Month: May 2019

Three Critical Issues to Address in a Prenuptial Agreement

This Week’s Blog by Andrew M. Eliot

A prenuptial agreement is a written contract entered into by two people before they are married. Its purpose is to resolve, in advance, various financial matters that will necessarily arise from the marriage in the event of divorce or death of a spouse.  Notably, prenuptial agreements offer parties on opportunity to resolve financial issues in whatever manner they choose, rather than leaving such issues to be determined by the divorce laws of a particular state.  While the contents of prenuptial agreements can vary widely, there are certain issues that are commonly addressed in such agreements, three of which are discussed herein.

Property Distribution and Asset Classification: 

Prenuptial agreements typically define which types of assets will be subject to division in the event of divorce (i.e., which assets will constitute “Marital Property”), and which types of assets will necessarily be retained by one party to the exclusion of the other (i.e., which assets will constitute “Separate Property.”)  While there are many ways to classify assets, it is common for agreements to state that any assets brought into the marriage by a particular party shall constitute that person’s Separate Property, while any assets acquired during the marriage shall constitute Marital Property.  It also common for prenuptial agreements to provide that inheritances received by a party during the marriage shall constitute that person’s Separate Property.  In addition to classifying assets as Marital or Separate Property, many prenuptial agreements expressly set forth the manner in which Marital Property will be divided between the parties in the event of divorce.  For example, Marital Property might be divided equally, “equitably” (as determined at a later time under the laws of a particular state), or in some percentage allocation other than 50/50.

Many prenuptial agreements also address the disposition of assets that are acquired during the marriage with a combination of each party’s Separate Property and/or Marital Property, often referred to as “Mixed Property.”  Often prenuptial agreements will be drafted to ensure that both parties will recoup any Separate Property contributions he or she made to the acquisition of Mixed Property.

Alimony

Generally speaking, there are three options when it comes to addressing alimony in a prenuptial agreement.  One option is for the parties to agree to mutual “alimony waivers,” meaning that each party agrees that he or she will have no right to seek alimony from the other in the event of a divorce.  A second option is for each party to retain the right to seek alimony from the other, while leaving the issue open for determination at the time of divorce.  A third option is for parties to expressly agree upon specific alimony obligations that one party shall have to the other in the event of divorce, which may could include specific provisions regarding the duration and/or the amount of such alimony.

Estate Rights

In most jurisdictions, absent a written agreement to the contrary, each party to a marriage will be guaranteed by law to receive a certain minimum share of his or her spouse’s estate (the “elective share”) upon their spouse’s death.  For example, the “elective share” in Connecticut is comprised of the lifetime use of one-third of the value of all real and personal property owned by a party at the time of his or her death, after the payment of all debts and charges against that party’s estate.  However, a spouse’s right to an “elective share” can be waived in a prenuptial agreement, and it is not uncommon to see estate rights waivers in prenuptial agreements particularly where one or both parties have children from a prior relationship.

At Broder & Orland LLC we have extensive experience throughout Fairfield County and Connecticut negotiating and drafting prenuptial agreements that align with our clients’ circumstances.

 

What is the Middletown Regional Family Trial Docket?

This Week’s Blog by Chris DeMattie

The Connecticut Judicial Branch created a special docket in the Middlesex Judicial District to handle contested custody and visitation matters.  One judge presides over and manages the docket and per the Judicial Branch: “The goal is to handle contested cases involving children quickly and without interruption.” Cases are referred to the Regional Family Trial Docket by the presiding family judge in the local court if the referred case meets the program criteria: (a) child focused issue; (b) ready for trial; (c) family relations case study completed and not more than nine months old; and  (d) an attorney has been appointed for the children.

How does my Case end up in the Middletown Regional Family Trial Docket?

Since our local family courts are overcrowded and its resources are limited, it is difficult for the Court to devote significant time to just one case.  Thus, if you and your spouse are unable to resolve the children and financial issues in your case, you meet the foregoing program criteria, and if your case will likely take more than four (4) days of trial, it will likely to be referred to the Middletown Regional Family Trial Docket.  Recently, non-custody cases have also been referred to the Middletown Regional Family Trial Docket, if the presiding judge determines there is a compelling reason to do so, such complex financial issues which would require substantial court time.

How is the Middletown Regional Family Trial Docket similar to my local court?

The Middletown Regional Family Trial Docket applies the same law and procedures as your local court (e.g. Stamford, Bridgeport, New Haven).

The standing Trial Management Orders still apply.

If your case is eligible for e-filing, all pleadings, motions, and notices are filed the same way.  If your case is not eligible for e-filing, all filings are sent to both your local court and the Middletown Clerk.

The Courthouse opens at 9:00 a.m. and closes at 5:00 p.m.  There is typically a fifteen-minute mid morning and afternoon recess, as well as a lunch break from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.

How is the Middletown Regional Family Trial Docket different from my local court?

First, you are assigned one Judge, and this Judge follows your case the entire time.  At your local court, generally you can be assigned a new Judge each court date, and you often do not know which Judge is assigned to your case until you appear at Court.

Second, except for rare circumstances, pendente lite motions are not heard until the time of trial.  At your local court, pendente lite motions are often heard while the case is pending and prior to trial.

Third, the timing of proceeding is much different.  At the Middletown Regional Family Trial Docket, since you case is assigned to one Judge, you are often the only matter scheduled on your court date.  This means that your case will often be called right at 9:30 a.m. and you will generally continue uninterrupted until approximately 4:45 p.m.  At your local court, it is rare for your case to be the only matter scheduled on your court date.  Unfortunately, too often there are multiple matters scheduled for the same date with the same Judge, and your case may not be heard.  Further, since your local court is not a special docket, there are usually multiple other matters scheduled such as status conferences, report backs, or stipulations.  Even though those matters are generally short, they still disrupt your proceeding because the Judge will delay and/or stop your hearing to address those matters.

In other words, it is rare to be interrupted at the Middletown Regional Family Trial Docket, while it is expected at your local court.

Broder & Orland LLC, with offices in Westport and Greenwich, CT, concentrates specifically in the areas of family law, matrimonial law and divorce.  As experienced divorce trial lawyers we have successfully tired many cases at the Middletown Regional Family Trial Docket.

Can I Appeal My Connecticut Family Law Case?

This Week’s Blog by Sarah E. Murray

The Judge Issued a Decision in My Connecticut Family Law Case: Can I Appeal?

In Connecticut, you have the right to appeal a final judgment entered by a trial court.  Common final judgments subject to appeal in family law cases are final judgments from orders dissolving the marriage, including permanent orders regarding alimony, child support, and custody, and orders regarding the division of assets.  Post-judgment decisions, such as those regarding the modification of alimony, child support, and custody, are also appealable.

When Must I File My Appeal?

The deadline for filing an appeal is no later than twenty days after the court issues notice of its decision.  It is not advisable to wait until the last day to appeal, as missing the deadline, even inadvertently, can be fatal to your appeal.  Therefore, you should seek the advice of an appellate practitioner who does family law appellate work immediately after receiving a decision from the trial court.

My Ex-Spouse is Filing an Appeal: Do I Need to Do Anything?

If you are not the person appealing the decision, you need to ensure that your rights are protected during the pendency of the appeal.  You should consult with an appellate lawyer in order to understand the basis for your former spouse’s appeal, any potential weaknesses in the judge’s decision that make the decision vulnerable to being overturned on appeal, and what your best arguments in defense are.

In What Court is an Appeal Decided?

Most appeals are heard by the Connecticut Appellate Court.  Rarely, a case will be reviewed by the Connecticut Supreme Court without being heard first by the Appellate Court.  Direct review of a trial court decision by the Connecticut Supreme Court can sometimes occur when there is an issue that has never been decided by Connecticut Appellate Court or the Connecticut Supreme Court, when there is conflicting law on a particular subject matter, or when there is a matter of public importance worthy of decision by the Connecticut Supreme Court.

Will the Appeal be Similar to the Trial?

The appellate process is very different from the trial process.  There is no new evidence or new testimony at the Appellate Court.  Each party submits thorough briefs outlining the facts of the case and the legal arguments in support of his or her positions.  The briefs are based on the record, consisting of the testimony from the trial court proceedings and any exhibits submitted to the trial court.  The appellant, i.e., the person taking the appeal, submits his or her brief first.  After the appellee submits his or her brief, the appellant has the opportunity to file a Reply Brief.  After all of the briefs are submitted, the Appellate Court will schedule a date for oral argument before a panel of Appellate judges.  At the Appellate Court, the panel typically consists of three judges.  At the Supreme Court, the panel consists of seven justices.   A party may attend oral argument, but is not required to do so.  After oral argument, the Appellate Court (or Supreme Court, as the case may be) will issue its Decision in writing.  The Decision is usually released several months after oral argument takes place.

How Long Will My Connecticut Appeal Take?

The appellate process in Connecticut can take several months, at least.  Some appeals can last over one year.

Can My Case Be Settled While an Appeal is Pending?

Your case can be settled at any time before the appeal is decided by the Appellate Court. Experienced litigators will explore potential avenues for settlement, if possible, in order to avoid the expense and time of an appeal.  In most family law cases, the Appellate Court will schedule the case for a Preargument Conference prior to briefs being due.  The Preargument Conference is a confidential settlement opportunity that takes place with an experienced judge who will meet with counsel for both parties and attempt to help the parties reach a settlement.  Whether you and your ex-spouse reach a settlement through the Preargument Conference or on your own, you can prepare a settlement agreement and the appeal can be withdrawn once the settlement is approved by the trial court.

Broder & Orland LLC provides appellate representation in addition to litigating at the trial court level.  If you are contemplating an appeal, contact Sarah E. Murray, Esq., Chair of the firm’s Center for Family Law Appeals.

How are Retirement Accounts Divided in a Connecticut Divorce?

This Week’s Blog by Lauren M. Healy

Retirement accounts are considered marital assets in Connecticut, and unless there is a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement that provides otherwise, retirement accounts will be allocated between the parties as a part of a divorce. Even if a retirement account is titled in the name of one spouse, or is an employer-sponsored plan, it may still be divided between the parties. Whether a retirement account is actually divided, or allocated in some other way, depends on the type of account. Here are the questions that need to be answered in order to determine how retirement accounts can be divided in your divorce:

Is it a Qualified Plan?

Most, but not all, retirement plans are “qualified” plans. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) provides guidelines regarding retirement accounts, regarding participation, vesting, benefit accrual and fund information. When a retirement plan meets ERISA guidelines, it is considered a “qualified” plan, and is eligible for certain tax benefits. The most common types of qualified retirement accounts are 401(k)s, 403(b)s, SEP-IRAs, profit sharing plans, and certain pension plans.

When you are getting divorced, it is important to know whether a retirement account is a qualified plan because if it is, the account can be divided via a Qualified Domestic Relations Order.

What is a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO)?

A Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) is a Court Order that instructs a retirement plan administrator how to divide a retirement account between parties. If a retirement account is a qualified plan and can be divided by QDRO, the retirement account is capable of being separated between the parties without penalty. This is preferable because the non-employee spouse’s share can be deposited into a separate account, allowing for each party to manage his or her portion of the retirement funds individually.

Most divorce decrees will set forth the specific division of the retirement account that is agreed upon by the parties (or ordered by a Judge after a divorce trial), and provide for the parties to jointly hire an individual whose expertise is in the drafting of QDROs to prepare the QDRO and submit it to the Court for approval. Once approved by the Judge, the QDRO will be sent to the retirement plan administrator to effectuate the division of the account.

What if the Retirement Account Cannot be Divided by a QDRO?

Certain retirement accounts, such as IRAs, cannot be transferred by QDRO. However, IRAs can typically be divided in a much easier manner- using a process known as a “transfer incident to divorce.” Also called an IRA “rollover,” this process does not require a separate Court Order, and can be accomplished by the parties themselves without the need to hire a special lawyer. Like a QDRO, an IRA rollover transaction is not subject to taxes. Instead, each party is responsible for payment of taxes on the distributions from the retirement account after the funds are divided between them.

What Happens if we Have Non-Qualified Retirement Accounts?

If you have non-qualified retirement accounts, such as certain deferred compensation plans, executive bonus plans, or annuities, the accounts are typically not capable of being divided between the parties. In order to allocate the asset between the parties, a buy-out or a sharing of the distributions if, as, and when the employee spouse receives them may be the best option.

The attorneys at Broder & Orland LLC are experienced with the intricacies of dividing all types of retirement accounts and can help you take the appropriate legal steps to protect your rights to retirement accounts in your divorce.

Top 10 Songs About Divorce

This Week’s Blog by Eric J. Broder

In a recent “water-cooler” office conversation, my office was discussing a number of songs that have been written about divorce. After an entertaining discussion, and in no particular order, here are a few of the more well-known songs and key lyrics, which certainly warrant a listen if you are going through the process. Warning: if you watch some of these videos on YouTube, make sure you have tissues nearby.

“We Just Disagree” by Dave Mason

So let’s leave it alone, ‘cause we can’t see eye to eye

There ain’t no good guys, there ain’t no bad guys

There’s only you and me and we just disagree

“Divorce Separation Blues” by The Avett Brothers

I’ve got the tough education

No celebration

Bad communication

Worse interpretation

Love deprivation

Pain allocation

Soul devastation

Cold desolation

Life complication

Resuscitation

Divorce separation blues

“D-I-V-O-R-C-E” by Tammy Wynette

And he thinks C-U-S-T-O-D-Y spells fun or play

“Broken Home” by Papa Roach

Can’t seem to fight these feelings

Caught in the middle of this

My wounds are not healing

Stuck in between my parents

Broken home! Broken home!

“Stay Together For The Kids” by Blink 182

Their anger hurts my ears

Been running strong for seven years

Rather than fix the problems

They never solve them

It makes no sense at all

I see them everyday

We get along, so why can’t they

“The Winner Takes it All” by Abba

The judges will decide

The likes of me abide

Spectators of the show

Always staying low

“Highway 20 Ride” by the Zac Brown Band

A day might come and you’ll realize that if you could see through my eyes

There was no other way to work it out

And a part of you might hate me

But son please don’t mistake me for a man that didn’t care at all

“Broken Home” by Five Seconds of Summer

I’m here alone inside of this broken home

Who’s right, who’s wrong

Who really cares?

The fault, the blame, the pain’s still there

I’m here alone inside of this broken home, this broken home.

“Every Other Weekend” Reba McEntire

Let’s go see dad

Same time in the same spot

Corner of the same old parking lot

Half the hugs and kisses there are always sad

We trade a couple words and looks

And kids again

Every other weekend

“Doesn’t Anybody Stay together Anymore” by Phil Collins

Well one says white and the other one black

It’s the same old story…Doesn’t anybody stay together anymore?

The attorneys at Broder & Orland LLC are experienced in handling divorce issues with understanding and sensitivity. We strive to meet all of our client’s individual needs.