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Family Law

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Prenup Considerations Before You Say I Do

Most people think of marriage as a declaration of love and commitment, not as a legal contract that defines the financial and familial obligations of each party. That is, until they start negotiating a divorce settlement and discover their state’s policy on the division of marital property and spousal support. Although not every couple establishes a prenuptial agreement, there are several good reasons for having a smart prenup in place before saying those magical words, “I do."


What is a Prenup?
A prenuptial agreement is a legal document that allows the couple to make decisions about their finances and marital property should they eventually decide to part ways. You cannot circumvent the child custody statutes in your state through a prenuptial agreement, although you can decide who gets to keep the family dog. The terms of the prenup must be legal and should be fair to both parties. For instance, an agreement that would leave one spouse homeless with no source of income would not be enforceable.

A prenup is particularly useful when one, or both parties, enter into the marriage with valuable assets or has children from a previous relationship. Older couples are more likely to consider a prenup because they have more assets to lose. Those who are exchanging matrimonial vows for a second or third time recognize that having a customized financial game plan in place can make divorce proceedings less stressful.

A prenup can eliminate later disputes over assets during a divorce and save the couple from acrimonious, time consuming and stressful litigation. 

When Should You Consider a Prenup?
A prenup might be a good idea if you have any of the following concerns:

  • Providing peace of mind for the partner who has significantly more income or wealth
  • Making sure your business remains intact, in your name
  • Defining assets such as property, a retirement fund or investments as separate property, not marital property
  • Retaining possession of family property, heirlooms or an anticipated inheritance after a divorce
  • Looking after the long-term interests of children from a previous marriage
  • Worrying that changing your career plan to raise children will leave you at a financial disadvantage
  • Avoiding interference with an estate plan
  • Financing long-term care for elderly parents or relatives

Starting Your Marriage the Right Way
The divorce laws in most states work on the assumption that both partners in a marriage have agreed to pool their tangible and intangible assets, and the courts generally attempt to make an equitable and fair division of these assets following a divorce.  A prenuptial agreement gives you and your intended spouse the opportunity to consider potential areas of disagreement regarding your financial future and address them in a forthright and realistic manner.

 


Monday, June 30, 2014

Do Heirs Have to Pay Off Their Loved One’s Debts?

The recent economic recession, and staggering increases in health care costs have left millions of Americans facing incredible losses and mounting debt in their final years. Are you concerned that, rather than inheriting wealth from your parents, you will instead inherit bills? The good news is, you probably won’t have to pay them.

As you are dealing with the emotional loss, while also wrapping up your loved one’s affairs and closing the estate, the last thing you need to worry about is whether you will be on the hook for the debts your parents leave behind. Generally, heirs are not responsible for their parents’ outstanding bills. Creditors can go after the assets within the estate in an effort to satisfy the debt, but they cannot come after you personally. Nevertheless, assets within the estate may have to be sold to cover the decedent’s debts, or to provide for the living expenses of a surviving spouse or other dependents.

Heirs are not responsible for a decedent’s unsecured debts, such as credit cards, medical bills or personal loans, and many of these go unpaid or are settled for pennies on the dollar. However, there are some circumstances in which you may share liability for an unsecured debt, and therefore are fully responsible for future payments. For example, if you were a co-signer on a loan with the decedent, or if you were a joint account holder, you will bear ultimate financial responsibility for the debt.

Unsecured debts which were solely held by the deceased parent do not require you to reach into your own pocket to satisfy the outstanding obligation. Regardless, many aggressive collection agencies continue to pursue collection even after death, often implying that you are ultimately responsible to repay your loved one’s debts, or that you are morally obligated to do so. Both of these assertions are entirely untrue.

Secured debts, on the other hand, must be repaid or the lender can repossess the underlying asset. Common secured debts include home mortgages and vehicle loans. If your parents had any equity in their house or car, you should consider doing whatever is necessary to keep the payments current, so the equity is preserved until the property can be sold or transferred. But this must be weighed within the context of the overall estate.

Executors and estate administrators have a duty to locate and inventory all of the decedent’s assets and debts, and must notify creditors and financial institutions of the death. Avoid making the mistake of automatically paying off all of your loved one’s bills right away. If you rush to pay off debts, without a clear picture of your parents’ overall financial situation, you run the risk of coming up short on cash, within the estate, to cover higher priority bills, such as medical expenses, funeral costs or legal fees required to settle the estate.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Don’t Let Your Social Networking Activities Undermine Your Divorce Negotiations

According to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, in the past five years 81% of its members have represented clients in cases involving evidence from social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn. Posted pictures and comments can make the job all-too-easy for your former spouse’s attorney to attack your credibility and ensure you do not receive the relief that you are requesting from the court.

A picture is worth a thousand words. And that picture you posted of yourself, in various stages of undress, or with a marijuana cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other, speaks volumes to the court and can result in unfavorable rulings regarding child custody or visitation. But the information posted doesn’t even have to be tawdry or illegal to land you in trouble. What about the ex-husband who claims he has no income, but his Facebook profile is chock-full of photos of luxury purchases or exotic vacations? What about the parent who posts profanity-laden status updates, insulting the judge’s competence? Should it find its way into the court, none of this information is going to help your case.

All of these communications can be considered by the court in making its rulings. Nothing you post online is 100% private, regardless of your privacy settings. Opposing attorneys can always subpoena the records, share your dirty secrets with the court, impeach your credibility, and obtain a favorable ruling for their client – your ex-spouse.

The lasting implications of a negative court ruling can far outweigh the momentary, fleeting satisfaction of venting your frustration at the judge or your ex, or sharing “fun” photos on your Facebook profile. The bottom line is that you have to think before you post. It has often been said that you should not publish anything that you wouldn’t want your Mother to see. A similar standard should be applied for those going through a divorce. What if that comment you are about to make, or the photo you are about to post, were to fall into the hands of your ex-spouse’s lawyer? This can have far-reaching consequences, affecting your income and support obligations, or visitation and custody of your children.

To avoid the pitfalls of information sharing in the digital age, you must assume that anything and everything you post will be obtained by opposing counsel and find its way into the courtroom. Family law cases involve some of our most private matters and care should be taken to ensure you protect your own privacy. Preserve your attorney-client privilege by refraining from sharing any details of your relationship or conversations with your attorney. Avoid posting compromising photos, or making derogatory remarks on your social networking profiles.

Above all, do not post anything you wouldn’t want your ex, his or her attorney, or the judge to see. Regardless of how restrictive your privacy settings may be, this information can easily be subpoenaed and become a part of the court record. If there is any doubt, do not post. You cannot “unring that bell!”
 


Thursday, May 8, 2014

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