Pace Women’s Justice Center director and attorney comment on “live-in” divorce cases

In the wake of the Lewisboro family slaying, the Journal News took a look at cases in which couples continue living together during divorce proceedings.

Sam and Amy Friedlander continued living in the same house in separate bedrooms after filing for divorce in April 2010. Their divorce proceedings, described by some as contentious, took a deadly turn when, according to police, Sam Friedlander bludgeoned his wife to death then fatally shot their two children before turning the gun on himself.

The article, which explored the benefits as well as the dangers of divorcing couples co-habitating, quoted both Pace Women’s Justice Center executive director Jane Aoyama-Martin and Tamara Mitchel, a matrimonial and family attorney at the Center:


Jane Aoyama-Martin, an attorney and executive director of the Pace Women’s Justice Center at Pace Law School, said “live-in divorce” cases are often the result of finance and/or custody and property issues. Sometimes people don’t want to leave because they think it could hurt their ability to get custody of the children, she said, or it’s a control struggle over who has rights to the house.

Those can be factors in court, she said, depending on the case. She cited the example of a spouse leaving and then returning for the kids in a week having a better chance of getting custody than if they came back for them in a year.

She doesn’t doubt, she said, that attorneys may encourage their clients to stay in the house as a strategy to help their case.

“The thing that I hope lawyers remember is that when it is a hostile situation for a live-in divorce, especially when there’s a history of domestic violence, safety is paramount,” she said.

The Pace Women’s Justice Center handles about 2,800 domestic violence and elder abuse cases in Westchester and Putnam counties each year. Oftentimes, their cases involve “vacate” orders, Aoyama-Martin said.

Tamara Mitchel, a matrimonial and family attorney in White Plains, said that child custody agreements are often reached before a parent leaves the house. If not, she said, it could be considered a “de facto agreement” by the spouse who moved out to give up custody to the spouse left with the children.

In cases where a person can prove there is violence or threats that reach a certain “legal standard,” there is recourse, Mitchel said. The courts, she explained, can award a spouse “temporary exclusive occupancy” of the marital residence while the divorce is pending. Orders of protection, she said, can also be granted and range from no contact whatsoever to simply not “harass, assault, threaten or intimidate” a person.

Read the full article here.

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