Tag: Westport Divorce

Second Opinions in Connecticut Divorce Cases

This Week’s Blog by Carole T. Orland

Is it Appropriate to Get a Second Opinion in my Divorce Case? 

Divorce litigation is difficult. It’s costly both emotionally and financially. It is not uncommon for clients to feel overwhelmed by the process and at times disenchanted with their attorneys. Given that your divorce is one of the most impactful events in your life, you want to get it right. And sometimes, that means getting a second opinion just as you would for example, when it comes to medical care.

What Can I Expect From a Second Opinion? 

Often the second opinion will be confirmatory. If you have wisely chosen your divorce attorney, likely he or she has done everything consistent with your best interests. Eliciting a second opinion from another well respected attorney will make you feel more comfortable that your divorce is on the right path. Sometimes a second opinion with a well qualified attorney will enlighten you as to alternative approaches creative solutions, or issues that require attention.

Should I Discuss Getting a Second Opinion with my Current Divorce Attorney? 

Ideally, if you think a second opinion is warranted, you should discuss it with your current attorney instead of circumventing him or her. Seasoned attorneys have confidence in their abilities but also recognize that there are times when another set of well-trained eyes on your case can be very constructive. There may even be situations where your current divorce attorney will suggest that you get another opinion. You should consider the recommendation that you do so in the best light, not as a signal that your attorney is giving up on you.

What Information Should I Provide to the Second Opinion Attorney? 

When you meet with an attorney for a second opinion you should make sure to provide that attorney in advance with as much information as you can in order for that meeting to be meaningful. This might include, for example: pleadings, Financial Affidavits, Case Management Agreements, any Court rulings, Briefs and Memoranda of Law, Pre-Trial Conference memoranda, reports of experts, appraisals, discovery responses, custody and psychological evaluations, financial documents, settlement offers, and pertinent correspondence.

Schedule enough time with the second opinion attorney to be able to discuss all of the issues. It will also be helpful for you to bring your own written agenda items in order to address all your concerns. Make sure to take notes during the meeting. If you don’t understand something, ask again until you do. Leave the meeting with a clear understanding of all the items you wanted to discuss.

What Should I do After Receiving a Second Opinion?

Make an appointment with your current attorney to review what you have learned. Again, make sure there is enough time to discuss it all. Bring your notes with you. Remember, the point is not to challenge your attorney but to augment what both of you have previously addressed.

In most cases, if you carefully choose your initial attorney and then your second opinion attorney, you will find that you will want to stay with your original choice. While there is added cost to seeking another opinion, it is typically minimal compared to the overall cost of your case and really terrific value in that it will round out your knowledge, set you on a clearer path, and make you feel more comfortable.

If seeking a second opinion causes you to have concerns about continuing with your current attorney, you should discuss that with him or her in a very straightforward manner. Be up front about why you want to change attorneys and request that your attorney cooperate with successor counsel, whether it’s the second opinion attorney you met with or someone else. Do make sure to settle any outstanding bill with your current attorney before moving on. He or she may have a right to retain your file until you do so, but beyond that, it is the right thing to do and will start off your representation with your new attorney on the right foot.

At Broder & Orland LLC we recognize that certain divorce clients may want to seek a second opinion and on occasion we even initiate the suggestion that they do so. In certain cases we also provide second opinions with an appropriate protocol in place.

What is a Discovery Special Master (DSM)?

This Week’s Blog by Carole T. Orland

  • The Court may appoint a DSM in your divorce case to resolve discovery disputes.
  • Discovery may include production of documents, written responses to questions, and/or Deposition testimony.
  • Utilizing a DSM often saves the parties time and money, as opposed to having the Court decide discovery disputes.
  • Typically the DSM is paid from marital funds during the divorce litigation.
  • The Court retains ultimate authority with regard to discovery disputes.

In certain cases where there are disputes involving discovery, the parties may agree or the Court may appoint a Discovery Special Master. Discovery in divorce cases typically includes the production of certain documents, responses to written questions and/or testimony at a Deposition. Discovery in Connecticut is very liberal. Essentially, if the information sought is “reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence,” it must be produced unless there is some prevailing privilege, such as that between attorney and client, to the contrary. Connecticut Practice Book Sec. 13-2. However, it is not uncommon in divorce cases to have a disagreement as to what must be produced. If the parties cannot agree they can bring the issue before the Court through Motion practice. The Court has the option of deciding the dispute or referring the matter to a DSM. With their busy dockets and frequent understaffing, Courts generally are not inclined to spend hours sorting out discovery disputes, some of which may be granular in nature. It is, therefore, more practical for the Court to assign the discovery issues to a DSM.

Who Serves as a DSM?

Any lawyer can serve as a DSM. The parties can agree on whom that person should be or in the absence of an agreement, the Court can choose the DSM.

What Protocol Does the DSM Use for Addressing Discovery Disputes?

The Court may establish a general protocol in its Order. Each DSM may handle a case differently, but generally the DSM will ask counsel to provide to him or her the discovery requests in issue along with a memorandum in support or opposition of production, along with certain documentation relevant to discovery. If there is an issue of law, the DSM may ask for legal support in the form of a memorandum or brief. Next, the DSM may either decide the dispute on the papers or confer telephonically or at an in-person conference with counsel and sometimes the parties.

Is the DSM’s Decision Binding?

The Court retains ultimate authority to determine discovery disputes.

Who Pays for the DSM?

The parties are responsible for paying the DSM. Typically, the DSM’s fees are paid out of martial funds during the litigation.

What is the Advantage of Having a DSM?

An experienced DSM can usually give more timely attention and move through the issues quicker than the Court can do, thereby saving the parties attorney’s fees and money in the long run, and preventing delays due to discovery disputes.

What Other Matters Might a DSM Address?

The DSM can address matters of Deposition scheduling for parties, witnesses and experts as well as substantive issues related to these Depositions.

At Broder & Orland LLC, with offices in Greenwich and Westport, we have significant experience working with Discovery Special Masters in our divorce cases throughout Connecticut. We are adept at streamlining the discovery process to the extent possible in order to get the information we need and in producing required information to your spouse, in a timely and cost effective manner.  We recognize that the DSM can be an excellent resource in that regard.

The Best Way to Prepare for Divorce? Get Organized!

This Week’s Blog by Jaime S. Dursht

Ask any top divorce attorney in Greenwich, New Canaan, Darien, Westport and beyond, what practical steps should be taken to prepare for the divorce process, and the answer will be to locate and organize your financial records.

Which Financial Records are the Most Important?

At a minimum your past 3 years of individual tax returns; past 2 years of bank statements, credit card statements and retirement accounts; the last year of pay stubs; and any life insurance and medical insurance policies.  In every marital dissolution action, this is mandatory disclosure so it helps to have it organized ahead of time.

What if I Do Not Have Access to Accounts?

Most accounts can be readily accessed online if the account is in your name or jointly with your spouse.  If you are unsure, call the financial institutions and find out how to establish online access or how best to obtain statements.  Many are surprised to learn that lack of accessibility is simply a lack of familiarity that is easily overcome.   If the account is in your spouse’s sole name, then it is his/her obligation to provide it.

Is There a Time Frame or a Due Date?

The time frame is generally within the first 30 days from when the action filed, when many attorneys formally request production.  Officially, the due date is 60 calendar days from the date of the written request.

Do I Need to Print Paper Copies?

No.  Electronic copies are preferred, but if you do have paper copies, consider scanning them to avoid the possibility of incurring a fee for law firm staff to do it.

Are There Additional Documents that will be Required?

Yes.  It is common practice for attorneys to request an exhaustive list of any kind of document relating to an interest held in any type of asset or source of income.  For example, appraisals, trusts, deferred compensation, business interests, inheritances, educational savings, safe deposit box contents, and employment contracts.

What Happens if a Party Does Not Comply?

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for a party to object to discovery requests, for example, on the grounds that the particular request is “overbroad, unduly burdensome, and not reasonably calculated to the discovery of admissible evidence.”  When there is disagreement over discovery, there is the possibility that court involvement will be necessary to resolve the issue.

When it comes to the discovery process, we encourage our clients to maintain an open and cooperative approach to avoid disagreements that often cause delays and end up being costly for both sides.  So if there is anything practical you can do to prepare yourself, it is to organize your files, and familiarize yourself as best you can with your financial records.

With offices in Westport and Greenwich, the attorneys at Broder & Orland LLC are extremely knowledgeable and experienced with the process of discovery and how to resolve the various issues that arise throughout each case.

What is Parental Alienation?

This Week’s Blog by Jaime S. Dursht

“Parental alienation is the process, and the result, of psychological manipulation of a child into showing unwarranted fear, disrespect or hostility towards a parent and/or other family members. It is a distinctive form of psychological abuse towards both the child and the rejected family members that occurs almost exclusively in association with family separation or divorce, particularly where legal action is involved.”  Lorandos, Bernet and Sauber, Parental Alienation: The Handbook for Mental Health and Legal Professionals (Charles C. Thomas, Ed. 2013).

  • In Family Law, parental alienation is a term used to describe the dynamic of a child’s unreasonable rejection of one parent with the encouragement/tacit approval of the other parent.
  • The issue of parental alienation arises in high conflict custody cases both pre- and post-divorce when one party seeks sole legal and/or physical custody of the child(ren).
  • Connecticut Family Courts consider evidence of parental alienation in the context of making or modifying custody orders in accordance with what is in the best interests of the child pursuant to C.G.S. § 46b-56.
  • Courts may order the involvement of mental health professionals and custody evaluation experts to investigate allegations of parental alienation and make recommendations of intervention if necessary.

Generally, parental alienation is the psychological manipulation of a child by one parent to unjustifiably reject the other parent, and although it is not regulated as a punishable offense in the United States, it is considered a crime of child abuse in other countries carrying criminal penalties. In Connecticut, allegations can, and often do, arise in cases of contested custody, and there is a wide body of case law identifying the characteristics and conduct of an alienated child as well as that of an alienating parent.   For example, children who suddenly refuse to see a parent or declare hatred of a parent based on minor or unfounded complaints may be a signal of alienation.  A parent who falsely alleges physical or sexual abuse, exaggerates allegations of substance abuse or other inappropriate conduct, interferes with the other parent’s access to school records and information, restricts the other parent’s parenting time, or involves the children with details of litigation—these may be considered efforts to deliberately undermine the relationship between the child and the other parent, and the consequences can be severe. In some cases the court may order specific interventions to remedy the situation, such as therapeutic treatment for child and/or parent, or reunification therapy, or in extreme cases, the court may order a complete reversal of custody.

The statutory factor under which the court will consider evidence is C.G.S. § 46b-56(c)(6): “[T]he willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage such continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent as is appropriate, including compliance with any court orders.”  See e.g., Hibbard v. Hibbard, 139 Conn. App. 10, 55 A.3d 301 (2012) (“Because the child has lived with the plaintiff since birth, the court does not take lightly the prospect of changing her primary residence at this point.  Nevertheless, the court determined that such a modification to the custody order was in the best interests of the child because the plaintiff demonstrates a real deficiency in her willingness and ability to facilitate and encourage such continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent. … The court referenced the plaintiff’s strategy of pursuing the elimination of the defendant from their daughter’s life and concluded that the result of leaving the child with the plaintiff would be the eventual loss to the child of her father.”)

Connecticut does not recognize parental alienation as a diagnosable syndrome as it was initially proposed in the 1980’s (officially discredited as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association in 2012). “There is insufficient evidence that the description offered of parental alienation syndrome has any scientific basis.  There is no credible evidence that this syndrome has been the subject of any scientific studies published with approval in peer-reviewed scientific literature.” Snyder v. Cedar, Superior Court, Judicial District of New Haven, NNH CV010454296, February 16, 2006 (Pittman, J.).  However, courts have made factual findings that a parent has engaged in parental alienation. See Ruggiero v. Ruggiero, 76 Conn. App. 338, 349, 819 A.2d 864 (2003) (“Following the presentation of evidence, the court stated:  [I]t’s my finding that [the plaintiff] has been guilty of parental of alienation in two ways:  One of them is that he attempted to alienate the children from [the defendant] …”). Courts also note, however, that a claim of parental alienation may be an effort by one parent to gain tactical legal advantage over another parent. Mastrangelo v Mastrangelo, Superior Court, Judicial District of New Haven, No. FA054012782S, February 1, 2017 (Kenefick, J.)  (“This was not a case of severe parental alienation orchestrated by the mother. The father had a significant role in creating the problems he had with his children … his continued attempt to expose [the plaintiff] for being an alienating mother is not going to endear his children to him. … [he] was a on a mission to punish [the plaintiff] to the detriment of seeing his children.”).

All child custody cases are complex. It is imperative for the professionals involved in every case to be knowledgeable and experienced in the particular dynamic at issue. Broder & Orland LLC, with offices in Greenwich and Westport, are experienced in custody cases involving parental alienation.

Alcohol Testing

This Week’s Blog by Christopher J. DeMattie

  • The Court has the authority to order a parent to submit to alcohol testing as a condition of exercising parenting time with a minor child
  • The alcohol testing protocol can be designed for the purpose of determining whether a parent is abstaining from alcohol, to protect the child, or both. The frequency and duration of the testing can vary depending on the purpose of the protocol
  • There are numerous devices available, including the SCRAM Bracelet, Soberlink, Urine Testing, and Intoxalock

At Broder & Orland LLC, we handle many cases where a parent either has issues with alcohol or where there are allegations of alcohol abuse.  When alcohol issues are present, it can impact all aspects of a divorce case, but this article will focus on how it impacts custody and parenting time.

C.G.S. § 46b-56(i) states: “As part of a decision concerning custody or visitation, the court may order either parent or both of the parents and any child of such parents to participate in counseling and drug or alcohol screening, provided such participation is in the best interests of the child.”

If alcohol testing is ordered, and the purpose is to determine whether a parent is abstaining from alcohol, the testing will be frequent and often redundant.  For example, a Court can order a parent to completely abstain from any use of alcohol and comply with a protocol established by an expert in alcohol testing to ensure full compliance with the abstinence order as nearly as possible.  Some examples of alcohol testing devices and protocols are as follows:

SCRAM Bracelet

This device is worn 24/7 and tests automatically every 30 minutes to measure for alcohol consumption by sampling perspiration.  The positive of a SCRAM Bracelet is that testing occurs automatically around the clock.  A negative is that the results are not transmitted in real-time, so if a parent is with a child and consuming alcohol while wearing a SCRAM Bracelet, the other parent will not know until the following day, at the earliest.  Therefore, it is not an effective tool to protect a child.

Soberlink

This is a handheld device that measures a person’s breath-alcohol concentration.  To ensure compliance, the device takes a picture of the person blowing into the breathalyzer—along with his or her GPS location—and then transmits that data to anyone authorized to receive the data, including the other parent.  The tests may be scheduled every day at set intervals, for example 7:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m., 5:00 p.m., and 10:00 p.m., or be scheduled randomly between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m.  Alternatively, the tests may be scheduled to occur only before, during, and after parenting time.  The positive of Soberlink is the results are transmitted in real-time, so a positive or missed test can be addressed immediately.  The negative is there are gaps in the testing, so a person can drink a beer at 12:01 p.m. and likely test negative at 5:00 p.m.

Urine Test

One way to potentially eliminate the testing gap is to schedule random weekly urine tests, which would include EtG and EtS panels.  EtG and EtS are direct metabolites of alcohol, and the presence of the same in urine is an indicator that alcohol was consumed within the past 80 hours.  The negative of random urine testing is that it is costly.

Intoxalock

This is an ignition interlock device which requires a person to submit to a breathalyzer test in his or her motor vehicle prior to and while driving.  The latter is to ensure the driver does not consume alcohol after passing the initial test.  If alcohol is detected, the motor vehicle will not start, or if in motion, will shut down.  Intoxalock may include facial recognition software so that a parent cannot have a sober person pass the test for him or her.  In addition, if a parent has a Soberlink device, he or she can submit to a Soberlink test prior to driving, so the other parent knows the driver has not consumed alcohol.

Broder & Orland LLC, with offices in Westport and Greenwich, Connecticut, concentrates specifically in the areas of family law, matrimonial law, and divorce. We have vast experience representing parents who have alcohol issues, as well as parents who are married to or who have been married to individuals with such issues.  Based on that experience, our attorneys know how to properly draft an alcohol testing protocol to detect abstinence, protect a child, or to establish evidence sufficient to refute any false claims of alcohol consumption.

 

Does Cheating Affect Child Support and Child Custody? Eric J. Broder Quoted in Romper, April 2018

 

Read both articles now:

Does Cheating Affect Child Support? Here’s When the Unfaithful Party May Have to Fork Over More

Does Cheating Affect Child Custody Arrangements? Here’s When Infidelity is Taken Into Consideration

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.

Post-Divorce Housekeeping

This Week’s Blog by Carole T. Orland

  • Post-divorce housekeeping items require your immediate attention
  • Attend to provisions relating to your Parenting Plan and financial distribution
  • Utilize your attorney, accountant, counselor and other professionals to effectuate terms
  • Keeping good records will be critical for post-divorce enforcement

So now you are divorced. But before you close the book, there is one more chapter which requires your attention. That is: Post-Divorce Housekeeping. It is critical that you take certain steps to make sure the provisions of your Separation Agreement (if your case was settled) or the Court’s Judgment of Dissolution (if your case went to trial) are effectuated. You should carefully review one more time whichever of these documents pertains to your situation with an eye toward what must be done. Divorce attorneys who practice in Westport and Greenwich will typically provide you with a checklist or a summary of follow-up items. As much as you may want to leave your divorce in the rear-view mirror, it is important to tie up all the loose ends.

Below is an example of the more common post-divorce items that require attention. It is by no means exhaustive and every case is different, so make sure to consult with your divorce attorney for the particulars of your situation:

  • Discuss any changes in your Parenting Plan with your children, utilizing the support of a counselor when appropriate.
  • Notify your children’s school and activity providers that the divorce is final and arrange for progress reports and notices to be sent to each parent.
  • Convert all joint bank and brokerage accounts to individual accounts.
  • Effectuate all money transfers.
  • Arrange for direct payments of alimony and/or child support.
  • Attend to any title transfers or refinancing of real property.
  • If real property is to be sold, enlist a broker, following the terms of your Separation Agreement or Judgment.
  • Transfer title to all vehicles as necessary.
  • Deactivate joint credit cards.
  • Attend to beneficiary changes for life insurance and retirement accounts.
  • Obtain any additional life insurance you are obligated to provide.
  • Make sure your attorney has arranged for the drafting and implementation of any QDROs which are necessary to divide certain qualified retirement plans.
  • Notify your health insurer of change in covered individuals and arrange for COBRA, if applicable.
  • Contact your accountant about changes in filing status.
  • If you are an alimony recipient, discuss with your accountant the need for quarterly estimates (discuss new tax provisions effective 1/1/19).
  • Change your Will and estate planning documents.

It is important to be organized and efficient with post-divorce items. Keep good records. If your ex-spouse fails to comply with his or her obligations, ask your attorney to follow up with written correspondence to opposing counsel. If that doesn’t work, it may be necessary to file a Motion for Contempt, which could mean a return to Court and an evidentiary hearing. Having good records will be critical in proving your case.

At Broder & Orland LLC, we are careful to advise our clients about post-divorce items, which require attention.  We understand the importance of follow-through to effectuate the terms of the Separation Agreement or Judgment of Dissolution.  In certain cases we may get involved in handling the enforcement of those terms, as well.