general, please call 516-858-2620 to speak to a Divorce Attorney today!


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