How to get a divorce in New York

Whether you live in New York City, Westchester County, Rockland, Buffalo or Albany, getting divorced in the State of New York is a specific feat. As with every locality, there are certain elements of the process that are particular to New York.

 

While the fundamental legal concerns of a divorcing couple look the same wherever you go, I have found that as a divorce lawyer and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst based in New York, there are elements of the process that are specific only to New York.

Some Frequently Asked Questions include:

How can I protect my finances?

When it comes to a division of finances in New York, the focus is equitable division. The most effective measures you can take to protect your finances come before there is any trouble in paradise.

Those who have worked with me know how zealously I promote the utilization of prenups and sometimes after the marriage, postnups. But if you are seeking help protecting your finances at the end of a marriage, you may not have taken those initial or interim measures. That’s okay!

There are still productive steps you can take to make sure your money and other assets are safe. The most important thing you can do when preparing for a divorce is make sure you are familiar with every aspect of your and your spouse’s finances. Overall, there are three financial areas you need a clear understanding of prior to embarking on a divorce: Income/debt, expenses, both current and anticipated, and most important, assets and liabilities.

Here are a few tips to get started:

  • Carefully review your family’s most recent tax return. This will be a good place to start if you do not have a clear understanding of your family’s financial picture. Your tax return should provide information about income as well as some information about your assets.
  • If your spouse has been the one dealing with the family’s financials, you may not be aware of outstanding debt. One way to get a full accounting of what you owe is to run a credit report.
  • Make a list! Make sure to account for all of your and your children’s monthly expenses. A complete understanding will help inform both the payor and payee parent of how much child support is necessary to support the child(ren) without disrupting their lifestyle. Write up a second list for future expenses.
  • Take a breath, and then take your time getting a good sense of your true financial picture before taking the next step.

How do I safeguard my children’s mental and emotional health during this process?

The safeguarding of your children’s mental and emotional health will undoubtedly take priority during the divorce process. As parents, you know your children better than any lawyer or advisor, so there is no one road map that will suit every family. Consider how your child might respond to the circumstances. And although each family is different, there are a few actions parents can take that are almost always beneficial to the child and to the family as a whole.

Measures you can take to protect your children:

  • Be sure to keep communication as open and honest as possible. Create an environment in which your child feels he/she can express feelings truthfully, even when those feelings might be uncomfortable or difficult for you to hear.
  • Consult a professional. This is a step I always recommend to my clients with children. An objective, trained third party can be invaluable when emotions get high and pressure inadvertently falls on a child. Even in amicable separations, a safe space for your child to unpack their feelings is a good idea.
  • When it comes to your child’s well-being, try to keep your feelings about the divorce separate from theirs. That means remembering that your child’s therapist is not your It means trying not to bad-mouth the other parent in front of them, and being open to family therapy with your co-parent, should it be helpful to your child.
Mother reading with child

These suggestions are easier said than done, especially when tensions rise. But the way you choose to handle your divorce proceedings can affect your child’s mental and emotional well-being long term. Whether that is for better or for worse is up to you and your co-parent.

How can I protect my privacy?

As we all become much more aware of what we do and don’t share publicly, it can be beneficial to take the same caution during a divorce proceeding. A spouse may be someone we once trusted with private information- information you may not want aired in a courtroom or in public. When custody is at issue, those private issues could be raised by the other parent. Remember: mental and medical health records can often be disclosed during custody proceedings as a means of determining fitness as a parent.

Here a couple of steps you can take to protect your information:

  • If you are a parent who is being asked to provide confidential information, ensure your attorney is completely apprised of any and all issues that may come up. This way, your legal team will be properly prepared.
  • Try to keep it civil. Again, easier said than done. It behooves everyone to try to reach a negotiated settlement but sometimes this is impossible. If you are concerned about your private information being used as leverage during a divorce, it is important to remember that most people including your spouse feel the same way. And what is good for the goose is good for the gander.
  • There are no perfect parents, so let your lawyer determine how to manage the information. Be sure to be transparent with your attorney about everything.

Other important New York-specific facts:

  • In New York, “marital property” is all property earned or acquired during the marriage. “Separate property” includes property owned by one party before the marriage and kept separate and apart from marital property, or gifted to a party during the marriage by someone other than yourself — such an inheritance. In order to protect your separate property in the case of a divorce, a pre-nup is a good idea- whether this is your first marriage or a subsequent one.
  • Mental illness and addiction aren’t grounds for divorce in New York, but they can be considered in divorce custody proceedings or part of the equitable distribution of assets if those addictions resulted in a dissipation of assets. . If a spouse’s personality or emotional disorders have made co-parenting unsustainable, including issues of narcissism, bi-polar disorder or borderline personality, this can be factored into a custody proceeding.
  • “Emotional abuse,” such as gaslighting and physical abuse are other considerations particularly in custody proceeding.

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