January 16, 2022

Areas of Practice

Divorce, Custody, Support

office picThe experience of going through a divorce, separation or termination of a relationship with a domestic partner is life-changing, emotionally challenging, and often painful. We focus our practice on negotiated settlements out of court.

Mediation or Collaborative Law offers a private, non-adversarial, respectful way to make the transition from one to two family units and offers a much better opportunity than adversarial court proceedings to preserve a good co-parenting and post-divorce relationship. In some instances, it is possible for a couple to navigate the details of their separation and divorce with some guidance from an attorney, in a “kitchen table” version of divorce.

In a “kitchen table” negotiation, we work with a client to guide them in their discussions with their spouse or partner. If they are able to resolve all the issues, we draft an agreement for them and their spouse or partner to review (and urge the partner to also consult an attorney).

In Mediation, a neutral Mediator respectfully and compassionately facilitates the discussion and negotiation between the parties and helps them come to an agreement. Consultation with each party’s attorney typically takes place outside the mediation process.

In Collaborative Law, the parties and the attorneys meet together, often with financial, parenting, and communication professionals, to help them work out an agreement.

We help each client decide the level of professional and support they wish to have so that they can choose a process which is most appropriate for them and their unique situation.

In some instances, may be appropriate and necessary to go to court, and we make appropriate referrals to attorneys who do litigation.

Throughout the process, our focus is on helping our clients identify what is important to them, both in the present and in the future. We provide support and guidance to make well-considered choices about their future.

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office picAdoptions take place in many different circumstances, and create a permanent legal bond between parent and child. We use our experience and expertise to give adoptive parent or parents peace of mind that the adoption of their child is permanent and secure.

We assist clients in the adoption of children through the following circumstances:

Some parents adopt a child through an adoption agency and need an attorney to help them with the court process.

Others adopt children from other countries, and we help them with registration of that adoption in New York or, where necessary, re-adoption in New York so that the child will have a United States adoption certificate and birth certificate.

Sometimes there is a private adoption by agreement between birth and adoptive parents.

Step-parents adopt their stepchildren either with the consent of a birth parent, or through a court process.

Same-sex couples need to do second-parent adoptions by the non-genetic parent, even though married same-sex parents can both be listed on the child’s birth certificate(a birth certificate is only a report of a child’s birth, and does not give legal parentage). New York state currently recognizes a married same-sex spouse – and, in some limited circumstances, an unmarried second parent -- as the parent of the child However, many states and countries still do not recognize a second parent as a legal parent, so it is still essential for married same-sex parents to do a second-parent adoption or obtain a Judgment of Parentage (see ART section).

Adult adoptions are possible with the consent of the adoptive parents and adult adoptive child.

The adoption process can be daunting and paperwork-intensive. We guide clients through each step, to the conclusion of the process, when we appear with them in court to finalize the adoption.

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LGBTQ+ Family Law and Domestic Partners

office picWe have considerable expertise and experience in meeting the needs of LGBTQ+ clients and couples. Marriage has been available to all same-sex couples in the United States since 2015, based on the Obergefell v. Hodges decision of the United States Supreme Court.

Our office has been actively involved in efforts to reform the law to better protect LGBTQ+ clients, including litigation to extend the right to marry to gay and lesbian couples, and the protection of transgender clients through the inclusion of gender identity and expression in non-discrimination laws on the local, state, and federal level.

Same-sex couples face unique considerations when they marry, and it is often advisable to enter into a pre-nuptial agreement (or post-nuptial agreement, for couples who are already married) to honor how they view their relationship and clarify how they want to address issues related to property, debts, and other legal consequences of marriage. Mediation and Collaborative Law are ideally suited to helping couples work out the details of a pre- or post-nuptial agreement in a loving, cooperative, and respectful way.

Some same-sex and opposite-sex couples choose not to marry, for a variety of reasons. This means that the extensive protections applicable to married couples are not available, and there is no safety net to protect partners in the event of illness or death. There are also no established legal rules that govern division of property and debts and other issues when a couple separates.

We work with domestic partners to make sure that they are protected as much as possible through health care proxies, living wills, durable powers of attorney, second-parent adoption, releases for access to medical information, and authorizations to obtain medical care for children and determine the disposition of their partner’s remains after death. Married couples also need to have these documents because marriage does not automatically give a spouse the right to make health care decisions, manage the spouse’s affairs during an illness, or obtain medical information. See the Wills, Trusts and Estates section of this website for more information.

A domestic partnership agreement specifies each partner’s rights and responsibilities in the event of a separation, and can avoid potentially painful, costly litigation. Collaborative Law or Mediation offers a cooperative, respectful way to negotiate domestic partnership agreements, or, if there is no agreement, negotiate the division of property and debts and arrangements for children when a couple separates.

We help transgender clients change their names through a legal procedure and guide them through the steps to change their names and gender markers on official documents.

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Alternative Reproductive Technologies (ART’s)

office picMany families are created with Alternative Reproductive Technologies (ART). Opposite-sex and same-sex couples often receive donated gametes (sperm or eggs) when they form a family, or engage a surrogate to carry and give birth to their child. It is important to enter into legal donor agreements and take the steps to establish legal parentage of the child.

The law in New York changed in 2021 to clarify who the legal parents are when ART’s are used, and it is now possible to ask a court for a Judgment of Parentage (before or after the child’s birth).

It is critically important that same-sex couples obtain a Judgment of Parentage or second-parent adoption (see Adoption section) so that the parents’ relationship with their child cannot be challenged in hostile states or countries.

Gestational surrogacy contracts are valid in New York, as long as they meet legal requirements (which include substantial protections for the surrogate). A gestational surrogate is not a genetic parent of the child. Traditional surrogacy arrangements, where the surrogate is a genetic parent of the child, are not valid in New York. A Judgment of Parentage is necessary to clearly establish that the intended parents are the legal parents of the child, and that the surrogate is not a legal parent.

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Wills, Trusts and Estates

office picIt is difficult to think about one’s own death, and therefore many clients delay getting Wills and other estate planning documents in place. It can be challenging to decide what to do about arrangements for children and distribution of one’s remaining assets after death. We make the process as smooth and manageable as possible, and focus on our clients’ goals and concerns. Each person’s estate plan needs to be uniquely tailored to their needs.

It is critically important to know the rules that apply if someone has not signed a Will. Very often, the default rules do not meet our clients’ needs, and we assist them in preparing a Will so that their wishes are carried out and their families are protected. In particular, domestic partners and parents with minor children need to plan carefully to ensure that the tragedy of a death is not compounded by hardship for the survivors through poor planning. When necessary, we provide referrals for advanced estate planning.

Other important estate planning documents include:

Health Care Proxy: Designation of a trusted relative, partner, or friend to carry out a client’s health care wishes if they are unable to make their own decisions.

Living Will: Detailed description of a client’s wishes about terminal health care.

Durable Power of attorney: Designation of a trusted person or institution to manage a client’s financial and administrative affairs during the child’s lifetime without the need for the appointment of a guardian.

Disposition of Remains form: Description of a client’s wishes for disposition of their body after death and designation of the person who will be in charge of making the arrangements.

Married couples also need to sign these documents because spouses do not automatically have the right to make health care decisions for their incapacitated spouse or manage their spouse’s financial affairs.

Guardianship: In instances where a client is concerned about a relative, partner, or friend who cannot manage their own affairs because of memory loss, other illness, or injury, we assist clients in applying for appointment as a guardian. In some cases, Mariette is appointed by the court to represent the interests of alleged incapacitated persons or to act as the court evaluator, to who makes recommendations to the court.

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Estate Administration

office picAfter the death of a loved one, we assist the named executor (or administrator, if there is no Will) in the administration of the estate. We provide guidance in a sensitive and compassionate way at a time when family and friends are grieving and often overwhelmed by the tasks involved in taking care of an estate. We discuss the extent of our involvement with each client, and then carefully guide them through the estate administration process.

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Small Business

office picWe work closely with clients who own or start a small business, to ensure that the business is structured in a way that meets their needs. We help clients determine whether to conduct the business as a sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company, corporation, or other kind of entity, and guide them through the business formation process. As a business grows, we help our clients with general legal advice about contracts and other business matters.

We offer advice and assistance in the purchase or sale of a business, including any real estate owned by the business, to make sure all legal requirements are met and the closing proceeds smoothly.

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Training and Public Speaking

office picMariette provides Collaborative Law and Mediation training.. She is a member of the IACP training faculty, and has presented Collaborative Law training in New York State, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Alaska, Canada and South Africa, and online for the IACP. She has provided basic collaborative training, and has trained collaborative lawyers and mediators on a range of topics, including LGBTQ+ legal issues and cultural competence, and grief and divorce.

Mariette has provided continuing legal education for the New York State Bar Association, the Finger Lakes Women’s Bar Association and the Tompkins County Bar Association on family law and estate planning for LGBTQ+ clients.

Mariette is a frequent public speaker at community events and workshops on a range of topics, including LGBTQ+ legal developments, collaborative law, mediation, non-violent communication, and grief and bereavement.

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Not-For-Profit Corporations

office picWe represent not-for-profit corporations in many aspects of their operations, including contract review, incorporation, drafting and revisions of bylaws and a variety of transactional work. We offer a reduced hourly rate for not-for-profit clients and are mindful of the mission and needs of each organization as we advise them.

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