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A series of new rules governing matrimonial practice will place an added burden on attorneys and litigants to exchange documents at an early stage, while pressuring judges to move custody and visitation cases more diligently. The Administrative Board of the Courts has unanimously approved amendments, effective Oct. 1, that will: � Require parties in a matrimonial action to exchange documents 10 days prior to the mandatory 45-day preliminary conference. Parties will have to share statements of net worth, paycheck stubs, tax returns, statements of accounts received and documentation relating to insurance and deferred compensation. � Increase pressure on judges to “proceed from day to day to conclusion” in custody and visitation matters. The Administrative Board was concerned that custody cases are not always receiving the calendaring priority that is appropriate. � Impose a 20-day requirement on the exchange of expert information. Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman said yesterday that the overall goal of the rule changes is to resolve matrimonial actions more quickly and efficiently, while making them “less adversarial and more focused on” problems that intimately affect children and families. He said the rules were promulgated in consultation with the matrimonial bar. “The broad overall goal [is] … to promote expedition in a way that minimizes damage to families,” Judge Lippman said. Currently, under �202.16(f) of the Uniform Civil Rules for the Supreme and County Courts, a preliminary conference must be held within 45 days after an action has been assigned to a judge. Additionally, documents, including a specification of net worth, must be filed with the court at least 10 days prior to the conference. But there is no current requirement that the parties exchange financial information prior to the preliminary conference, and all too often those conferences are therefore less productive than they could be. The new rule amends subdivision (f)(1). Documents will still have to be filed with the court. However, in addition, they will have to be shared between parties. Judge Lippman said the amendment arose out of concern that the preliminary conferences were not as effective as they could be. He said the hope is that the new requirement will provide the information that can lead to early resolution “before the parties become hardened in their position.” “What we are trying to do is create a matrimonial system that is less adversarial in nature and more solution-oriented,” Judge Lippman said. “Often, if you don’t have meaningful discussions up front, it just causes problems later on.” Judge Jacqueline Silbermann, the administrative judge for matrimonial matters and chairwoman of the Committee on Matrimonial Practice, said the new rule aims to expedite the discovery process with two goals: to facilitate settlements, and to aid pro se litigants and less experienced lawyers. “They don’t know what documents to demand, and here we sort of give it to them,” Judge Silbermann said. With regard to day-to-day hearings, covered under �202.16(i), the amended version simply changes a key word. Instead of a rule that says a trial “should proceed from day to day to conclusion,” as of Oct. 1 the language will say “shall proceed.” It covers proceedings pertaining to temporary or permanent custody and visitation. Judge Silbermann said that delays in such cases are particularly problematic because of the delicate issues involved, and the fact that the family dynamics can change markedly between the time that a matter is commenced and when a decision is rendered. However, she made clear that the Office of Court Administration does not intend to micro-manage judges. “Look, judges will always be free, with good cause shown, to change the date, but we are trying to show a greater emphasis on the need … to do it day-to-day,” Judge Silbermann said. “We are hoping that by just saying “shall” … we are telling judges these are cases that really should take priority on your calendar and you have to push other things aside.” The new rule on expert witnesses involves �202.16(g) and concerns requests for information covered under �3101(d) of the Civil Practice Law and Rules. Section 202.16(g) requires that parties exchange reports of expert witnesses no later than 60 days before trial. However, CPLR �3101(d), which applies to all civil cases, requires each party to make available “upon request” the identity of expert witnesses, their qualifications and the substance of the opinions they are expected to render. Under the amended �202.16(g), responses to demands for information pursuant to CPLR 3101(d) must be served within 20 days. In another matter, Judge Lippman amended the rules governing fee arbitration in domestic relations matters under �136.3 of the Rules of the Chief Administrator. Now, a panel of three arbitrators, instead of a single-attorney arbitrator, is implicated when a fee dispute exceeds $3,000. With the amended rules, which also take effect Oct. 1, disputes involving less than $6,000 will be submitted to one attorney arbitrator; those exceeding $6,000 will be submitted to a panel of three. “Given the current value of attorney fees, about half of the arbitrations are over $3,000 now, and that has put a great burden on the availability of arbitrators to serve,” Judge Lippman said. “This raises the threshold so that you can expedite those arbitrations that can be handled by a single lawyer arbitrator.”

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