Sandy Balick

Courts, Parents and the Kids’ Best Interests

 Courts, Parents and the Kids’ Best Interests by 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.

In the case of children, it’s all about their “best interests,” the touchstone phrase that affords courts very wide latitude in crafting parenting orders. The statute (Domestic Relations Law § 70 (a)) does not recognize automatic custodial right in one parent or the other. In the very denatured style of statutory law, it states: In all cases there shall be no prima facie right to the custody of the child in either parent, but the court shall determine solely what is in the best interest of the child, and what will best promote its welfare and happiness, and make award accordingly. Just what these interests are is amplified through statutory language and the prose of countless court decisions. Continue reading


How Does Family Mediation Work?

How Does Family Mediation Work? by 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.

These seemingly complicated issues and the passionate feelings raised by them are ideal subjects for the mediation process. Mediation enables family stakeholders to share issues and concerns and to consider them in a manner that leads to solutions. It’s not magic, and it requires hard work, but at the same time, the parties enjoy a level of control over the process that is superior to that afforded by the courtroom, at a fraction of the cost and time involved in litigation. Continue reading


Family Mediation for Elder Issues

Family Mediation for Elder Issues by 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.

This is not family therapy, but a means of tackling such difficult issues as aging adults, family business or investment succession, and other matters that commonly arise in the familial context.

Three areas of issues lend themselves well to family mediation. Continue reading


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

{Major Changes to New York’s Maintenance Law in the Mediation Context - Part 3 By Sandy Balick3:36 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.

Two cautionary notes are important:

  1. Although the maintenance obligation is designed for easy online calculation, it’s still wise to review this law and its implications for your specific situation with your personal lawyer. Continue reading


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

Considering Major Maintenance Law Changes in the Mediation Context - Part 2 By Sanford E. 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:

  • Temporary Maintenance (for the period between the filing of an action and final judgment); and

  • Post-Divorce (from the judgment date forward). Continue reading


Changes Ahead for New York’s Maintenance Law

Changes Ahead for New York's Maintenance Law By 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.

A legal consult with a matrimonial attorney is the best way for you to learn whether and to what extent maintenance may play a role in a particular divorce. Attorneys are guided by some combination of the statutes and by the significant body of New York case law addressing maintenance claims. This body of law has been criticized as resulting in inconsistent and sometimes unfair maintenance awards. The law’s changes are intended to diminish these concerns. Continue reading


What, Actually, Does the Mediator Do?

 What, Actually, Does the Mediator Do By Sanford E. Balick, Esq.{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. The mediator is not a decider of the issues (that would be the role of an arbitrator) and the mediator doesn’t try to wrestle the parties into submission.  Continue reading


Mediation: What It Is and Isn’t

Mediation: What It Is and Isn't By Sanford E. Balick, Esq.{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.  Continue reading


An Educated Mediation Participant Is an Effective Mediation Client

An Educated Mediation Participant Is an Effective Mediation Client By Sanford E. Balick, Esq.{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.  Continue reading


Thanks to the WSJ

 Thanks to the WSJ by Sanford E. Balick, Esq.{3:36 minutes to read} Divorce mediators generally don’t go in for billboards and loud media advertising – it is a quiet profession in this regard, so it’s good news when a national publication puts a spotlight on divorce mediation. Sometimes, however, things go a little bit awry.

Such was the case in The Wall Street Journal’s March 7 – 8, 2015’s weekend edition. Under the banner, “Five Ways to Get a Better Deal in Mediation,” it correctly noted,

“Divorcing spouses often turn to mediation as a way to resolve their differences. Hiring a mediator can save you thousands of dollars in legal fees…”  Continue reading