In a highly-connected world of Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Tik Tok, family locators and smart phones, the reality of being tracked with every move you make is all too real.  This is even more real for victims of domestic violence who as part of their safety planning must and should consider technology safety.  The goal of this article is to identify tech safety tips that can help prevent abusers from accessing victim accounts, tracking victim locations, and monitoring victim devices.  While this post is a good starting point for recently separated victims, we caution our readers that this list is not all-exhaustive and strongly suggest that any victim speak with a trained domestic-violence advocate about safety planning and other available resources to assist with leaving an abusive relationship.

1. Implement All Safety Tips From a New Computer and Delete your Browsing History

It is strongly suggested that the implementation of these safety tips occurs by utilizing a trusted computer of a family member or friend.  If a family member or friend cannot help implement these tips, then it is suggested that the victim utilize a computer at a local public library or community center.  In addition, if an individual is reaching out for help or resources, including visiting websites that contain safety planning resources, utilizing a different computer is essential.

Individuals should also get in the habit of deleting their browsing history, which can be done from any Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge or Safari browser.  In addition, you can initiate a private mode in Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge or Safari browsers.

Finally, if you are protecting your computer and browsing history, you should be staying safe on your cell phone as well.  Make sure you are aware of all applications (“apps”) that are downloaded on your phone.  An unknown application could be a monitoring program that was installed without your knowledge or consent. New York City has Family Justice Centers which assist individuals with a phone security check.  Additionally, you could restore your phone to factory settings in order to remove any installed monitoring programs.

2. Change all Passwords, PINS, and Security Questions

All passwords, PIN numbers and security questions should be changed including those for your Wi-Fi account.  Make sure that you use multiple passwords instead of the same password for all accounts.  Also, with security questions it might be best to have random answers or to mix up answers. For instance, if the question asks for your childhood best friend instead of putting your childhood best friend’s name, you should list the name of your favorite band.  Then, when the question is asked for the name of your favorite band, you can list the name of your childhood best friend.  Either way, be mindful of the answers you select.

Touch ID features to lock your devices can be helpful as they make it harder for someone to access your accounts or install a tracking program without your knowledge.

3. Create New Email Accounts, Turn off Location Sharing and Turn off Bluetooth

 If leaving a relationship will result in interaction with the legal system, new email accounts should utilized. One email should be for all legal related matters and should be provided to the Court system and your attorney for service of court documents.  There should also be a second account used for all other non-law related purposes.  You should never leave your email account logged-in on any device.

Access the settings of your smartphone and turn off location sharing.  You can also utilize airplane mode or turn off your phone if you will be accessing a location where you are seeking safety.

Finally, you should not connect your device to Bluetooth as it can cause your calls to be intercepted.  You should only have Bluetooth on when you need to connect to another device, like a printer or hands free in your car. Be mindful of automatic connections via Bluetooth.

4. Secure Your Cell Phone

 If you do not purchase a new cell phone, make sure that your wireless carrier account is completely secure.  Your online carrier account has access to your call and text logs and may provide access to email or social media accounts, Google Play, Apple App Store or iCloud accounts.  As indicated above, you should change all passwords, PINS and security questions to secure your cell phone.

5. Be Vigilant for Electronic Devices

Cameras, audio devices and trackers can be added to everyday items. Do not accept toys or items from your abuser.

This article incorporates and relies on data made available from the New York City Domestic Violence Hope Project, which is available at NYC Domestic Violence Hope Project .

Marissa Pullano focuses her practice on all aspects of matrimonial and family law, including contested proceedings regarding the equitable distribution of substantial real property and assets, child support and spousal maintenance, paternity, custody and access, and order modification and enforcement. Marissa believes that all clients deserve significant attention as they navigate the court system. She strives to achieve resolutions that minimize conflict, but acts as a zealous advocate on behalf of her clients in the courtroom when litigation cannot be avoided.  She can be reached at mpullano@jaspanllp.com or (516) 393-8297.

 

The Matrimonial and Family Law Group at Jaspan Schlesinger proudly joins the nation in recognizing October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month (“DVAM”).  Once just a “Day of Unity” beginning in 1981, the entire month of October is recognized as Domestic Violence Awareness Month in New York and across the nation.

As we recognize Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we will be updating our blog with relevant and timely information and resources regarding Domestic Violence and the interplay with matrimonial and family law.

 

I remember sitting in my Family Law class in law school and listening to the professor discussing the distinction between marital property (property acquired during the marriage) and pre-marital property (property acquired by parties individually prior to any marriage). I found myself questioning how many people actually contemplate their legal rights while in the throes of love. My answer, you may ask, after over a decade of work in the divorce arena? Not many.  There are a few reasons why. Reason number one: most people spend more time planning their wedding than contemplating the day-to-day mechanics of marriage (ya know, the boring stuff) and reason number two: Shakespeare was right when in Henry VI, Part 2, Act IV, Scene 2 he wrote, “First, Let’s Kill all the Lawyers.”  But I digress.

The reality is that more and more of the millennial generation is waiting longer to get married. And, when millennials do get married, they are more likely to have both assets and debt.  The below list of things to consider before you say “I Do” are derived from over a decade of being a matrimonial attorney.  Every so often I say “my goodness, I have seen everything”– and then another client comes in and tells me a story that is even more unbelievable than the last.  My main point, above all else, is to give your full time, attention and contemplation to the mechanics of marriage before you spend even a second lamenting about what will be served at your Viennese hour (post COVID-19, of course). And, if you’re questioning just what exactly a Viennese hour is, you’re not from Long Island.

  1. Discuss your respective finances.

Buckle up friends! Finances matter. You should have a clear understanding of your prospective spouse’s debt (ahem, student loans and pesky credit card debt).  It is not unreasonable to ask about your prospective spouse’s credit score. Thinking of buying a house together? Your spouse’s credit card score will determine if financing can be secured.

Finances are even more important when you are marrying someone that has been married before.  Consider that person’s payment of maintenance or child support and do not be afraid to ask about how that will affect your new household’s budget.  Each party should be fully aware of what it costs to run your joint household, and what each party will take from the income earned during the marriage to pay down debt from before the marriage. These discussions matter and I am truly shocked at the number of times a person has sat across from me and disclosed that he or she was not aware of the depth of their spouse’s debt or lack of credit.

  1. Discuss your spending habits.

If you are a spender and your spouse is a saver, these discussions must occur prior to walking down the aisle.  It is suggested that you consider your long-term financial goals and determine what your five (5) and ten (10) year plans are. It might even be worth sitting down with a certified financial planner to consider how to move forward together to meet your financial goals.  Again, it is important to consider how a person’s spending habits can affect the dynamics of a relationship, especially if the spender will also leave the work force to raise a child or children, which leads me to my next item.

  1. Discuss children and raising a family.

I am consistently amazed at young people that seek out an uncontested divorce when they realize that a spouse is not on the same page with respect to starting a family. Whether a person wants to become a parent is a monumental and life-altering decision that should occur before rings are exchanged in my humble opinion, or IMHO for all you millennials. One should also consider infertility, and the possibilities of surrogacy or adoption. These hard but necessary discussions will put you and your partner on the same page if, and when, you are faced with any of these circumstances.

  1. Consider a Pre-Nuptial Agreement.

A Pre-Nuptial Agreement is a perfect avenue to discuss finances, spending, and children. It is also an incredible opportunity for individuals to exchange financial data and information in order to reach an agreement that meets their future financial goals and provides security in the event that the relationship deteriorates. A Pre-Nuptial Agreement does not need to be a scary circumstance where one person seeks a strategic advantage over the other.  With the assistance of a lawyer, it can be an amicable way for spouses to develop a joint plan for the most important aspects of their life together.

Marissa Pullano focuses her practice on all aspects of matrimonial and family law, including contested proceedings regarding the equitable distribution of substantial real property and assets, child support and spousal maintenance, paternity, custody and access, and order modification and enforcement. She also has experience drafting prenuptial, postnuptial and separation agreements. Marissa believes that all clients deserve significant attention as they navigate the court system. She strives to achieve resolutions that minimize conflict, but acts as a zealous advocate on behalf of her clients in the courtroom when litigation cannot be avoided.  She can be reached at mpullano@jaspanllp.com or (516) 393-8297.

 

 

 

 

 

Contested child custody cases are among the most difficult cases set before a judicial system. This is largely because the attorneys and judges steering the proverbial “ship” are not mental health practitioners.  Additionally, the dynamics of each family unit vary greatly. Clients often want to know if their child’s expressed wishes will matter to a court. This blog will examine the current status of the law regarding a child’s express preferences.

The Multi-Faceted Best Interests Test

In order to determine the best interests of the child, the court may take into consideration a variety of factors, including the child’s wishes. However, a child’s wishes are not determinative, as it is but one factor a court may consider in determining whether to allow visitation. In fact, a court may issue a decision that is the complete opposite of the express wishes of the child.

In a recent First Department case, In re Byron M. v. Sasha A[i], the court upheld an award of three (3) therapeutic supervised visitation sessions between the father and the child; despite the child’s express wishes to the contrary. The court found that “[w]hile the child’s wishes are some indication of what is in her best interests and ‘are entitled to great weight,’ those expressed wishes are only one factor to be considered and do not dictate a certain result in determining the best interests of the child.”[ii] There was no evidence before the court that the child would be in any physical danger or that the visitation would produce serious emotional strain of disturbance to the child.

A Child’s Age and Maturity Matter

A court will also consider the child’s age and maturity when assessing the weight of the child’s wishes. The preference of a young child to not have visitation with a parent will be taken into consideration, but is not dispositive. In contrast, a teenager’s preference to not have visitation with a parent, while still not dispositive has been held to carry great weight as a teenager is more mature making his or her input particularly meaningful.

For example, in Matter of Susan LL. v. Victor LL[iii], an eight (8) year child expressed his opposition to having visitation with his father. The court noted that “[t]he preference of this relatively young child to have no visitation with the father is a factor to be taken into account in determining his best interests, but is not dispositive.”[iv] The court, despite the child’s wishes, upheld the denial of the mother’s modification petition seeking suspension of the father’s visitation. In contrast, in Matter of Coull v. Rottman[v], the court upheld a suspension of the father’s visitation where, inter alia, the thirteen (13) year old child was vehemently opposed to any form of visitation with the father. The court noted that “while the express wishes of the child are not controlling, they are entitled to great weight, particularly where the child’s age and maturity would make his or her input particularly meaningful.”[vi]

While it must be noted that other factors were also taken into consideration in determining whether to suspend visitation in these cases, it is clear that a child’s wishes will be given great weight, especially when the child is a teenager with the maturity to express his or her wishes.

Be Informed – Seek Guidance from Your Attorney

It is always best to consult with your attorney who can give case-specific advice with respect to your legal matter. We encourage you to do so.  The material in this blog is meant only to provide general information and is not a substitute nor is it legal advice to you. Readers of this article should seek specific legal advice from legal counsel of their choice. In the event that you need legal assistance regarding matrimonial and/or family law matters, please contact Marissa Pullano at mpullano@jaspanllp.com or (516) 393-8297 or Samantha Guido at sguido@jaspanllp.com or (516) 393-8250.

[i] 2020 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 2262, 2020 NY Slip Op 02243 (1st Dep’t April 9, 2020).

[ii] Id. at *2 (internal citations omitted), citing Melissa C.D. v. Rene I.D., 117 A.D.3d 407, 408 (1st Dep’t 2014).

[iii] 88 A.D.3d 1116 (3d Dep’t 2011).

[iv] Id. at 1119.

[v] 131 A.D.3d 964 (2d Dep’t 2015).

[vi] Id.

[1] 2020 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 2262, 2020 NY Slip Op 02243 (1st Dep’t April 9, 2020).

[1] Id. at *2 (internal citations omitted), citing Melissa C.D. v. Rene I.D., 117 A.D.3d 407, 408 (1st Dep’t 2014).

[1] 88 A.D.3d 1116 (3d Dep’t 2011).

[1] Id. at 1119.

One question almost every divorce attorney has received from their female client is, “When I can go back to using my maiden name?” Well, the answer is, once the final judgment or decree in your divorce case is entered. Under the law, it is mandatory that a final judgment or decree contain a provision that “each party may resume the use of his or her premarriage surname or any other former surname.” However, it is important to note that this provision only applies to New York divorce decrees. In other words, if you have an out-of-state divorce decree, you cannot get a New York court to add this decretal paragraph.

In a 1979 case out of Orange County, the court was faced with exactly this issue. The petitioner sought to amend a Santo Domingo divorce decree to provide an additional decretal paragraph authorizing her to resume the use of her maiden name. However, the court denied her application finding that the Legislature only intended DRL § 240-a to apply to New York divorce decrees.

So what does this all mean? Basically, if you are getting a divorce in New York, you will have the ability (but you are not obligated) to revert back to using your maiden name once the court enters the final judgment or decree.

Jaspan Schlesinger is committed to helping our clients make their way through this very trying time. Our offices are open and we are monitoring the courthouse operations and are available via email, phone, or video-conferencing to answer your questions and concerns. The material in this blog is meant only to provide general information and is not a substitute nor is it legal advice to you. Readers of this article should seek specific legal advice from legal counsel of their choice. In the event that you need legal assistance regarding matrimonial and/or family law matters, please contact Samantha Guido at sguido@jaspanllp.com or (516) 393-8250

Divorce is quite possibly the hardest and most exhausting journey an individual will embark upon.  In the profession, divorce attorneys state that we see “good people at their worst.” I often encounter individuals languishing in pain due to destructive relationships that seem to strip their lives of joy and, most important to the divorce process, rational thought. I don’t mean to sound harsh but, in a typical high conflict divorce, tensions tend to run extremely high and runaway emotions cause people to make poor decisions that they often later regret.  The purpose of this blog post is to provide some examples of behavior to avoid during your divorce.

1. Do not read your spouse’s email. 

Please “for the love of God and all that is holy” (to quote my Grandmother) DO NOT READ YOUR SPOUSE’S EMAIL. I do not care if your spouse at one time gave you his or her password, or gave you consent to read their email.  FYI – The divorce filing revokes that consent. I do not care if they got a new device and didn’t disable the iCloud.  I do not care if they left their password in the browser and all you have to do is simply log-in by the stroke of the enter key.  Auto-populated passwords do not give you carte blanche authority to go on a fishing expedition.  I repeat that none of these reasons are acceptable situations to break the law. Yes, you read that correctly. Reading your spouse’s email by hacking into their account is illegal.

Additionally, those precious emails that you care so much about can be legitimately requested and obtained by your lawyer through the discovery process. If you decide to go on your mission and break the law, my job is infinitely harder and those precious but wrongfully obtained emails will never see the light of day.  It may be tempting but, please, step away from the computer and consult your attorney.

2. Do not post about your life on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or TikTok.

Not only is your TikTok activity being fed to the Chinese government (allegedly), in the divorce world it is evidence. So, again, please step away from the computer and get your social media accounts under control.  Emotional posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or TikTok, do nothing to further your case and, in fact, hand ammunition over to your adversary.  Why would you give your adversary bullets with which to shoot you? Only an individual whose judgment is impaired because of emotional turmoil would do such a thing. Find your friends in real life and ask them to meet you at a socially distant location, wear your mask (these are COVID times) and vent about all the woes. I’m serious. None of your emotions should be on display on any social media account.

3. Do not value another person’s experience over your lawyer’s advice.

Once you enter the divorce arena, everybody, and I mean everybody, suddenly has an opinion about the process.  There is a time and place for all information and, just like any other facet of your life, information gathering is essential in divorce. However, valuing the advice of your Aunt Gertrude’s best friend’s mother’s sister’s daughter’s divorce attorney in Tuscaloosa, Alabama over the advice of your attorney is an absurd proposition that you should seriously reconsider.

It is important at all stages of the divorce process that you regularly remember what your goals are and focus on how you can best achieve these goals.  In some circumstances, you will need to make concessions in order to reach your goals. Do not be afraid to place your goals and what may work for your family over what society measures a “victory,” or what someone else may (note the italics) tell you they somehow pulled off in their case.  Sometimes you have to roll the dice, and other times you need to make appropriate concessions. At the end of the day, this is your life and you are in the driver’s seat. Drive carefully and don’t value another person’s experience over your lawyer’s advice.

Marissa Pullano focuses her practice on all aspects of matrimonial and family law, including contested proceedings regarding the equitable distribution of substantial real property and assets, child support and spousal maintenance, paternity, custody and access, and order modification and enforcement. Marissa believes that all clients deserve significant attention as they navigate the court system. She strives to achieve resolutions that minimize conflict, but acts as a zealous advocate on behalf of her clients in the courtroom when litigation cannot be avoided.  She can be reached at mpullano@jaspanllp.com or (516) 393-8297.

 

Divorcing parties and their attorneys take great care to reach a realistic valuation as to real property – hardly an easy feat.

What constitutes a realistic valuation for real property has, however, become even more difficult gauge in light of the pandemic, and legislation passed in response thereto.

In the early days of the lockdown, many homes were pulled off the market, with homeowners in certain states wary of (and in other states, including New York, unable to) host open houses.

Now, with certain of those same states entering into phased reopening and with a second stimulus bill on the table, there is talk of legislation that would lift the SALT Tax Cap, potentially driving another big shift in housing markets in New York and other high-income states.

What Is the SALT Tax and to Whom is it Relevant?

The SALT deduction is a tax provision that allows taxpayers who itemize their taxes to write off state and local taxes, including property taxes.

This much is nothing new. In fact, ability to deduct nearly all state and local taxes was part of the federal income tax code when it was first created, in 1913.

In certain states where property taxes range into the tens of thousands, the SALT deduction was, for many years, a significant source of savings for homeowners.

What Is the SALT Tax Cap?

In January 2018, the SALT deduction was eliminated by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Republican-backed legislation that capped state and local deductions at $10,000 for all SALT income, property, and sales taxes combined.

Previously, there was no limit.

For many residents of high-income states like New York, which on average take high deductions for state and local taxes, the change was significant, and there was great concern about how the new cap on deductions would affect residential property sales.

How Might the Pandemic Impact New York’s SALT Tax Cap?

On May 15, 2020, the House passed the HEROES Act, the $3 trillion dollar follow up to this year’s first stimulus bill, the CARES Act. Among the many provisions therein is one that would suspend the SALT Tax Cap entirely for two years. With the Cap suspended, houses in areas with high property taxes become more marketable, since potential buyers can use the deduction to offset the financial impact of their purchase.

Before it becomes law, however, the HEROES Act must make its way through the Senate where, it is widely speculated, the two-year suspension of the SALT Tax Cap will be removed. Although many believe suspension of the Cap would provide the housing market with a much-needed boost, others see it as yet another tax break for the wealthy. More importantly, the states that would benefit most (those with the highest property taxes) are largely “blue” states, and the Republican-controlled Senate is in no rush to come to their aid.

Accordingly, it remains to be seen how the housing market will respond to the pandemic, and whether or to what extent legislation, such as the SALT Tax Cap and proposed suspension thereof, may impact that response. In the meantime, divorcing couples and others in New York looking to value their homes face as much, if not more, uncertainty than ever.

While New York State may slowly be “reopening,” New York courts continue to operate almost exclusively on a virtual basis. As a result, the Covid-19 Pandemic continues to impact the courts decisions in matrimonial cases. One example of Covid-19’s continued impact is highlighted in a recent case out of New York Supreme Court entitled Chu v. Lin.

In Chu v. Lin, Justice Matthew Cooper opened his decision with recognition to New York State courts commitment and ability to continue operations on a virtual platform. However, he further highlighted the difficulties that come with operating on such a platform, especially in high conflict matrimonial cases such as Chu v. Lin, where the conflict between the parties was only further incensed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The plaintiff-father filed two separate applications due to the defendant-mother’s failure to comply with various court orders. The first application was brought seeking to compel the defendant-mother to comply with the parental access schedule that the court had put in place as well as compel the defendant-mother to vacate the former marital residence in order to effectuate the closing of the home in accordance with a previous so-ordered stipulation. The second application brought by the plaintiff-father sought to hold the defendant-mother in contempt for her failure to abide by the courts previous orders.

The court, through the virtual platform and without the need to hold a virtual evidentiary hearing, was able to resolve the issue of parental access during the Covid-19 pandemic in order to restore the plaintiff-father’s access to his children. However, the court found its ability to enforce the parties’ so-ordered stipulation and force the defendant-mother to vacate the martial residence in the middle of a pandemic to be a more challenging decision.

The court noted that the parties had previously entered into the so-ordered stipulation whereby they agreed to put the marital residence, their only marital asset, on the market as the parties lacked the financial means to continue to pay the mortgage and the carrying charges. In accordance with the so-ordered stipulation, the parties placed the marital residence on the market and later entered into a contract of sale with a third party purchaser, which required the home be vacant at the time of the closing. Despite the contract of sale and the various postponements of the closing date, the defendant-mother refused to vacate the marital residence, which was placing the closing in jeopardy and both the parties at risk to be sued for damages from the third-party purchasers.

While the court acknowledged that the defendant had in fact violated a lawful court order and that her actions had prejudiced the rights of plaintiff, Justice Cooper stated, “it strikes me as highly problematic, and perhaps even impermissible, to conduct a virtual hearing in a proceeding that could result in defendant being sentenced to jail.” The court identified an array of issues in holding a virtual contempt hearing including, but not limited to, the impossibility of the defendant’s need for a Mandarin interpreter to take place over Skype for Business, the inability of attorneys and clients to converse privately and the courts inability to control the virtual “courtroom” in the same manner he would if this proceeding was able to be held in person. The court noted that a contempt proceeding “is far too serious a proceeding to operate under these less than optimum conditions.”

In addition to finding a virtual contempt hearing problematic, the court also stated that the potential of the defendant being sent to jail as a result of a contempt finding was problematic. The plaintiff had requested that the defendant be sent to jail until she abide by the court’s order and vacate the former marital residence. However, the court stated “it would be unthinkable to incarcerate anybody for an offense like this during the COVID-19 outbreak, with the serious threat of infection rendered even more acute by the inevitable conditions of incarceration.” The court further highlighted the effort being made to decrease the population of the jails not increase the population.

The court further denied the plaintiff’s request to compel the defendant to vacate the former marital residence. The court noted that it was reluctant to force defendant out of the former marital residence as the defendant claimed that she and the parties’ children would end up in the streets in the middle of a pandemic. Regardless of whether the court found the defendant’s claims to be truthful, the court, pursuant to Executive order 202.8, found that it was unable to evict the defendant from the premises.

Although the Covid-19 pandemic influenced the court’s finding that a contempt proceeding was impossible and that the defendant could not be forced out of the former marital residence, the court found that the defendant could be held financially accountable for her behavior. As such, court held that the plaintiff’s share of the proceeds would be increased and the defendant’s share would be decreased in accordance with whatever loss in the selling price was attributable to defendant preventing the closing from taking place on April 20, 2020. The court further found that defendant would be solely liable for all damages sought by the purchaser or any other aggrieved third party due to her refusal to vacate the residence.

In closing, the court stated, “[w]hatever the virtues of virtual justice, I remain convinced that a case such as this is better suited for disposition in an old-fashioned, brick and mortar courthouse.”

Jaspan Schlesinger is committed to helping our clients make their way through this very trying time. Our offices are monitoring the courthouse operations and are available via email, phone, or video-conferencing to answer your questions and concerns. The material in this blog is meant only to provide general information and is not a substitute nor is it legal advice to you. Readers of this article should seek specific legal advice from legal counsel of their choice. In the event that you need legal assistance, please contact Hanna E. Kirkpatrick at hkirkpatrick@jaspanllp.com or (516) 393-8259 or Samantha M. Guido at sguido@jaspanllp.com or (516) 393-8250.

In my blog last week, I noted how quickly developments concerning the operations of New York courts have been occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic.  In fact, I concluded by noting that, on May 18, 2020, several upstate court houses would open and operate under strict safety precautions.

Just days later, downstate attorneys and litigants received they news they have been waiting for: beginning on May 25, 2020, by administrative order of the Chief Administrative Judge, courts in the New York Metropolitan area (including Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties) will permit the commencement of new non-essential cases by electronic filing only. Although court houses in the region remain closed, this is an important step towards the resumption of the judicial system’s normal operations.

It is important that the new guidelines are understood by all interested stakeholders. For all downstate court houses still shuttered by the virus, all new case filings by parties who are represented by counsel must be made through the court’s electronic filing system, or “ECF” as it is known to practitioners. If a party is unrepresented (i.e., pro se) they can opt to file, serve and be served with papers through non-electronic means. By making this alternative permissive rather than mandatory, it appears pro se litigants or parties that have not yet retained counsel can register to file and receive papers through ECF.

Despite this move towards digitizing litigation, it remains the case that a defendant must be served with a summons and complaint through personal service within 120 days of the electronic filing of the new matter. However, the defendant’s attorney may agree to accept service, by electronic means or otherwise, on behalf of his or her client.

For matters that are already pending and were not considered e-filing cases prior to the pandemic, the rules set out in my previous blog still stand. Specifically, both parties must file through the court’s electronic delivery system (EDDS) a consent to utilize the ECF system in order for the case to be converted to an e-filing case.

It is clearly possible, if not likely, that additional changes will be forthcoming. We will continue to keep our clients and colleagues apprised of developments in real-time.

If you have any questions about the commencement of a new matter or the impact of these changes on a pending matter, please contact me at jlebowitz@jaspanllp.com.

Divorce causes not only emotional turmoil but places financial strain on parties that they are often not prepared for. Divorce is also a costly endeavor and parties may make financial mistakes that end up costing them more in the long run.

The commencement of a divorce action triggers what is known as “automatic orders”. The purpose of the automatic orders is to preserve the marital estate and to avoid disposing of assets during the pendency of a divorce action.

With these “automatic orders” as our guiding posts in divorce litigation, I have outlined below four (4) key money mistakes not to make in your divorce action.

1. Do Not Dispose of Property
The automatic orders prohibit individuals from disposing of property, whether held individually or in joint names, in any manner absent agreement of both parties in writing. While this may sound simple enough, property is an all-encompassing term. The term property, includes, but is not limited to, real estate, personal property, stocks, bank accounts, mutual funds, boats and cars.

However, there is an exception to this rule. Parties may “dispose” of property if it is being done in the usual course of business, if you are simply paying for household expenses or if you need to pay for attorney’s fees in connection with your pending divorce action. The exception to the general rule that you are not to dispose of property has a number of gray areas. Thus, it is best to consult with legal counsel if you are considering of disposing of any property.

2. Do Not Touch Retirement Funds
A divorce action has the potential to cause financial strain on parties. Individuals may wish to dip into their retirement funds as a way to ease this financial strain. Aside from the penalties and tax consequences that may occur, the automatic orders prohibit parties from encumbering, assigning, withdrawing, transferring or disposing of retirement funds in any manner.

3. Do Not Incur Debt in Joint Names
Once the divorce action is commenced, parties should not incur any unreasonable debts. Specifically, parties should not be taking a line of credit against the martial residence or further encumbering assets in any manner. Moreover, parties should not incur unnecessary credit card debt.

As with disposing of property, there is a general exception that parties may incur debt in the normal course of business, for usual or customary household expenses or to pay reasonable attorney’s fees in connection with their pending divorce action.

4. Do Not Change any Insurance Benefits
This rule is straightforward. Do not change any insurance benefits. This includes life insurance, health insurance, dental insurance, car insurance, homeowners insurance or any other insurance policies that were in place prior to the commencement of the divorce action. One thing parties often attempt to change is their life insurance beneficiary. However, this is a violation of the automatic orders and is prohibited. Additionally, if you carried your spouse on your health insurance benefits prior to the commencement of the divorce action you are required to maintain that policy.

Violating the automatic orders may result in a contempt application being made by your spouse, causing you to incur legal fees that could have and should have been avoided. As such, it is imperative you consult with an experienced attorney regarding the automatic orders and your compliance with them.

The material in this blog is meant only to provide general information and is not a substitute nor is it legal advice to you. If you have specific questions regarding this article or general questions regarding your divorce, Hanna Kirkpatrick may be reached at 516-393-8259 or by e-mail at hkirkpatrick@jaspanllp.com.