If you are getting divorced in Westchester County, it is important to hire a matrimonial attorney who is familiar with the unique practice of the Westchester County Supreme Court Matrimonial Part. In Westchester County, there are Matrimonial Part Operational Rules that set forth rules specific to Westchester County divorce cases. One significant aspect of matrimonial practice in Westchester County is the Court’s use of Court Attorney Referees. Court Attorney Referees handle most Court conferences in Westchester including the preliminary conference, compliance conferences, and pre-motion conferences. Referees do not conduct hearings or trials and they do not have the power to issue Orders. These powers are reserved for Supreme Court Judges. However, Referees do make recommendations to the Judges and the Judges are permitted to consider these recommendations when issuing orders. See Parts (D)(6) and (E)(12) of the Westchester Supreme Court Matrimonial Part Operational Rules.
In the Westchester Matrimonial Part, Referees oversee conferences that Judges usually reside over in other jurisdictions. As a general rule, all parties and counsel must personally appear for each court conference. The Preliminary Conference is usually the first court conference as the name implies. At the Preliminary Conference, the Referee will attempt to resolve grounds, determine the complexity of the case, outline the issues that need to be resolved, and set a timeline for various aspects of the case such as serving and filing pleadings and completion of the disclosure process. Usually, the Referee will also determine whether custody is contested and if it is, then the Referee will ask the Judge to assign an attorney for the children. The Referee will also determine whether experts, such as mental health experts in a custody case or accounting experts to value marital property, will be assigned to the case. In Westchester, the parties or their attorneys are required to jointly prepare a Preliminary Conference Order and submit same to the Court at the Preliminary Conference. At the end of the Preliminary Conference, the referee will set a date for a Compliance Conference.
Compliance Conferences are status conferences so the Court can determine how the case is progressing and make sure the case is moving towards trial. In Westchester County, the Referee determines whether each party is complying with disclosure, determine the status of any expert reports, and try and resolve any other issues that arise while the case is pending.
When a Referee determines the case is ready for trial, the Referee will recommend that the Judge issue a Trial Ready Order, which schedules the Pre-Motion Conference and the Trial. The Pre-Motion Conference and trial take place before a Supreme Court Judge.
Motion practice is another significant aspect of matrimonial law which has specific rules in Westchester County. In most jurisdictions, a party in a divorce case can file a motion at any point during the case. However, in Westchester, except in the case of an emergency, the moving party must request a pre-motion conference before making a motion. Parties cannot submit a non-emergency motion without permission from the Referee. Many attorneys not familiar with Westchester matrimonial practice file motions that the Court rejects. In the case where the moving party and his or her attorney think that their motion is an emergency and requires immediate attention, the attorney for that party can submit an Order to Show Cause directly to the Judge assigned in the case.
After every conference with the Referee, the Referee will have both parties sign a Stipulation as to any issues agreed to during the Conference. The Stipulation will then be “So Ordered” by a Judge and filed with the Westchester County Clerk’s office. This gives the Stipulation the force of a Court Order. The Referee will issue a Referee’s Report at the conclusion of each conference, which outlines the issues and progress of thee case and often makes recommendations to the Judge concerning specific issues. Occasionally, the Referee will bring the Judge into a conference so that the Judge can hear the issues and conference with the parties and their attorneys.
As you can see, practicing matrimonial law in Westchester County is a specialty. If you are getting divorced in Westchester, it is a disadvantage to hire a lawyer who is not familiar with the specific rules of the Westchester Supreme Court Matrimonial Part. If you have any other questions about Westchester County Matrimonial Practice, please contact Danziger Legal PLLC and ask to speak to one of our knowledgeable attorneys.