Suzi Oppenheimer sponsored one of the worst pieces of legislation imaginable for New York families that is deceptively entitled the ‘Divorce Reform Act of 2010’. This bill was written for and by New York divorce attorneys, the New York Bar Association and religious lobbies and does nothing to address the real problems of NY divorce. In fact, this abomination of legislation only further deepens the problems of corruption in the New York divorce industry and further entrenches the self-appointed licenses that New York divorce attorneys have to destroy the financial and emotional health of any middle-class family that walks into their offices and is forced to Supreme Court. The audacity of Suzi Oppenheimer to even use the word ‘reform’ in the Divorce Reform Act of 2010 speaks to her dishonesty. Senator Oppenheimer is no dummy, she is Ivy League educated and there is simply no excuse for her to mislead the citizens of New York with her deceptive legislation.
Unfortunately there is not a single legislator in New York who has the guts to stand up to the corrupt divorce industry and New York families pay the price. Divorce has been around since marriage according to the Old Testament, where our original ideas of western marriage were born. In the ancient laws of marriage from the old testament there are nearly double the amount of laws for divorce as for marriage so clearly divorce is a problem of humanity, not New York. It has been and it always will be. Regardless of our religious or personal convictions there is simply no avoiding the fact that not all relationships can last forever.
Senator Oppenheimer is blatantly misleading voters with the name ‘Divorce Reform Act’ and she deserves to be voted out of office for the damage she has done to New York families. The harm she and her office have done to New Yorkers is immeasurable as they missed a golden opportunity to help families.
Here are the issues a REAL bill of New York divorce reform should address.
1) End the myriad conflict of interests that exist in the sham industry of custody evaluators. There is not a SINGLE New York State Standard or registry for who can be a custody evaluator for New York State. This boggles the mind as New York State is the ultimate legal custodian of New York children yet they let anyone with any level of education become a custody evaluator. Conflicts of interest exist in every level of the custody evaluation process and the net effect is that Suzi Oppenheimer has let the practice of selling New York children to the highest bidder persist in the Divorce Reform Act of 2010.
Custody evaluators are chosen by the divorce attorneys or Judge in a case. The Judges and attorneys pick their friends. Interestingly, Judges are not bound to listen to what custody evaluators say so the entire process of evaluation can possibly be a sham in an ‘anything goes’ court. Neutral evaluators, supposedly the courts eyes and ears, can switch sides at any point once the evaluation is submitted. Clearly it is in their advantage to align themselves with the rich party who can pay for a re-evaluation or use them for expert testimony.
New York must mandate educational standards for custody evaluators as well as standards for reporting and evaluation. There are currently no standards that exists for what an evaluation should be, how it is carried out, what the results should look like or any aspect of the report. New York State must end the practice of allowing neutral evaluators to become expert witness for a defendant or plaintif should a case proceed to trial. It is utterly disgusting that an evaluator, the State’s eyes and ears in this most critical issue, can end their neutrality and sell their services to either party after they deliver the supposed neutral report that was court ordered by the Judge. That is such a glaring conflict of interest that it denies any test of common sense. Custody evaluators should be chosen at random from a registry of licensed, state approved professionals with legitimate credentials. If anyone were to look at how custody evaluators were used, especially in relation to a particular attorney, within a few minutes a pattern will appear that show that attorneys always ask for the same evaluators that give them the results they want. If anyone were to look at the billings of evaluators they would clearly see that this gravy train pays more than what many of these people could make in private practice, assuming they could even survive in practice. Of course litigants, not New York State foot the bill for evaluations and evaluators are free to charge whatever the feel, generally $250 per hour for the report. Reports typically cost about $15,000, again paid for by litigants and ordered by the Court with punishment of contempt for not paying – even if you can’t pay. Custody evaluation is a bastion for incompetent mental health ‘experts’ and the power they have is immense. Custody evaluators raise their rates significantly when they switch sides and become expert witness for one side or another. Being appointed as a neutral evaluator by a court is lead generation for the even more profitable field of expert witness. Custody evaluators charge litigants $250 per hour, at least, in the NYC metro area and rates skyrocket to nearly $500 an hour for testimony as expert witiness. At least that is what my full-time Sensei, part-time custody evaluator explained to me from his store-front dojo, where he also performs custody evaluations. Bear in mind that these reports remain double-secret and can never be read outside of the attorneys office by litigants nor are there any standards for how the evaluations take place and what information is evaluated.
2) Take the same advice as above for financial evaluators as the same system exists here. These people have no standard credentials and sell their advice to the highest bidder once they deliver their initial underwhelming cursory teaser evaluation. A court appointed neutral can become expert witness for either side after they issue their neutral evaluation so it is clearly only lead generation for the big bucks. Again, they drastically increase their rates to become expert-witness and litigants are responsible for the initial evaluation and any expert testimony. How can someone be neutral when they will be paid more than 3x as expert witness than as neutral evaluator? In my case the court demanded $7,000 for a private evaluation that consisted of a two page letter and private meeting with attorneys and the evalutor wanted more than $30,000 for a full written report, and over $50,000 to testify. A scam if there ever was one.
3) New York needs to end the practice of selling it’s children to the highest bidder. By MANDATING that any party who files a divorce action CLAIM FULL CUSTODY the process begets acrimony, contempt and massive stress. Once people fear losing their kids they lose their mental health. They make irrational decisions, they are frightened to death, children are horrified and unscrupulous attorneys prey on the scared and weak. Custody in New York is sold to the highest bidder, the one who can afford the most evaluations at $15-50,000 a pop, the one who can afford the most expert-witnesses, the one angry enough to block another parent, the one who can afford the most sleazy surveillance or the one who can afford the best insider attorney. New York needs to end the practice of making full custody the starting point of a divorce motion. The starting point of divorce should be shared-custody and shared time with children, regardless of how one party feels about the other. The emotional impact of facing the loss of ones children is incredible for those stuck in divorce court and puts people at their worst. If there are extenuating circumstances that demand full-custody let them by proven with evidence on the same level as criminal evidence but our current system supports heresy and thin evidence and produces punishments that far exceed what a registered sex-offender will experience with their own children, yet the punishments are doled out in a civil court devoid of due process. New York has found a loophole in the Constitution and by never charging a litigant with a crime they can remove children and administer all types of humiliating and harsh punishment with no due process whatsoever.
A party who can’t afford an attorney will absolutely lose their children 100% of the time if they are forced to trial by a party who can afford it. New York courts turn the other way and let attorneys have a field day with rich people of questionable mental stability. The court system will idly sit by while one party spends over $400,000 to bar a parent from the childrens lives permanently to settle a personal score or live out some psychotic fantasy, which leads to the next point.
3) New York needs to completely scrap the current system of a Statement of Net Worth, a required document in all divorce. New York Courts let litigants lie, exaggerate or omit important financial data with no penalty to attorney or litigant for the lies. It is great that Senator Oppenheimer supports spousal maintenance for life and forces a monied party to immediately pay the lawyer bill of the unmonied party as she does in her Divorce Reform Act but the Statement of Net Worth is a joke so how can a judge know who the monied party is based on garbage documents? New York State, which has incredible abilities to find money for tax evaders, sits idly by while litigants lie on their Statement of Net Worth. They don’t require the simplest of computerized checks like a credit report or background check that can be done on the Internet for less than $500. Instead they let attorneys bill out the wazoo and have a financial field day with the Statement of Net Worth. In one case I am familiar with a parent spent over $400,000 with money left off the Statement of Networth to ban the father from the life of the children while the father floundered in a 4 week sham trial with no lawyer while the other side had 2 to 4 lawyers and 2 expert witnesses. In another case I know of a rich parent lost his children permanently against a foe who outspent him – by over a million dollars. Though he raised the question of the source of the money many times to the Judge, judges are beholden to the lawyers getting the million dollar paychecks and never questioned the source of the money. A few years later the mother was arrested for embezzling more than 20 million dollars from union pension funds yet the Judge ignored basic tests of facts about the veracity of the Statement of Net Worth. In my case, where I didn’t lose my children, I simply exhausted 2 college funds, a retirement account and all good will from friends and families to force a shared custody settlement. I was billed over $70,000 and still owe $26,000 though clothing and groceries were a challenge at the time. I did this because I understood the collusion of New York Supreme Court so I went for a powerhouse insider and it served me well as I saw what happened to my broke friends who thought that reason would prevail in New York Supreme Court. Fortunately this worked but it felt more like extortion than prudence. Of course the Judge allowed my adversary to submit blatantly falsified statements of net worth that omitted the source of lawyer payments, but no complaints of this resonate anywhere. It is a court of collusion that exists to support the payment of attorneys fees and nothing else.
New York State could end this practice by simply requiring a credit report and a neutral investigation of the Statement of Net Worth. New York could severely punish attorneys who submit falsified documents but from by experience of raising misleading and falsified documents to the proper disciplinary committees for attorneys and judges not a single one of the bodies could care less about such accusations. Senator Oppenheimer supports this system of lying, deception and cheating and missed a golden opportunity to introduce a modicum of common sense and modernity by requiring electronic evaluation of the Statement of Networth. In the days of computers and the Internet these archaic documents are still handwritten forms and unlike other handwritten forms like taxes that find their way into a computer system at some point, these documents never see the light of a computer check.
New York must make parties disclose who is paying for attorneys and how much they are willing to spend. If one side has millions and lied about it, and the other side has nothing and was truthful there should be punishment for the liar. There currently is none, except for impossible appeals.
4) New York is the biggest violator of the 14th amendment in the United States. The 14th amendment guarantees due process in state courts to citizens in civil court proceedings when facing the loss of life, liberty or property yet New York sends self-represented litigants to the wolves where due process is entirely ignored with no recourse. There is zero free assistance for divorce court from Legal Aid, the NYCLU, or any legal group that exists. I repeat, zero free assistance for divorce cases, even when faced with punishments that far exceed most criminal proceedings. If one party can pay a lawyer and the other can’t, and of course the Judges happily allows misrepresented statement of net worth documents, the other party will lose always. Again I repeat, always. New York needs to guarantee representation if one is facing the loss of all their property or their children. A pro se litigant facing the loss of children will get more court assistance if they leave their trial and go steal a candy bar from the court snack bar then if they are fighting for their children in matrimony court. Sending a person to a court that is filled with collusion and corruption without an attorney is certain loss for the disadvantaged. It is nearly impossible to get accurate data on the fate of pro se in New York Supreme Court because the Office of Court Administration refuses to release statistics about pro se despite numerous written and oral requests.
Besides providing representation for the poor in Supreme Court, New York or the Department of Justice more aptly, needs to appoint court observers in divorce proceedings to monitor the abuse of civil rights and due process that is pervasive in New York Supreme Court. The office of the self-represented in Westchester Supreme Court is a part-time staffed, back office in the law library of the courthouse that is forbidden to provide advice with their sole assistance consisting of pointing you to a small selection of forms on a wall. They provide purposefully vague guidance as to which of the forms you may need to fill out. In Supreme Court there are no enforced rules of evidence, no burden of proof of heresy, no punishments for faulty documents submitted by attorneys, no standards for pre-trial behaviors and the courts will revise judgments with no motion or hearing based on un-sworn testimony filled with lies or misrepresentation by attorneys. There are no enforced standards of procedure in New York Supreme Court and the unrepresented will pay dearly for this, with nowhere to turn after their lives have been destroyed. An appeal is utterly impossible and how an appeals court could piece together the circus of most divorce trials is beyond comprehension.
Furthermore, New York denies the poor access to the Supreme Court of New York, the place where they are bound by NY constitution to settle divorce issues. If one can’t afford a $15,000 starter retainer they are banned from court and pushed to a shady uncontested divorce industry, family court after abuse occurs or simply become estranged and ignore their marriage. New York mandates us to Supreme Court but denies access to the poor.
5) The entire fault issue, which seems to be the only issue that Senator Oppenheimer is capable of understanding, is a smokescreen issue. While it is an issue in some divorces where one party is forced to stay in a miserable situation because the other won’t agree to fault, even a cursory look at statistics, http://bit.ly/b77JOY, show that the majority of New Yorkers agree on fault. Fault is the legal smokescreen that the bar association lobby uses as the cornerstone of divorce reform but it is not a significant issue in most cases as the numbers clearly show since almost all parties agree on fault. Besides, even though Senator Oppenheimer tried to address fault in her bill, she didn’t fix the fault system in her reform act. Fixing it would mean ending it, she simply added a new fault of ‘no-fault’. That’s great for a few corner cases, but if you can’t afford Supreme Court and you can’t get legal assistance, and it is already a clear legal standard that fault is not a critical issue in custody what did she solve with further complicating the fault issue with a new fault of no-fault? She simply let stand the convoluted fault requirement and further muddled New York divorce.
6) The disciplinary system for matrimonial judges and attorneys needs serious reforms. Matrimony is a separate part of the justice system. Matrimony judges only hear matrimony cases for most of their careers. Matrimony attorneys only practice matrimony for most of their careers. Many non-matrimonial attorneys will express their disgust with the matrimony law industry yet the bar association and State of New York does nothing. The industry is self-policed and has a horrible track record of letting attorneys of questionable ethics make a mint in divorce, fleecing middle class families with questionable tactics. There is simply no punishment for the malfeasance of matrimony attorneys. Attorneys who lie or manufacture evidence in criminal or civil courts will be admonished by a judge, if they are lucky, and it could get much worse for them. Corporate attorneys who falsify documents, misrepresent facts or blatantly lie will be fired or face serious penalty. But matrimony attorneys who lie, misrepresent and destroy the lives of children will receive no disciplinary action whatsoever. The ethical guidelines for attorneys are created by the NY Bar and entirely unenforced by them. A mystery committee run by peers of the attorneys investigates claims of abuse in secret proceedings, accountable to no one. Claimants against attorneys are labeled as overly-emotional, ‘crazies’ or worse. Investigations take place without any evaluation of fact or testimony and simply rely on letters of attorneys who never have to answer to charges if they are buddies with the disciplinary committees. If your life was wrecked by an attorneys malfeasance there is nothing you can do. Sure the attorney may get a slap on the wrist in a year or more from a secret committee with no minutes, no procedure, no reporting to claimants and woefully deficient investigation, but your life remains ruined. Maybe they are fined, maybe they are reprimanded, but based on their lies or bad deeds you lost your kids, you lost your assets, you live forever as a dead-bead dad because you were slapped with payments that far exceed your income from misrepresentation and lie but the attorney simply moves on to the next victim at $350 – $1,500 an hour. You can appeal if you have 2 years and $150,000 laying around but in the meantime your life is destroyed for a short time, you may become incarcerated, you may find yourself on a list of deadbeat parents, you may lose your drivers or professional license, you may never see your kids again, etc. but the attorney suffers nothing more than a private, closed door proceeding and their life goes on happily.
Judges have the same free-ride. Elected for 14 years by voters who haven’t the faintest clue who or what they are voting for, they operate with impunity. A judge who happily accepts falsified documents used to ban a mother or father from their children laughs it off for the next case. A judge who makes unilateral decisions based on heresy can easily destroy the emotional health of a child who can no longer see their parent. A judge who rules to divide assets that haven’t existed for more than 3 years will never face any question of why they ignore evidence. The judicial discipline process is even more secretive than the attorney process and corrupt or inept judges quietly go on wrecking the lives of thousands of victims with impunity while the victims can only wait for the secret word of secret committees that may or may never rule on an issue.
New York has decided that matrimony is a separate court, with separate judges and separate attorneys though this is not found in the New York State Constitution. These people have the power to destroy the lives of the unrepresented or under-represented but they are not bound by the same rules of a judge or attorney who is working on serious criminal or civil tort issues. When there is malfeasance amongst matrimony judges and attorneys it must be dealt with swiftly and severely, the verdicts in these cases should be immediately struck and these criminals should be banned from court system. The proceedings of judicial disciplinary actions should be viewable by claimants, the investigations should follow procedure and not come down to he-said, she-said secret closed,door sessions as it currently does. The prevalence of fraud and collusion amongst divorce attorneys and judges is so high that they should be disciplined and monitored with resources apart from those for criminal or civil judges and attorneys.
Simply put, there is no punishment for dishonest judges and attorneys in the matrimony courts of New York and Senator Oppenheimer does not address this in her ‘Divorce Reform Act’. There is no recourse for one whose life was destroyed by a crooked attorney or Judge and the system moves on to the next victim while the victims face a lifetime of problems.
7) The influence of religious lobbies must be curtailed in the matrimony court system. If there are religious issues in divorce they can be dealt with privately or in religious institutions but parents should not be banned from their children because they don’t share the same religious beliefs as their spouse. All too often in New York Supreme Court, children are ripped from the parent who doesn’t keep kosher, doesn’t follow Catholic law, doesn’t believe in religious camps or violates a religions sabbath or customs. In a country that prides itself on the separation of church and state we have the exact opposite case in New York Supreme Court.
8. Divorce attorneys are the gatekeepers to the Supreme Court. One without an attorney will lose it all in the archaic and free-for-all processes of New York Supreme Court. In a court free of due process, juries, outside observers, effective discipline or unbiased evaluators attorneys help themselves to the assets of their scared clients. We are at our worst in divorce. We are scared, we are broke at times, we are under extreme duress, we are stressed to the max yet New York lets the divorce industry help themselves to all our assets they can take while we are temporarily mentally impaired. They pilfer our retirement accounts, college funds, houses, savings accounts and then we are extorted by the court to shake down friends and families until we have absolutely exhausted all financial resources – then we must go it alone and proceed to certain defeat against a financed adversary. Contested divorce in New York is a shake down. Judges demand impossible sums for custody or business evaluations and you pay dearly if you can’t afford with contempt, jail or the loss of everything. Attorneys will not stop billing until they have taken everything from their clients or many hundreds of thousands or millions defending rich litigants in questionable proceedings fraught with aforementioned conflicts of interests and absence of due process.
Senator Oppenheimer’s "Divorce Reform Act" does not address the fleecing of clients by divorce attorneys who prey on the weak, scared and sometimes mentally impaired. Attorneys fees should be limited to a percentage of assets and New York needs to end the unfettered access that divorce attorneys have to pilfer all of the assets they can from their clients, until their clients become destitute or succeed in beating down their under-financed adversary.
9) An obvious retort to all of this is ‘it’s your fault, it takes two sides to be difficult.’ However, nothing could be further from the truth. Both the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals 2nd department have official positions to not include pro se litigants in pre-trial conferences or settlement conferences. I have documented proof that the 2nd Court of Appeals in New York will not hold settlement conferences with pro se litigants, even though we can’t afford attorneys and there is no way to get free legal assistance in divorce. In my case my adversary refused any settlement discussions. Formal settlements were entirely ignored and this is supported with billing records of zero hours spent on reviewing them. Even when I was represented my adversary avoided all settlement discussions. Letters to the judge explaining bad faith negotiations were ignored. My adversary literally slammed the phone down on me more than 15 times when I attempted to settle as pro se. Even hiring an attorney to settle the case was ignored, he simply refused to return phone calls because he knew correctly that in a court of collusion and corruption he had the upper-hand so there was no reason to negotiate anything. Besides it’s far more profitable to be difficult than cooperative and he was being paid off the books, with the Judges full consent and knowledge by an elderly family member who was not fully understanding of how she was being duped. Multiple requests to a judge for assistance in settlement conferences were flatly ignored thus the case was forced to trial where my adversary didn’t even deliver discovery documents until the second day of trial. Of course, the Judge was all good with that because they are decades old friends. New York has introduced a new system of referees to supposedly help in this issue but this is another free-for-all of collusion. There is no standard for who referees are and they are all veterans of the divorce industry, fpaid by the State. It is simply more court insiders bilking the citizens of New York.
Senator Oppenheimer should have mandated settlement conferences and pre-trial hearings to end the sham process of New York divorce. A party what wants to settle and is willing to do anything reasonable they can to settle can simply be ignored by the other party with no penalty from New York State law, judges or any disciplinary committee. So long as they attorneys are getting paid everyone can be as difficult as they want to be because there are no settlement processes or laws that can be used to forgo court. A party can be forced to trial in New York for custody or finances and the courts are happy to fill their dockets with garbage cases, denying resolution to the reasonable, so long as the insider attorneys are getting paid. I challenge anyone who doesn’t believe this to simply spend a morning on the 10th floor of Westchester Supreme Court or any other matrimony supreme court in New York on three mornings and you will see the same attorney faces because this is where the insiders make their buck and the Judges happily support this system.
In conclusion, Senator Oppenheimer should be denied another term in office for blatantly misleading voters with her ‘Divorce Reform Act of 2010’ legislation. This legislation only deepens the problem of New York Divorce and advances the stranglehold that the divorce industry has on it’s victims – ordinary New Yorkers and innocent children.