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In a divorce action where the federal standard for determining the proper jurisdiction for a child-custody matter conflicted with the plaintiff-wife’s marital property rights, a Manhattan judge has opted to bifurcate the case between two states. Supreme Court Justice Laura Drager will continue to oversee Erin Taylor Reish and Timothy George Reish’s divorce proceeding, including the determination of fault and the distribution of property. But the Ohio Common Pleas Court will maintain jurisdiction over the determination of the custody of the Reishes’ 6-year-old and 4-year-old sons. “Generally, this court is reluctant to bifurcate a case between two jurisdictions. Yet the unique circumstances here justify the result,” Drager wrote in Reish v. Reish, 302668/05. “Although the Husband has raised a sufficient basis to challenge custody, the circumstances of the family life over the past year raise concern that the Husband’s claim for custody is merely a litigation strategy to avoid having a New York court consider the financial issues arising from the marriage.” The Reishes married in Ohio in July 1996. Ms. Reish has a master’s degree in physical therapy from Hahnemann University. Mr. Reish completed a fellowship in orthopedic surgery in New York shortly before the couple moved to Ohio in August 2003. Soon thereafter, Mr. Reish returned to New York to practice medicine. Ms. Reish filed for divorce in Manhattan on March 7, 2005. Two weeks later, Mr. Reish filed for divorce in Franklin County, Ohio. In the present action, Ms. Reish moved to enjoin the husband from proceeding in the Ohio action. At issue are two conflicting interests. Ms. Reish seeks to have the case heard in New York, where case law would entitle her to an interest in her husband’s medical degree. Mr. Reish argues that he is entitled to seek custody of his children where they live — Ohio — under the Uniform Child-Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. Drager ruled that the two interests are not necessarily irreconcilable. “The most significant ‘asset’ of this marriage is the Husband’s medical license,” she wrote. “The Husband was able to pursue his medical school education at least in part as a result of the Wife’s financial contributions. A portion of the Husband’s enhanced earning capacity was acquired while the parties resided in New York.” She added, “To allow him to benefit from the Wife’s assistance to the development of his medical career without allowing the Wife to benefit as well would be inequitable.” In New York, the medical degree would be considered marital property, under O’Brien v. O’Brien, 66 NY2d 576. But not so in Ohio. Ms. Reish argued that Mr. Reish’s Ohio petition was thus disingenuous. “The Wife suggests that the Husband’s challenge to her request for custody is insincere,” Drager wrote. “The Husband does not — and cannot — dispute the fact that he has spent relatively little time with the Children since he left the marital residence.” However, under the Uniform Child-Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, the New York court does not have jurisdiction to resolve the custody dispute because “New York was not the home state of the children at or within six months prior to the commencement of the New York Action,” according to Drager. Therefore, like Solomon, Drager decided to slice the prize in half. The child custody issue will remain in Ohio, but the remainder of the divorce proceeding, including the distribution of property, will be heard in New York. Dana M. Stutman and David Aronson of Sheresky Aronson & Mayefsky represented Ms. Reish. “I consider it a huge victory,” Stutman said. “Now that custody has been bifurcated from the financial issues and the financial issues will remain in New York, I have a feeling the custody issues will go away.” Ross M. Abelow of Abelow & Cassandro represented Mr. Reish. He declined to comment.

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