One thing that I have learned about legislation in New York is that often a bill becomes law without any notice to those who may be affected by it. Completely by chance as the result of reviewing a downstate decision, I became aware of a provision in the Domestic Relations Law that family law practitioners should have been apprised of.
However, I had never known about it, and discussions with several experienced local matrimonial practitioners turned up no one else who had, either. Unlike some family law statutes, this one has real relevance to day to day practice. Consequently, below is the entirety of the section, with the key provision in bold:
DRL §236B 8. Special relief in matrimonial actions
a. In any matrimonial action the court may order a party to purchase, maintain or assign a policy of insurance providing benefits for health and hospital care and related services for either spouse or children of the marriage not to exceed such period of time as such party shall be obligated to provide maintenance, child support or make payments of a distributive award. The court may also order a party to purchase, maintain or assign a policy of accident insurance or insurance on the life of either spouse, and to designate in the case of life insurance, either spouse or children of the marriage, or in the case of accident insurance, the insured spouse as irrevocable beneficiaries during a period of time fixed by the court. The obligation to provide such insurance shall cease upon the termination of the spouse’s duty to provide maintenance, child support or a distributive award. A copy of such order shall be served, by registered mail, on the home office of the insurer specifying the name and mailing address of the spouse or children, provided that failure to so serve the insurer shall not affect the validity of the order.
b. In any action where the court has ordered temporary maintenance, maintenance, distributive award or child support, the court may direct that a payment be made directly to the other spouse or a third person for real and personal property and services furnished to the other spouse, or for the rental or mortgage amortization or interest payments, insurances, taxes, repairs or other carrying charges on premises occupied by the other spouse, or for both payments to the other spouse and to such third persons. Such direction may be made notwithstanding that the parties continue to reside in the same abode and notwithstanding that the court refuses to grant the relief requested by the other spouse.
c. Any order or judgment made as in this section provided may combine any amount payable to either spouse under this section with any amount payable to such spouse as child support or under section two hundred forty of this chapter.
This provision makes it much easier to ensure that a party ordered to carry insurance for the benefit of the other party or the children actually does so. As any lawyer who has had to deal with financial companies knows, once such a company finds out that there is an order in place in which the company has some role, the company tends to be very careful to avoid doing something for which it may be liable.
If one party to a divorce is required to carry life insurance for the benefit of the other, the insurance company providing the policy typically wants to be sure it will not be held responsible if the party who is supposed to carry the other as an irrevocable beneficiary improperly changes beneficiaries. It is likely that if the company was aware of the order, should the beneficiary be changed the insurer would want to notify the displaced beneficiary.
Clearly this is a valuable back-up to the usual provision in a divorce settlement agreement that the party required to carry the life insurance must provide proof to the beneficiary that the insurance remains in effect.
Now, do you want to know when this provision was inserted into the Domestic Relations Law? 1999! There really needs to be some method devised for practitioners to find out when changes are made in the law — not just major changes, but all changes.
Sara Stout Ashcraft is a partner in Ashcraft, Franklin, Young & Peters LLP. She concentrates her practice in the areas of matrimonial and family law.