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Monthly Archives: July 2013

The O’Brien doctrine in NY Divorce Law

A recent Appellate Division decision highlights the ongoing saga of the O’Brien doctrine, which held that an educational degree obtained during the marriage has a monetary value which can, and at times should be divided between the parties. In McCaffrey v. McCaffrey, — A.D.3d –, — N.Y.S.2d — (App. Div. 3rd Dept. June 06, 2013) the parties married in 1999 and filed for divorce in 2010.  During the marriage the husband earned an Associate’s degree in telecommunications and a Bachelor’s degree in business administration with a minor in accounting.  The wife claimed that these degrees enhanced his earning capacity, and under the O’Brien doctrine, she sought an award of part of their value.  The Supreme Court found that $76,500 of the husband’s lifetime enhanced earning potential was traceable to his degrees, and awarded her 15% of that amount, totaling $11,475.  On appeal, the Appellate Division upheld the award stating that

Commission Reviews New York’s Spousal Maintenance Law

Alimony, known in New York as spousal maintenance, is an emotional and often hotly debated issue in divorces. In 2010 New York enacted guidelines for temporary maintenance awards, i.e. awards to be made while a divorce case is still pending. Unfortunately, although the law provided consistency to such awards, it did not provide any guidelines for awards of maintenance once a divorce was concluded. The law also failed to address many issues applicable to high-income earners such as one-time bonuses, and the payment of monthly living expenses. Thus, some judges have awarded temporary maintenance in addition to ordering a spouse to make mortgage and other payments. In some extreme cases, payor spouses have been ordered to pay sums which exceed their present income. An independent commission recently completed an evaluation of New York’s maintenance laws, and released a report recommending a set of sweeping changes. Among the suggested changes were

The U.S. Supreme Court overturns the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Under DOMA, same-sex couples legally married in a state or country that authorized same-sex marriage were not eligible for important federal benefits available to heterosexual couples. Such benefits include filing joint income tax returns, health care and pension benefits, and the ability to transfer assets to one another free of estate or gift taxes. This historic Supreme Court decision now permits married same-sex couples in New York to receive important federal benefits that were previously denied to them. The case before the Court involved Edith Windsor, (now 84 years old), whose same-sex spouse died in 2009 leaving Edith her entire estate. The couple had been together since the late 1960s, were legally married in Canada in 2007, and New York recognized the validity of

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