Author Archives: Sandy Balick

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About Sandy Balick

Sandy Balick is a divorce mediator, attorney, and the founder of Consensus Point Mediation, LLC in New York, New York.
EMAIL: ConsensusPointLLC@gmail.com
BIO: About Sandy
PHONE: 646-340-3434

The Importance of Dates & Fluctuations in Divorce
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The Importance of Dates & Fluctuations in Divorce | Sandy Balick

{4:42 minutes to read} Mediation empowers divorcing spouses to define their own standards of fairness and helps them to make maximum use of the considerable freedom New York law allows in shaping their own settlements. This entry focuses on selection of appropriate valuation dates for financial accounts, including bank and retirement accounts. As noted in an earlier blog in this series, the law views marriage as an economic partnership, and the assets (as well as liabilities) to be divided in equitable distribution are (with a few exclusions) those acquired from the wedding date until the initiation of divorce proceedings (referred to as the “commencement date”).

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Business Valuation in the Mediation Process
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Business Valuation in the Mediation Process | Sandy Balick

{3:36 minutes to read} This is a second installment on the subject of business valuation to assist divorcing spouses in the property settlement process. It’s common for divorcing spouses to engage in asset trading (a court-ordered distributive award is essentially such a tradeoff). To be a good trader a spouse should be equipped with a reasonably informed idea of an asset’s value. Since the parties in mediation do not have to provide expert testimony (often conflicting) to enable a court to make an award, more and frequently less expensive valuation options may be available.

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Equitable Distribution and Business Interests
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Equitable Distribution and Business Interests | Sandy Balick

{3:30 minutes to read} More on New York’s approach to equitable distribution of marital assets—this time pertaining to business interests.

Assuming a business, including a professional practice, is established in the course of a marriage, it is likely a marital asset subject to equitable distribution. The division of these business interests may be the subject of distributive awards—payments or distribution of some other value in lieu of actual equity in the business under consideration.

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Not to Be Overlooked: Increased Value as an Asset in Divorce
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Not to Be Overlooked: Increased Value as an Asset in Divorce | Sandy Balick

2:42 minutes to read} The divorce process will focus on the distribution of a couple’s assets and liabilities, in a practice, referred to as equitable distribution. In my last blog post, I noted the important distinction between separate (non-marital) and marital property.

One potential asset straddles the line between separate and marital, and this will be referred to here as “increased value.” In the divorce process, a non-titled spouse may claim a portion of the increased value of an otherwise separate asset.

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Practical Guidelines to Dividing the Marital Estate
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Authored by , re: Family & Divorce, on .
Practical Guidelines to Dividing the Marital Estate | Sandy Balick

{2:36 minutes to read} New York’s equitable distribution law and the state’s matrimonial courts are quite supportive of the efforts of divorcing spouses to reach voluntary agreements regarding the manner in which assets and debts of the marital estate are distributed between them. Mediation offers an ideal environment with which to achieve these voluntary workouts.

In mediation, the parties are free to shape their agreements to reflect both a mutual sense of fairness and a practical recognition of future financial need and ability to fund separate lifestyles.

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Which May Be Most Equitable: A Court or Mediation Settlement? – Part 1
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Which May Be Most Equitable: A Court or Mediation Settlement? – Part 1 | Sandy Balick

{3:24 minutes to read} In divorce, the fair and orderly division of the property owned by a couple unfolds under the banner of “equitable distribution.”

You are reading the first of several posts on equitable distribution. In coming installments, I’ll touch on a number of basic concepts on this subject and will contrast the court and mediation-based approaches to the manner in which assets and debts get divided upon termination of a marriage.

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Addressing the Best Interests of the Child in the Mediation Process
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Addressing the Best Interests of the Child in the Mediation Process |Sandy Balick

{5:30 minutes to read} As discussed in my last two blogs, when devising solutions to parenting issues like custody and visitation, courts are guided by a variety of considerations, all under the heading of “best interests of the child.”

The courts approach the best-interests analysis seriously and struggle to do the right thing in a given situation. Yet, in reality, the child is a stranger to the court. A child’s personality must be conveyed through parental testimony and/or through the child’s own attorney.

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Best Interests of the Children, Part 2
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Best Interests of the Children, Part 2 | Sanford E. Balick, Esq.

{4:00 minutes to read} This is the 2nd of 3 posts on the “best interests of the child” standard by which courts address child visitation and other parenting issues.

In Part 2, we’ll touch briefly on what’s involved when the courts, in their traditional role as part of the custody determination process, are called upon as arbiters of the children’s “best interests”. These interests comprise a list of considerations evolved by the family and matrimonial courts over the years as reflected in their reported decisions.

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Courts, Parents and the Kids’ Best Interests
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Courts, Parents and the Kids’ Best Interests | Sandy Balick

{2:48 minutes to read} As a family mediator, I’m naturally inclined towards the mediation process, in the strong belief that it offers a much better forum in which to thrash out issues, both large and small, than the courtroom. This is especially the case, I believe, when it comes to finances and the equally combustible issue of child custody (we prefer the reference “parenting” to “custody” given the latter’s grim institutional implications), which is the focus of this article, the first in a series of 3 posts.

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How Does Family Mediation Work?
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How Does Family Mediation Work? | Sandy Balick

{4:30 minutes to read} Family mediation is a process used to facilitate the resolution of problems and challenges faced by families. Frequently, but certainly not exclusively, these issues involve care decisions for a parent or other loved one and the financial concerns associated with such decisions. These financial issues may be limited to how to pay for assisted or other living arrangements.

Additional financial concerns may surround what is to be done with a family business or assets for which no firm succession plan is in place. Often, health concerns are tied to the business issues in some way or another. The main point is that there are shared concerns but no consensus on how to proceed.

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Family Mediation for Elder Issues
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Family Mediation for Elder Issues | Sandy Balick

{2:54 minutes to read} In the minds of many, family mediation is usually associated with the contentious subjects of separation and divorce. But increasingly, family mediation is showing its value as a way to resolve a wide range of challenging family-related issues, particularly those involving aging individuals.

It differs from divorce mediation only in the objective. While divorce revolves around the dissolution of a marriage, the mediation of elder issues is all about the creation of improved family situations and better interpersonal relationships within the family.

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Major Changes to New York’s Maintenance Law in the Mediation Context – Part 3
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Major Changes to New York’s Maintenance Law in the Mediation Context – Part 3 | Sandy Balick

{3:36 minutes to read} This is the third installment on the recently passed amendments to New York’s maintenance (alimony) law, addressing some of its implications for couples in mediation.

The prior installment introduced the new formulas for calculating post-divorce maintenance. One applied where child support will be paid and the other for situations where this is not relevant. These formulas will be helpful in providing some objective notion of the role maintenance may play in negotiations over the disposition of assets and liabilities, etc.

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Considering Major Maintenance Law Changes in the Mediation Context – Part 2
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Considering Major Maintenance Law Changes in the Mediation Context – Part 2 | Sandy Balick

{4:36 minutes to read} As anticipated in my last blog, on September 25, 2015, Governor Cuomo signed the spousal maintenance (née alimony) amendments. Changes to Temporary Maintenance calculations will be effective on October 25, 2015, while the balance of the bill’s provisions will become effective on January 23, 2016.

The legislative goal of promoting fairness through greater consistency in the amounts and duration of maintenance awards prompted these changes. The substantially amended law will continue to classify and calculate maintenance in two categories:

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Changes Ahead for New York’s Maintenance Law
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Changes Ahead for New York’s Maintenance Law | Sandy Balick

{3:06 minutes to read} Maintenance, formerly referred to as alimony, can be an emotional and confusing topic for the uninitiated. The expected signing of a new law amending New York’s maintenance statute offers the prospect of improved clarity and predictability in the law.

It’s anticipated that these changes may become effective in the fall with full application in the course of 2016. Those contemplating separation or divorce will want to be aware of the most significant aspect of these changes.

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What, Actually, Does the Mediator Do?
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What, Actually, Does the Mediator Do? | Sandy Balick

{3:24 minutes to read} If you ever had an opportunity to be involved in the mediation of a business dispute, you were witness to a process where the mediator prods, cajoles, pushes and sometimes extracts an agreement from the combatants, frequently in the course of a single day.

Marital mediation, and the mediator’s role in it, is a vastly different process.

Here, the mediator plays a more restrained role in a weekly process that unfolds in 1 to 2 hour sessions until an overall agreement is achieved.

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Mediation: What It Is and Isn’t
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Mediation: What It Is and Isn’t | Sandy Balick

{3:00 minutes to read} Couples are attracted to marital mediation for several reasons:

It’s something more civil than being in court; and,

Mediation may be considerably less expensive than hiring attorney combatants.

Beyond this, couples have divergent notions of exactly what mediation is. After all, unless someone’s had previous experience with it, they’d have little reason to know. Mediation is often confused with arbitration, both of which are under the big tent referred to as ADR or Alternative Dispute Resolution.

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An Educated Mediation Participant Is an Effective Mediation Client
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An Educated Mediation Participant Is an Effective Mediation Client | Sandy Balick

{3:06 minutes to read} New Yorkers are familiar with the famous Sy Sims clothing chain’s motto: “An educated consumer is our best customer.” The wisdom of this phrase outlives the chain, which like so many others, succumbed to economic forces a few years ago. The phrase comes to my mind frequently, in pre-mediation consults where I describe the mediation process and answer potential clients’ questions in regard to it. I take that opportunity to encourage both spouses to obtain the benefit of an independent legal consult.

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Anatomy of a Settlement Agreement
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Anatomy of a Settlement Agreement | Sandy Balick

[Time to Read: 2.9 mins] Most marital mediations are started with the view of obtaining an uncontested divorce as expeditiously as possible. The marital Settlement Agreement is the vital bridge between the mediation process and the filing for an uncontested divorce. All the give-and-take agreements reached in mediation, to be enforceable, must be detailed in a Settlement Agreement. This will become the primary vehicle by which the court will satisfy itself that important issues regarding children (if any, in the marriage or relationship) and property issues are satisfactorily dealt with.

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Time to the Finish Line
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Time to the Finish Line | Sandy Balick

“What’s involved in going from mediation to a final divorce and how long will this take?”

These are common questions from couples who are considering mediation of their divorces.

The outcome of the mediation – many decisions large and small, regarding such things as:

  • Parental visiting schedules (parenting)
  • Child support
  • Maintenance (formerly, alimony)
  • Asset division, etc.

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How Long Will It Be Going On?
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One of the most asked questions by couples considering marital mediation is, “How long will it take?” While 3 months is a good working guideline for planning purposes, there are many variables that make hazarding a precise estimate tricky.

The number of issues to be resolved will naturally factor into the number of sessions required. Also important is how well particular couples are able to discuss issues, consider alternatives and come to the many small agreements that will ultimately culminate in a formal Settlement Agreement.

There are other variables to consider. The “standard model” calls for weekly sessions of 1 – 2 hours, although this is not dictated by any law. My own practice is to be flexible in terms of session length, although I have found that 2 hours tends to be a practical maximum. Again, no rule dictates that, for a prepared couple, a session could not be longer.

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Voluntary Parenting
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Last Sunday’s New York Times carried an article on the importance of voluntary parenting (custody) agreements between parents (whether unmarried or not). Reporting on his 2001 study of child custody conflicts, University of Virginia Prof. Robert E. Emery, comparing litigation and mediation, “found that six hours of mediation caused huge improvements in family relationships a full 12 years later.” This is a perfect example of what I referred to in my last blog as a positive marital legacy – a voluntary agreement that is child–focused and future–oriented.

In a ringing endorsement of the mediation process (and its variants, collaborative mediation and the use of parenting coordinators in a less formal mediation setting) Emery emphasized that: “(w)e must make these our primary methods (of child custody dispute resolution), not alternatives (to litigation).”

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Divorced But Leaving a Positive Parental Legacy
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My friends all know that I suffer from a lifetime obsession – I am a train buff. My condition is not limited to model trains, and it includes the history of anything interesting having to do with trains. I see many of life’s issues filtered through a train-related perspective. Before you conclude that I‘ve lost my grip on reality, let me give a quick illustration.

Here in New York, we prize our Grand Central Terminal and mourn, even to this day, the passing of our other great terminus, Penn Station. An interesting thing about the Grand Central we know and love today is that it was erected even while the facility it replaced was being taken down – all without a suspension of operations. It was a remarkable accomplishment, and required going about things in a careful, orderly and planned way, over time.

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Nonprofits & Mediation
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Family mediation is ideally suited to resolving disputes for all kinds of “families.” A great example is presented by the boards of directors of nonprofit organizations. (While nonprofits cover a range of causes/topics, the focus here is on those engaged in charitable or artistic pursuits.)

Boards are responsible for the overall direction of an organization. It used to be that serving on a board merged good works and social prominence. Board meetings were social occasions, and as long as the managers reported good progress, those present might share a good lunch, network a bit, and go home feeling that they had contributed to the forward march of civilization.

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Dual Partners
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Spousal-run businesses seem to proliferate. The fertile soil of husband/wife entrepreneurship reflects, among other things, the increasingly popular work-from-home ethos. The relative ease of conducting a business or professional relationship via the internet; Qualified Joint Venture tax treatment by the IRS; and the increased prominence and success of women as entrepreneurs are just several likely contributors to this trend.

It is no surprise that some of these husband/wife ventures have attained considerable success, a fact highlighted in a 2013 article appearing in Knowledge@Wharton, the UPenn business school’s online business analysis journal. It highlights some prominent husband/wife entrepreneurs and the unique challenges facing what I call dual partners – couples that are partners in romance and in business.

It’s entirely predictable that some successful spousal business ventures will be met with this dilemma: the marital adhesive’s worn yet the strong desire and/or shared financial necessity to continue the business or professional relationship perseveres.

The resulting dilemma is an intimidating one – is it even possible to unwind a marriage while preserving a spousal business relationship?

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Two Ways at Once: Resolving a Modern Dilemma Through Mediation
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Have you ever witnessed this scenario? Someone steps into a canoe or a rowboat – which promptly lurches away – even while the other foot’s rooted to the dock. This situation of going in two directions at once can’t last long, and it usually ends with the hapless boater cast inelegantly into a cold lake.

This is similar to the condition of many couples in marriages of significant duration. Though there is mutual respect, the love and emotional aspects that once were important binding factors in their marriages have withered. Yet these spouses find themselves yoked together by important and valuable shared professional or business pursuits that they wish to maintain. Their relationship is going in two directions at once as they work to maintain a valuable business against a backdrop of mounting shared personal and emotional dissatisfaction.

What’s to be done? The couple needs to be able to pull off the tricky division of a personal relationship while continuing their financially vital business collaboration. Their failure to bring this off may place a valued asset at risk, and inject tension and recrimination into a previously civil, if loveless, relationship.

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Anatomy of a Settlement Agreement
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Anatomy of a Settlement Agreement | Sandy Balick

[Time to Read: 2.9 mins]  Most marital mediations are started with the view of obtaining an uncontested divorce as expeditiously as possible. The marital Settlement Agreement is the vital bridge between the mediation process and the filing for an uncontested divorce. All the give-and-take agreements reached in mediation, to be enforceable, must be detailed in a Settlement Agreement. This will become the primary vehicle by which the court will satisfy itself that important issues regarding children (if any, in the marriage or relationship) and property issues are satisfactorily dealt with.

Click here to read Sandy Balick's full article...