The New York Law Journal recently reported on a case that could have implications for how couples represent themselves in court when they choose to undergo a divorce in New York City. A Brooklyn Appellate Court recently ruled that a divorcing woman was not allowed to use her brother-in-law as an attorney during the proceedings. Esther Halberstam retained Eric A. Schwartz as her lawyer. Schwartz is married to Halberstam’s sister. Michael Halberstam who had previously been married to Esther Halberstam claimed that he had told Schwartz confidential financial and personal information. These discussions took place prior to Michael Halberstam knowing that Schwartz would later represent his wife during the divorce.
A Statement of Net Worth is sometimes required by the courts. This document lists all financial information in detail. This statement is often reviewed by the courts in divorce cases. If this information conflicts with verbal information Schwartz might have had access to, there could have been issues in court.
Schwartz later agreed to not represent either side on the matter. A Brooklyn court affirmed this on November 12th, ordering Schwartz off the case.
The panel wrote: “The evidence further supported the reasonable probability that confidential information was shared by the defendant with Schwartz, based on his belief that Schwartz would not represent either party. Accordingly, based on the appearance of impropriety, disqualification was warranted.”
This case can have wide-reaching implications about how couples get divorced in New York. According to the Website of the New York State Unified Court System, couples are advised by the government to seek the advice of a lawyer should they decide to get divorced. Even in simplified divorce cases, a lawyer can ensure that financial, parenting, and other assets are accounted for and properly documented. A lawyer can also ensure that all paperwork is properly filed with the courts. Couples are only allowed to file for an uncontested divorce without the help of a lawyer if the marriage has been over for 6 months, if there are no children under 21, no property division issues, and division of debt has been agreed upon. Uncontested divorce may only take place if both parties want to get divorced and agree upon all financial matters.
A contested divorce may require litigation. A divorce is contested if one spouse does not want to get divorced, one spouse disagrees about the legal reason for the divorce, or if there is a disagreement about finances and property division following the divorce.
In New York State, a judge will only end a marriage in cases where the couple has reached an agreement about the division of property and children. However, in cases where the couple cannot reach an agreement, a judge may make a determination on these issues as well.
Couples and individuals have a right to seek the help of a divorce lawyer of their choosing when they decide to dissolve a marriage. However, thanks to this new ruling, individuals in Queens, New York and couples in the area should exercise caution when deciding who will represent them to ensure that there is no conflict of interest.