Tag: Parenting Plan

CAROLE T. ORLAND QUOTED IN GREENWICH MAGAZINE, JULY 2019.

No.191 SEPARATE WAYS CAROLE ORLAND

When it comes to divorce, the dirty little secret is not that one of the partners had an affair; rather, it’s that this transgression will not significantly affect the court settlement. Here in Connecticut, assets in most  divorce cases nearly always get split down the middle. As for his affair with the dog groomer? That might nudge the needle a bit, to 50/50 or maybe 60/40 percent – but beyond that? Not likely.

Child Support is mandated by state guidelines, and alimony, too, falls within a range that any reputable divorce attorney can estimate. Even Parenting Plans are predictable, reflecting the availability of each party to parent the children. While the court considers all circumstances in a divorce case, says Carole Topol Orland, attorney and cofounding member and partner of Broder & Orland LLC in Westport and Greenwich, it doesn’t have to apply any of them to the settlement.

So why make divorce a war? Find an experienced attorney beforehand who can clue you in on the likely outcome, saving you lots of anguish, time and money.  Carole T. Orland

Read the full article, published in the July 2019 issue of the Greenwich Magazine as well as all their publications including Westport, New Canaan-Darien, Stamford and Fairfield.

 

 

The Financial Cost of Divorce

This Week’s Blog by Carole T. Orland

What will my Divorce Cost?

The short answer is that it is hard to know at the outset what a divorce will eventually cost.  Since virtually all divorce lawyers in Connecticut bill on an hourly rate, the cost is a function of time spent on the case. At Broder & Orland LLC, we have handled divorces ranging in cost from a few thousand to millions of dollars.

Is Cost Related to the Complexity of the Case? 

Not necessarily. Some of the more financially complex cases settle quickly when the parties, their counsel, and experts are sophisticated and are financially savvy. These cases sometimes involve a variety of compensation components, including for example, stock options, RSUs, SARs, phantom stock, and deferred compensation. While this can initially appear daunting, it doesn’t have to be if the parties are well-educated about income variants.

Will the Cost of my Divorce be Minimal if our Assets are Very Modest? 

We would hope so and at our firm we strive to make it cost-effective for our clients in every case. Unfortunately, different pressures can arise when the marital estate is relatively modest and there isn’t enough money for both parties to live their lives post-divorce in the manner they were doing so during their marriage. In these cases particularly, it is imperative to do a cost-benefit analysis and to be real about the results. 

Will Children’s Issues Increase the Cost of Divorce?

Quite possibly. It is in everyone’s best interest to settle on a realistic Parenting Plan as early as possible in the case. If that doesn’t happen, the Court will sometimes appoint a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) as an investigatory arm of the Court whose role it is to report on the best interests of the children, or Attorney for Minor Children (AMC), who will act as an advocate for the children taking into consideration their best interests. The cost of these additional individuals will be borne by the marital estate and having them involved typically signals additional litigation and therefore, higher cost. 

What Other Factors can drive up the Costs of a Divorce? 

Divorce costs may spiral upward for many reasons, for example: one or both parties may not be cooperative in the discovery process or have unrealistic expectations.  Attorneys and clients may not be in sync about objectives and goals. The Court system is fraught with inherent delays and continuances mean more time and more money. 

What can I do to keep my Divorce Costs from Getting out of Control?

  • Hire a reputable and knowledgeable attorney.
  • Make sure you are always on the same page as to how your case is being handled.
  • Settle the kids’ issues as soon as possible. Attend to discovery deadlines.
  • If finances are complex, make sure to assemble a good team of experts who can educate you about the various components. In short, demystify the finances so you can move forward to settlement.
  • Be reasonable in negotiations with your spouse even if there are bad feelings, as is typically the case in divorces.
  • Pay attention to your monthly bills and your retainer status.

At Broder & Orland LLC, with offices in Westport and Greenwich, CT, we strive to make our clients’ divorce cases cost efficient, whether the case involves a modest marital estate or is a high net-worth or high-income earner matter. We constantly counsel our clients on the cost-benefit of decisions as the case progresses. Our goal is to achieve for our clients the best possible outcome at the most reasonable cost.

Divorce in Connecticut: The Guardian Ad Litem (GAL)

This Week’s Blog by Eric J. Broder

What is a Guardian Ad Litem in a Connecticut Divorce Case?

In the event that the parties cannot reach a resolution on parenting or custodial matters, a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is often appointed by the Court, either directly by the Judge or after agreement between the parties and counsel. The primary function of a GAL is to promote and protect the child(ren)’s best interests throughout the divorce case.

Who qualifies to be a Guardian Ad Litem?

To qualify, a GAL must be an attorney in good standing who is licensed to practice law in the state of Connecticut, or a mental health professional in good standing who is licensed by the Connecticut Department of Public Health in the areas of clinical social work, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, psychology, or psychiatry.

Further, pursuant to Connecticut Practice Book Section 25-62 there is a training program which must be completed in order for a person to qualify as a GAL.

What is the Role of the Guardian Ad Litem?

The primary role of a GAL is to determine what is in the best interests of the child(ren) with respect to custody and/or a parenting plan. The GAL will investigate all relative facts and claims, meet with the parties, the child(ren), and any relevant third parties such as teachers, childcare providers, coaches, and/or medical professionals/therapists treating the child(ren) and the parties.

The GAL will participate in court hearings and possibly testify. If the matter goes to trial, the GAL will make recommendations to the court as to how the outstanding child(ren) related issues should be decided. In my opinion, the primary function of a GAL, in addition to the above, is to strongly encourage the resolution of disputes between the parties. 

Who Pays for the Guardian Ad Litem?

The GAL is paid for by the parties. The court will review the financial affidavits to determine the percentage each party will contribute to the GAL’s fees. If the parties cannot afford a GAL’s rate there is a sliding scale that the court can apply thereby limiting the hourly rate of the GAL.

What is the Difference Between a Guardian Ad Litem and an Attorney For the Minor Child (AMC)?

The basic difference is that a GAL represents the child(ren)’s best interests and, while the AMC supports the best interest of the child(ren), he or she primarily represents the child(ren)’s legal interests.  Generally speaking, a GAL is appointed for younger children, while an AMC is appointed for older children.

Another notable difference between a GAL and an AMC is that a GAL may testify as a witness at a hearing or trial and an AMC may not.

Can a Guardian Ad Litem be Removed from a Case?

While it is an extremely rare occurrence, it is possible for a GAL to be removed from a case. In order to do so, a party must file a motion with the court to seek the GAL’s removal and prove that the GAL is not acting in the best interests of the child(ren) and has a prejudice and/or bias against one of the parties.

At Broder & Orland LLC we carefully analyze and make all efforts to choose the most appropriate GAL for our client as well as his/her child(ren). Our hope and expectation is that a GAL will be able to work with the parties and their counsel directly to achieve a settlement which first and foremost benefits the child(ren).

Emancipation Laws in Connecticut

This Week’s Blog by Lauren M. Healy

What is Emancipation?

Connecticut law provides a process for a child who has reached the age of sixteen, and is residing in Connecticut, to be declared emancipated and thereafter treated as a legal adult, with the same rights as an individual who has attained the age of eighteen.

Can My Child Request Emancipation?

Yes. In Connecticut, it is possible for either the child (who has attained the age of sixteen) or the child’s parents/guardian to petition the probate court for the minor’s emancipation. If the child files the petition for emancipation, the parents/guardian will be notified by a Summons from the Court. If it is the parents/guardian who make the petition, the child will be notified the same way. The Court must assign a Hearing within thirty days of the Petition for Emancipation being filed.

What is the Process for Emancipation in Connecticut?

After a Petition for Emancipation is filed and before the Hearing date, there is a period of information gathering.  The Probate Judge must ask the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (“DCF”) to investigate the matter and gather data that may be helpful to the Judge in the proceeding. This includes interviewing the child, the parents/guardian and speaking with other third parties, such as family members. The Judge must also appoint an Attorney for the Minor Child (“AMC”), to represent the child during the proceeding. The AMC acts as an advocate for the child’s wishes.

If warranted by reasonable cause, the Judge can also appoint a doctor or mental health professional to examine the minor. The Judge can also order the examination of a parent or guardian when there is a dispute about his or her mental health competency or ability to care for the minor.

What Does the Judge Consider When Making an Order for Emancipation?

Pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes §46b-150b, after the Hearing, the Judge may order the emancipation of the minor, if:

  • The minor has entered into a valid marriage, whether or not the marriage has been terminated by dissolution; or
  • The minor is on active duty with any of the armed forces of the United States of America; or
  • The minor willingly lives separate and apart from his or her parents/guardian with or without consent of the parents/guardian, and the minor is managing his or her own financial affairs, regardless of the source of any lawful income; or
  • For good cause shown, it is in the best interest of the minor, any child of the minor or the parents/guardian of the minor.

There is no specific definition of “good cause shown” in the context of an emancipation proceeding. The Probate Court has discretion to consider the individual circumstances of the case, and find that there is a substantial reason or excuse to order emancipation.

What Happens After a Child is Emancipated in Connecticut?

Once emancipated, the child has all of the rights of an adult and his parents are no longer his guardians. Pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes §46b-150d, the effect of emancipation includes (but is not limited to):

  • The right of the child to control his own personal life, including the establishment of his own residence;
  • The right of the child to consent to medical, dental or psychiatric care without parental consent, knowledge or liability;
  • The responsibility of the child to support himself financially;
  • The right of the child to sign contracts in his own name.

How does an Order of Emancipation Impact a Custody Agreement or Separation Agreement Regarding That Child?

If a child is emancipated, it has the same practical effect upon a Custody or Separation Agreement as if the child attained the age of eighteen. A parenting plan no longer applies to the child and the parents no longer have decision-making authority over the child. Also, the parents are relieved of any obligation to support the minor child, such as the payment of child support for the benefit of the child.

Whether or not the emancipation impacts the obligations of the parents to pay for college or health insurance would depend on the specific provisions of the Custody or Separation Agreement, and may continue beyond the child’s emancipation.

Broder & Orland LLC, with offices in Westport and Greenwich, CT, concentrates specifically in the areas of family law, matrimonial law, and divorce.  We have experience helping families navigate through all aspects of child custody issues and disputes, including emancipation-related cases.

What is the Significance of the Case Management Agreement in a Connecticut Divorce?

This Week’s Blog by Sarah E. Murray

  • The Case Management Agreement is a document that must be filed in every Connecticut divorce case.
  • The Case Management Agreement includes important dates for your case, but these dates are not set in stone.
  • You and your spouse can agree to proceed with your case more quickly than the deadlines found in your Case Management Agreement.

What is the Case Management Agreement in a Connecticut Divorce Case?  

The Case Management Agreement is a document that must be filed in every contested Connecticut divorce case.  It is an agreement between the parties and their counsel that sets forth whether the case is a contested custody action, or a case in which parenting issues have been resolved. The Court wants to know at a relatively early point in the case whether there are contested parenting issues that require Court intervention.  If parenting issues are resolved, then the Case Management Agreement will state that only financial issues exist in the case.

The Case Management Agreement also includes dates by which discovery requests will be made, discovery completed, depositions taken, appraisals done, and expert disclosures made. This Agreement sets forth the approximate date that the parties anticipate being ready for a settlement conference. The Case Management Agreement needs to be filed with the Court on or before the Case Management Date, which is approximately 90 days after the divorce case is filed.

Each Case Management Agreement is tailored to the facts of the particular case, taking into account the issues in the case, how complicated the case is, and how quickly the parties want the case to move.  In cases where the parties cannot agree on the dates in their Case Management Agreement, a judge will decide what the dates are.  It is rare for parties not to agree on the dates in their Case Management Agreement, especially when competent Fairfield County divorce attorneys are involved.

Why Aren’t We Abiding by the Dates in my Case Management Agreement?

At Broder & Orland LLC, we take the position that the dates in the Case Management Agreement are deadlines that a Court could impose, even if Courts do not impose them in every instance.  The general purpose of the Case Management Agreement is to put in writing both parties’ expectations for moving through the discovery phase of the divorce case so that meaningful settlement discussions can begin.

Many times, judges in Connecticut do not enforce the exact dates in a Case Management Agreement with respect to deadlines for discovery requests and depositions because there can be particular reasons or developments in a case that warrant some flexibility.  For example, though the Case Management Agreement may say that discovery requests must be made by a certain date, a Court is unlikely to preclude a discovery request after that deadline, particularly where new information has been discovered that leads to additional documents being needed.

One area where the Case Management Agreement does provide an enforceable deadline is with respect to expert disclosures.  If the parties are using, or expect to use, experts, such as business valuation experts, real estate appraisers, or earning capacity experts, the Case Management Agreement will establish the deadline by which those experts must be formally disclosed to the other side.  Unless the parties and their counsel mutually agree to disclose their experts pursuant to a different schedule, the expert disclosure dates in the Case Management Agreement will be strictly enforced by most judges.

Can My Case Move More Quickly Than the Dates Set Forth in My Case Management Agreement?

Westport and Stamford divorce clients will be pleased to know that they can settle their case at any time, including prior to the date that the Case Management Agreement needs to be submitted.  At Broder & Orland LLC, we encourage our clients to provide discovery to the other side promptly, prior to the deadline set forth in the Case Management Agreement, so the case does not get stalled while the other side pursues missing or late discovery.  If both parties are motivated to complete their case earlier than the dates in their Case Management Agreement and cooperate to ensure that they do so, it will typically get done at a faster pace.

What is Child Custody in a Connecticut Divorce Case?

This Week’s Blog by Eric J. Broder

  • The term “child custody” can be broken down into two separate definitions, legal custody and physical custody.
  • Legal custody addresses which parent has the right to make major decisions concerning the child(ren). Major decisions include those relating to a child’s education, health/medical, and religion. Based upon my experiences as a Connecticut divorce lawyer I can estimate that over 95% of Connecticut parents have joint legal custody. It is certainly the exception for a party to have sole legal custody.
  • Physical custody addresses the schedule of which parent has time with the child on a given day. In actuality, a parent who is with a child one day a week has physical custody of that child on that day. At times, language is written into a divorce agreement establishing a child’s residence for school purposes.

What happens if the Parties Do Not Agree to Joint Legal Custody?

  • In the event the parties cannot agree on joint legal custody the process is called a contested custody case. This will mean that third parties will become an integral part of the case. For example, the court may appoint a Guardian ad Litem for the minor child to investigate and make a recommendation as to the best interest of the child(ren) or an AMC to represent the child(ren).
  • After hearing all the relevant information in such a case a Judge will decide custody based on the “best interest of the child(ren)”.

What is the Role of the Guardian Ad Litem in a Connecticut Divorce Case?

  • A Guardian ad Litem (“GAL”) is appointed to ensure that the children’s best interests are represented in the event of a custody battle. A GAL may be an attorney or mental health professional. Connecticut has specific certification requirements in order for someone to be appointed as a GAL.
  • The GAL will meet with various individuals involved in the child’s life, including the parents, therapists/counselors, close family friends, teachers, and anyone else who has a strong tie to the family and the child. A GAL will analyze this information and make a recommendation to the court as to what is in the best interests of the child(ren).

What is the Role of the Attorney for the Minor Child in a Connecticut Divorce Case?

  • An Attorney for the Minor Child (“AMC”) is generally appointed to represent the child(ren) in cases involving older children. While there is no specific age at which an attorney will be appointed, I find that children in middle school and high school are more likely to have an attorney appointed to them rather than a GAL. The attorney has the ability to represent the child’s wishes, but also is concerned with the child’s best interest.
  • Unlike a GAL, an AMC will not be permitted to testify during a trial. However, the attorney may and will ask questions of the parents as well as other third parties on the witness stand.

Who Pays the Fees of The Guardian Ad Litem/Attorney For The Minor Child?

  • The parties are responsible for the fees however it is not always an equal split. A court may apportion a different percentage to each party depending on the parties’ financial situation. These fees can and will become costly in the event there is a contested custody trial.

As experienced Fairfield County divorce lawyers, the lawyers at Broder & Orland LLC have represented both mothers and fathers at trial in complex contested custody matters. These cases can and will become expensive, and sadly, have a lasting impact on the children and the parents. We work hard to resolve custody and parenting disputes to ensure that the children’s best interests are always at the forefront.

The Connecticut Divorce and Children With Special Needs

This Week’s Blog by Eric J. Broder

  • In Connecticut, the divorce rate is higher for marriages involving children with special needs
  • Custody and Parenting Plans in a case where families have children with special needs often differ from more “typical” divorce cases
  • Alimony, Child Support, and Equitable Distribution of Assets need to be analyzed differently when you have children with special needs

There is a wide body of research confirming that parents of children with special needs have a higher divorce rate than those without special needs children.  As Connecticut divorce lawyers with offices in Greenwich and Westport, our firm has represented many parents of children with special needs.

As I have learned through my discussions with many parents of special needs children and with child therapists, one reason for the increased divorce rate among this group is that raising a special needs child often places many difficult and unforeseen challenges and stresses upon a family. Often there is very little, if any, “down time” for parents of special needs children, and little time to devote to each other, such as having a simple date night.

When a family with a special needs child goes through a divorce, the issues of child custody, visitation/parenting plans, alimony, child support, and the equitable distribution of assets can become more difficult to negotiate, and often require a greater deal of attention and analysis in order to ensure that the child’s needs are adequately addressed.

Custody in Cases Involving Children with Special Needs

In the case of a child with special needs, the hope is that the parents can share joint legal custody of the child, meaning that the parents consult with each other with respect to all major issues concerning the child (such as medical, educational, and religious issues), so that all major decisions are made jointly.  When parents share joint legal custody of a child, each parent has an equal voice and neither parent has greater decision-making authority than the other parent.  In the event the parties cannot agree upon joint custody and one or both parties is seeking “sole custody” of a child (wherein one parent has the right to make final decisions regarding a child in the event the parties cannot agree upon an issue), the process becomes much more difficult, time consuming, and expensive.  In such scenarios, a Guardian Ad Litem will often be appointed, the costs of which will paid for by the parties.  That individual will spend a great deal of time talking not only to the parents and the child, but also to any mental health professionals, teachers, caregivers, friends, and family that know the child and/or the parents well, or provide professional services to the child. Simply, your child’s entire community can become involved in the case.

Parenting Plans for Children with Special Needs

Connecticut divorce parenting plans for children with special needs often require approaches that differ from traditional parenting plans and in such scenarios there is not really a “typical” plan.  In order to devise a plan that adequately addresses a child’s special needs, it is strongly recommended that parents work together with the child’s medical provider and/or mental health professional.  For example, transitions between houses are often an issue that must be appropriately addressed.

Is Alimony different in Cases Involving Children with Special Needs?

The amount and term of alimony can differ in cases involving a child with special needs if the child’s needs require one of the parents to stay home to provide extra care. Accordingly, this parent will not be able to work or develop a career as easily as others. In these circumstances, a solution may be a longer alimony term for the recipient.

Is Child Support different in Cases Involving Children with Special Needs?

The Connecticut Child Support Guidelines do not specifically address or have any separate designation for children with special needs. However, there can be a deviation from the standard child support amount based upon consideration of a child’s special needs. Typically, child support ends at the later of a child reaching the age of 18 or graduating from high school but not later than the age of 19. In the case of a child with special needs, however, child support may be extended until age 21.  In addition to regular child support, any and all unreimbursed medical expenses (including appropriate child care expenses) will be apportioned between the parents subject to their financial situations.  Furthermore, depending on the severity of a child’s special needs, there may be other entitlements available to the child such as social security disability.

Equitable Distribution of Assets

In dividing assets, parties who have the financial ability to set aside funds for the care of a special needs child will often do so through a special needs trust. It is also strongly recommended that a Trust and Estates lawyer be involved to help the parties plan properly for the future care of their child.

With offices located in Greenwich and Westport, the attorneys at Broder & Orland LLC have extensive experience in negotiating and drafting divorce agreements involving children with special needs and we offer comprehensive guidance through the wide range of issues that arise during a divorce.