Personal Statement – Paris Attacks

Many of you know I’m in Paris for the weekend of November Friday 13th. I’m safe and locked in my hotel. Listening to the Deputy Mayor of Paris on CNN is heartbreaking. This is incredibly sad. To be here for such a vile act of hate brings home how much work we still have to do to make this world a place where young people feel enough hope and love that they never think about resorting to violence. Thank you all for checking in. I’m ok.

Hispanic Heritage Month Gala 2015

David Mejias David-Mejias-Long Island Hispanic Bar AssociationAs President of the Long Island Hispanic Bar Association Community Service Fund (LIHBACSF), I want to thank everyone who participated in this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month Gala and who have made donations to the LIHBACSF.

The LIHBACSF was formed in 2011 to help foster and promote the Long Island Hispanic community’s legal, educational and charitable missions, including providing scholarships to students and charitable assistance to worthy agencies and groups that serve the Long Island Hispanic community. This year, for the second year in a row, we were able to raise $10,000 with the support of Duffy & Duffy, Mejias Milgrim and Alvarado, PLLS, The Suffold County Bar Association and the firm of Mavrides Moyal, Packman & Sadkin, LLP. 

Last year through your generous support we raised more than $10,000 and were able to assist groups that advocate on behalf of struggling Hispanic communities, children, low income families. We were also able with the generous support of Bethpage Federal Credit Union to provide summer fellowships with the Suffolk and Nassau County District Attorney’s Offices for four very worthy law students from Touro and Hofstra Law Schools. Further, we assisted Bethpage Federal Credit Union in developing and implementing a groundbreaking full three-year scholarship, the Thomas Dew Gill Memorial Scholarship, for a diverse Hofstra Law School student who has shown a commitment to community service.

If you are interested in learning more about the LIHBACSF or to make a donation, please contact one of our officers or e-mail us at lihbacsf@gmail.com. Thank you again for your generous support!

Same-Sex Marriage And Taxes

For proponents of same-sex marriage, the ability to enter into a lifelong union with a spouse regardless of gender, has always been seen as a basic civil right. In the past decade, the issue has been debated around the world, resulting in more same-sex unions to occur in many countries. In the United States, six states (Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont) have passed same-sex marriage legislation, with New York joining that list in July of 2011.

To be sure, granting gay couples to marry was a social milestone that will never be forgotten. The decision of an individual state to acknowledge the love and commitment of a couple has been a tremendous victory in the history of gay rights. Yet in many ways it still remains a partial victory and at tax time that reality has a spotlight shone on it brightly.

Despite being legally married in the eyes of the state, the Federal Government does not recognize these unions when it comes time to pay Uncle Sam. Same-sex couples will file taxes jointly this year in New York State, but they face the burden of filing separate federal tax returns. This could have important ramifications for same-sex household.

The Federal Government backed out of the gay marriage game in 1996 when it passed the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a legal union between a man and woman. Because of this decision, same-sex couples will face a multitude of federal tax implications:

  • Filing separate federal returns pushes individuals into a higher tax bracket
  • Same-sex couples must pay tax on employer provided medical/health insurance; traditional married couples do not

In the event of a death, a surviving spouse of same-sex marriage must pay federal and state inheritance tax; traditional surviving spouses do not need to pay an inheritance or gift tax.

These realities are harsh, but there are ways to deal with them.

I have counseled same-sex couples to seriously consider agreeing to a pre-nuptial agreement no matter their financial status because circumstances of division of property are different during a divorce.

If children are involved the stakes are even higher. When same-sex couples decide to have children, most often there is a biological parent and a non-biological parent. This makes it extremely important for the non-biological parent to adopt the child so parental custody is recognized in all states, even those that do not recognize same-sex marriages. In states where same sex marriage is ignored, the non-biological parent will not be able to provide consent for medical assistance if the child needs emergency medical care and does not have legal say in education decisions.

Many people, myself included, have applauded the decision of New York State to recognize same sex marriage. But there is a major legal component to marriage and all same sex couples need to explore all of their options, especially at tax time. It took too long for same sex marriage to become a reality. Don’t let the vagaries of tax law surprise you.

Pope Francis on the Right Track

Family law attorney Dave Mejias says the upcoming visit of Pope Francis to New York has the means to profoundly rethink divorce for Catholics and how the Church currently confronts the modern, unconventional family.

Mejias argues that despite Pope Francis’ more progressive views on easier access to annulments of marriage and the inevitability of marital separation in certain situations, the Catholic Church continues to let its Dogma get in the way of their true Christian values. Says Mejias, “the rest of the Vatican leadership needs to learn to hate the sin, love the sinner.”

As a matrimonial lawyer daily confronted with the personal wreckage of failed relationships Mejias believes, “Pope Francis is on the right track adjusting annulment procedure and his opinions that, on occasion marital separation is the answer, but he is still letting the Dogma of the church get in the way of true Christian values – love and acceptance. It is absolutely morally necessary if either the spouse or child is in any danger – physically or financially. But annulment is not divorce, and a spouse needs to be guaranteed support both financially and spiritually. Separation via annulment leaves the spouse and child at risk from the exploitative marriage, and divorce would leave them at risk of excommunication from their house of worship. What is a parishioner to do?”

Mejias is available to discuss what he believes is an historic opportunity for Pope Francis to use his papal visit to the Festival of Families in the U.S. as a vehicle for extraordinary change, but worries that the Holy See has forgotten those who are an unconventional family for the sake of glorifying the traditional household, “The strength of a family is not determined by its propriety, but by love and devotion. Love comes in many different shapes and sizes – be it a single parent or same sex couple, their love isn’t any less because the Catholic Church says so. We should all leave the judging to God. The Pope has taken a series of modest steps when, in fact, he needs to embark on a journey.”

FACTORS IN DETERMINING CHILD CUSTODY

When children are involved, your relationship with your spouse does not end upon divorce. You may have continued contact with your spouse regarding decisions affecting your children, parenting time and other parental responsibilities.

Custody of minor children involves two main components: a) Legal Custody which refers to major decisions that affect the children’s health and well being and b) Physical Custody which refers to the children’s primary residence. The parent who does not have physical custody of the children shall be entitled to parenting time with the children (also known as “visitation” or “parental access”).

FACTORS IN DETERMINING CUSTODY

The Court considers what is in the best interest of the child when determining custody, in which several factors are considered:

  • Who has been the primary caretaker of the child
  • The ability and willingness of each parent to care for the children
  • The mental and physical health of all individuals involved
  • Quality of home environment
  • Parental guidance that can be provided by each parent
  • The relationship of the child with his parents, siblings and any other person who may significantly affect the child
  • The child’s adjustment to the home, school and community
  • The respect each parent accords for the parental rights of the other parent
  • The willingness and ability of each parent to cooperate
  • The ability of each parent to provide for the child’s economic, emotional and intellectual needs
  • The suitability of parenting plans submitted by each party

Joint Legal Custody:

With joint legal custody, the parties have equal rights of decision making that affect the child. Joint legal custody grants both parents the right to make major decisions regarding a child. These decisions include but are not limited to medical and dental treatment, education, child care and religious upbringing. Unlike many other states, there is no presumption in New York that joint legal custody is in the best interest of the child. Today, joint legal custody agreements are more common.

Joint legal custody does not mean joint physical custody. It is common for parents to agree to joint legal custody with the child residing primarily with one parent.

If the parties cannot agree on a joint legal custodial arrangement, then a court will determine whether there will be joint legal custody or whether one parent will have final say in the different spheres of decision-making.

Joint Physical Custody:

With joint physical custody, each parent has equal time with the child. This type of arrangement is less common. However, there are situations where parents agree to a joint physical custodial arrangement, such as when parents intend to reside in the same school district and the parents have a good working relationship with one another.

Sole Physical Custody:

If the parents cannot agree on physical or legal custody, then a court will make a determination as to which parent should have sole physical and legal custody. A law guardian, who is an attorney appointed by the court to represent the child, will be retained by the parties. The law guardian’s role is to be an advocate for your child. In addition, if custody cannot be agreed upon by the parties, a court may also appoint a forensic psychologist or psychiatrist to help guide and assist the court in making a ruling on custody and parenting time.