Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is a Family Lawyer in New York and when would I need one?

A:A Family Lawyer is an attorney who represents a client in matters involving the custody and support of children and modifications of support, whether married or not; paternity; adoption; domestic violence and Orders of Protection, among other matters in which the Court has jurisdiction. For parties who are married, they include divorce, custody and support of children of the marriage, equitable distribution of marital property, a declaration of separate property; spousal support and valuation of marital assets including any business; prenuptial (prior to the marriage) agreements and post-nuptial agreement (after the marriage); post judgment matters, issues which arise after the Judgment of Divorce and distribution of assets has taken place. Those issues can include enforcement, modification of custody and support; support for a child's attendance at college; among others.

Q: Is there a difference between a Family Lawyer and a Divorce Lawyer?

A: A divorce lawyer may choose to confine their practice only to cases which involve a married couple and the issues relating thereto. In New York, divorce cases can only be commenced in Supreme Court, as only a Supreme Court Judge has the authority to grant a divorce and distribute marital property. Support and custody cases involving non-married parents are heard in Family Court and, unless consolidated with a divorce case in Supreme Court, in certain circumstances they can hear custody cases involving married parents in certain jurisdictions. Family Court may also hear post-divorce judgment cases as to support and custody. We represent clients in both Courts and also offer Mediation and Collaborative Divorce services.

Q:My husband and I are having marital problems and he keeps threatening to divorce me, do I need to see a lawyer?

A:It is always beneficial to understand the divorce process and what it involves. It is particularly beneficial if you believe your spouse may be planning a divorce to learn what your rights are and how to protect yourself. Additionally, there are things you can do to be prepared for it financially and to ensure that your spouse is not taking actions as to your finances, closing accounts or credit cards, transferring or hiding money and marital assets, all of which could be detrimental to you. It is also important that you are aware of what your marital assets are, your marital budget, including your monthly financial needs, whether it is necessary to take steps to preserve the marital assets and to understand your rights and responsibilities.

Q: Should I get a male or female lawyer?

A:You should hire the lawyer with whom you have a good connection and rapport. You will be discussing and addressing very personal issues at a very emotional time. You need to feel that your lawyer understands your case, is capable of handling it and that your questions are answered to your satisfaction. You also need to understand what your lawyer is advising you and that you feel comfortable to ask questions so that you truly understand what you are being advised. You should also feel comfortable asking what the lawyer's strategy is after they have been furnished with sufficient information in order to formulate one. You will be spending significant time with your choice of counsel and the importance of feeling that it is a good match for you is essential.

Q:What questions should I ask about the lawyer at a consultation for divorce?

A:How much of their practice is devoted to Family Law and/or Divorce Cases? What experience have they had in those cases? Does the attorney also try cases? Are they financial cases or custody cases or both (or other related issue of your case)? Additionally, you should ask specific questions regarding the facts of your case and if they have handled cases similar to your fact pattern. Be sure not to leave out important details because they may impact the advice and analysis the attorney gives you.

Q:Are there any requirements in order to obtain a divorce in New York?

A:Yes, there is a residency requirement as follows: 1) you must be a resident of New York for a continuous period of two (2) years; or you must be a resident of New York for at least one (1) year AND you also must have gotten married in New York, or lived in New York as a married couple, or the grounds for divorce occurred in New York, or both parties are residents of New York at the time of the commencement of the divorce and the cause of action occurred in New York. As well, there must be a stated reason/grounds for divorce which are set by statute DRL §170. In New York, those grounds include a no-fault ground for divorce with there being an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage for a period in excess of six (6) months.

Q:What are the steps in a divorce case in NY?

A:Generally, an action for divorce is commenced by the filing of a Summons with Notice and/or a Summons and Complaint. Those documents state the basis for the divorce and the relief the moving party seeks. The filing of a Summons and Complaint (the Pleadings) stops both the acquisition of marital property and the accumulation of marital debt. Therefore, marital property which is subject to divisions (in NY referred to as equitable distribution) is generally measured from the date of the marriage to the date of the commencement of the action or to the date of trial, depending on the nature of the asset.
The filing of a Summons ( &Complaint) also includes Automatic Orders which Court Orders attach with the filing by Plaintiff and after service of the document on the Defendant are in effect upon both parties. They are important to understand what you can and cannot do with certain assets following the commencement of the Action for Divorce. A copy of the Automatic Orders, which Orders are issued to protect, affect, restrict actions which may be taken by a party against marital assets and further prevents the cancelling medical insurance or the removal of a party from a beneficiary designation, as is forth below.

PURSUANT TO the Uniform Rules of the Trial Courts, and DOMESTIC RELATIONS LAW § 236 Part B, Section 2, both you and your spouse (the parties) are bound by the following AUTOMATIC ORDERS, which have been entered against you and your spouse in your divorce action pursuant to 22 NYCRR §202.16 (a) and which shall remain in full force and effect during the pendency of the action unless terminated, modified or amended by further order of the court or upon written agreement between the parties:
(I) Neither party shall transfer, encumber, assign, remove or in any way dispose of, without the consent of the other party in writing, or by order of the court, any property (including, but not limited to, real estate, personal property, cash accounts, stocks, mutual funds, bank accounts, cars and boats) individually or jointly held by the parties, except in the usual course of business, for customary and usual household expenses or for reasonable attorney's fees in connection with this action.
(2)Neither party shall transfer, encumber, assign, remove, withdraw or in any way dispose of any tax deferred funds, stocks or other assets held in any individual retirement accounts, 401k accounts, profit sharing plans, Keogh accounts, or any other pension or retirement account, and the parties shall further refrain from applying for or requesting the payment of retirement benefits or annuity payments of any kind, without the consent of the other party in writing, or upon further order of the court; except that any party who is already in pay status may continue to receive such payments thereunder.
(3)Neither party shall incur unreasonable debts hereafter, including, but not limited to further borrowing against any credit line secured by the family residence, further encumbrancing any assets, or unreasonably using credit cards or cash advances against credit cards, except in the usual course of business or for customary or usual household expenses, or for reasonable attorney's fees in connection with this action.
(4)Neither party shall cause the other party or the children of the marriage to be removed from any existing medical, hospital and dental insurance coverage, and each party shall maintain the existing medical, hospital and dental insurance coverage in full force and effect.
(5)Neither party shall change the beneficiaries of any existing life insurance policies, and each party shall maintain the existing life insurance, automobile insurance, homeowners and renters insurance policies in full force and effect.

IMPORTANT NOTE: After service of the Summons With Notice or Summons and Complaint for divorce, if you or your spouse wishes to modify or dissolve the automatic orders, you must ask the Court for approval to do so, or enter into a written modification agreement with your spouse, duly signed and acknowledged before a notary public.


PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that once a judgment of divorce is signed in this action both you and your spouse may or may not continue to be eligible for coverage under each other's health insurance plan, depending on the terms of the plan.

Q: What happens next as to the Summons?

Thereafter the defendant is served with the Summons and is required to answer (respond to) the Summons and file their Answer to the Complaint and interpose a counterclaim as to the relief the defendant seeks in the Action.
Following the pleadings, there is what is called financial discovery. Both parties will each disclose all finances, assets, liabilities, income from all sources, and claimed separate property in a document called a sworn Statement of Net Worth which also includes the budget of monthly expenses. This document is used to determine any temporary support and related custodial access issues during the action (pendente lite support and custody) and to determine whether there are assets which require appraisals and forensic valuations and apportion the payments of the same. Typically, there a preliminary conference scheduled with the Court to set the timing of the financial discovery and the exchange of the parties' respective financial documents and to further address whether a motion for any temporary spousal and child support award is necessary. The Court will also address whether custody is contested, temporary custodial access, as well as the need, if any, for an attorney for the child(dren), and for a forensic evaluation related to custody. The Court will inquire as to what the nature of the dispute is as to custody of the children of the marriage and address any immediate issue affecting the children.
The Court will provide a time-line and schedule for all of the foregoing to be completed and, if the matter is not resolved by way of settlement, the matter ultimately will be scheduled for trial.

Q:My finance() ́wants me to sign a prenuptial agreement do I have to sign it- I don't think he will marry me if I don't?

If you have not discussed the document, you should have a discussion with your finance() ́about what your respective expectations are as to how your marital assets and finances will be handled. You also should seek the advice of an attorney who handles such matters to advise as to what the document states as to how he seeks the marital property to be characterized, including whether or not you will acquire marital property and receive spousal support upon any dissolution of your marriage. You should also be advised what would happen upon the dissolution of the marriage if the document was not signed. The execution of a prenuptial agreement is a binding contract which has serious financial consequences throughout your marriage. You should not execute such a document without the benefit of an experienced attorney. Nor should you execute such a document without reading it in its entirety and having a full understanding of what it states that you are agreeing to and what rights you may be relinquishing in the document. Your attorney can also negotiate the terms that you want in the document or to try to renegotiate the terms proposed.

Q:Do you represent clients in same sex marriages?

A:Absolutely. Including those where there are children of the marriage.

Q: Do you handle Adoptions?

A:We represent client's in both Step-parent adoptions and Adult Adoptions. It is always a pleasure to do so.

Q:What is Divorce Mediation, and does a lawyer have to have special qualifications and how does mediation work?

A:Divorce mediation is a process where the parties meet with a mediator to resolve the financial and custodial issues in the dissolution of the marriage. The mediator does not represent either party and is to remain neutral to bring about an agreement and resolution of all issues between the parties without the intervention of the Court. It can be an effective way to resolve a divorce matter if the parties are largely aligned with how to resolve their issues. It is successful where the parties are committed to working together to reach a resolution together and it is not an acrimonious situation.

Our firm offers Mediation services to act as a mediator, but also to act as a review attorney for a party for any Mediation Agreement achieved through mediation. We also offer services as counsel to a party while they are engaged in the mediation process to explain the law to them and counsel them as to what the law provides for them in their circumstance. Our clients have found having an attorney who represents their interests available to them while they are in mediation to be invaluable in the negotiating process where no lawyer is acting on their behalf.

It there is any domestic violence in the marriage, our firm generally will not provide mediation services over concerns of the nature of the relationship between the parties. A divorce Mediator should have had some training in mediation. It is often how committed the parties are to avoiding court and how they interact that determines the success of mediation. Our firm is available to act as a Mediator in your Family Law/Divorce matter.

Q: I am not married and pregnant and carrying our child to term, what do I do for my child?

A: We can represent you in Family Court to establish paternity of the father and seek support from him for pregnancy expenses and birthing expenses as well as child support for your child. We can also represent you in a custody proceeding as well.

Q. Why do attorneys answer so many questions with the answer "it depends"?

A: Every matter in law is what is called fact specific. The law always is fact driven to see if all or any part of a law applies to an aspect of your matter. Any alteration of a fact pattern will change whether you may apply certain rules and laws to your circumstance which impacts the desired result. That is why attorneys pause or ask more questions following a question posed by a client to determine if a fact or circumstance not yet discussed may be dispositive to your situation. Clients often ask about a situation of a friend or family member and seek the same result, but their case may not have a fact pattern which would lead to the same result. That is why it is important that you develop a rapport with your attorney so that you fully understand how your case can be presented and how your attorney will advocate for you.

Q:What is Collaborative Divorce does a lawyer have to have special qualifications and how does it work?

A:In Collaborative Divorce the parties make the same commitment to resolving their matter absent the Courts as in mediation, but the difference is that the parties are each represented by counsel who are there to negotiate and advocate on behalf of their client as to the terms of settlement. They will also conduct financial discovery and address issues as to child custody and advise you of the applicable laws relating to those issues. As well, they will discuss with you the applicable case law relating thereto and how the Courts have generally ruled on the issues of your case.
The commitment to not proceeding in Court is often reflected in an agreement that neither party's attorney will represent the parties in Court if the collaboration fails. This model is to act as a disincentive to the parties opting out and having to retain new counsel and essentially start over. The success or failure of collaboration depends on the circumstances of the case and whether it is suited for a Collaborative process. There is a training in NY which is undertaken by attorneys to act as a Collaborative Divorce attorney. Our firm has been trained and can act in this capacity for you.

Q: Do you only have cases in Divorces and Family Law?

A: Our firm's practice is devoted exclusively to Matrimonial (divorce) and Family Law. Barbara A. Castrataro, Esq. has been practicing in this area of law for over 31 years. We work diligently to resolve our cases absent litigation. When settlement is unachievable, we have extensive experience representing our clients and litigating divorce cases including complex contested financial trials and complex contested custody trials. Not all cases require litigation and not all cases can be resolved absent litigation.

Q: I am concerned about cost. How can I keep my fees down?

A: By organizing your material, providing the requested documents in a cogent order and asking your attorney what you can do to organize the requested material. Disclose all information to your attorney from the outset so that there are no surprises or hidden issues later. In your communications such as email, sort the issues out in separate paragraphs including your list of questions and concerns so they are clear. Be responsive to your attorney. Discourage, de-escalate, and disengage from direct confrontations with your spouse. If you have emails or communications between you and your spouse which you believe are important, put them in order without repetition of material to save your attorney (and you the cost) of reading through the same documents over and again. Keep good records. Make your communications with your attorney efficient. Provide your attorney with a time-line of events and information of matters you believe to be of importance. Be aware that compromise will be required, particularly over smaller issue such as dividing personal items acquired during the marriage. Spending 3 hours of your attorney's time negotiating for an item that costs less than one hour of your attorney's time is rarely the best use of your money.

Q: What sets your firm apart from other firms?

A:Our approach to the cases. We believe that the attorney client relationship requires that we work together to reach your desired outcome. That means you are not only apprised of what is happening in your case, but that you are working together with your attorney to make decisions and approve steps that she will take on your behalf. We believe that building a trusting attorney client relationship is an essential part of our representation of you. Every case that come to us contains a unique set of facts for which an effective strategy must be created to reach the desired resolution. This requires extreme trust in the relationship between attorney and client. We believe working together as a partnership is essential in order to be the most effective advocate for you.

Ms. Castrataro's goal is to provide her clients with individualized attention and create practical solutions. She is a skilled negotiator but also a tough, experienced litigator who is prepared to try a case when settlement is unattainable. Known to be a detailed and exacting perfectionist in litigation and at trial, Ms. Castrataro vigorously advocates using a detailed case analysis, a command of the facts and law, and a case narrative, all of which are developed and constantly refined to achieve the most effective strategy for our clients. This is amplified by the working partnership developed with each client.