Family & Divorce Lawyer Magnolia Levy: “5 Things You need To Know to Survive and Thrive During and After a Divorce”

An interview with Ilyssa Panitz

Ilyssa Panitz
Apr 23 · 10 min read
Magnolia Levy saw first hand what can happen if you get caught short. That is why she is determined to help others avoid this mistake.

One: Do not cede control of the finances to your spouse during your marriage! I know there is a division of labor during the marriage but stay involved, stay engaged, and stay in the know.

Two: You do not have to listen to everyone. When you tell people you are divorcing, everyone will have an opinion. Pick one or two people to confide in and listen to, along with your lawyer, and tune out the rest of the Greek Chorus.

Three: Your children are watching everything you say and do. Make sure they feel safe, loved, and supported. Do your best to present a unified front with your spouse.

Four: No one wins a divorce. Prepare for an emotional roller coaster. It has its ups, it has its downs, it will make you nauseous, but the ride ends.

Five: It will be okay. You will be okay. Your kids will be okay. Day follows night and this too shall pass.

something doesn’t feel right, chances are it isn’t. If things aren’t adding up and you see red flags wherever you go, don’t use Waze to look for another route, face this head on! What you may discover about your spouse may send you into a tailspin but (and I stress the, “BUT”) you have to rally, pull yourself together and position yourself to learn gory details. As awful as this will be, and yes it will be horrendous, what you uncover about your husband/wife could be vital to your case and the ultimate payback that will have you doing the happy dance! Here is an example. Let’s say your hubby has been using a secret credit card to make purchases at Chanel, Neiman Marcus, Roberto Cavalli as well as Louis Vuitton. You know that lavish swag wasn’t for you and according to the date/time stamp of the purchases, your husband claimed to be at a work event. Give your lawyer the receipts you found so they can present it to the court. Watch your husband try to weasel his way out of this to a Judge and then let your attorney argue why you deserve a portion, if not all of that money back. When you think about it, it just cost your husband $$$ more than what he originally spent. Guess who’s laughing now? Magnolia Levy is a New York City based attorney whose firm, LoPreto + Levy handles complex financial matters, child custody issues, post judgment matters, pre and post nuptial agreements and other family law matters. Levy was recently crowned the Top 10 Attorney Award for 2021 by, The National Academy of Family Law Attorneys.

lyssa Panitz: What drew you to the legal world and focus on family law?

Magnolia Levy:
I was exposed to family law when I was quite young. I was ten-years-old when my mother married my stepdad. The week before her wedding she was given a prenuptial agreement to sign. Not only did she not have a lawyer to explain the document to her or to negotiate a single point, but she did not even read it. Instead, the day before her wedding she went to my stepdad’s lawyer’s office and signed it. Had my mom read the document, she would have known that it was a terrible agreement. If they divorced, she received nothing; and if he died even while they were married, she received nothing except anything he voluntarily left her under his will. In any event, she assumed this would come to nothing and off they rode into the sunset. They were happily married for several years and during that time my mom decided to stop working and to focus on making a home for my stepdad. A few years later, my stepdad had some health-related issues and, before going into the hospital for some tests, he decided he would re-write his will to leave my mother a significant share of his estate if he died. The only problem was that he did not have the will properly witnessed and executed. Although my mom tried to argue in court that the will should be upheld and that the prenuptial agreement should be thrown out, she lost on both fronts. The net result was that we lost almost everything, and I watched my mother rebuild her life from scratch at age 50. It was scary as a kid to see my mom go through this. As I got older and I found my way into law, I knew that I wanted to help people avoid what happened to my mom. I take my job as counselor, advisor, and advocate for my clients very seriously and my goals include making sure that my clients understand (and read!) the documents they sign. I am also a fierce advocate of women staying financially engaged and maintaining some level of financial independence throughout their marriages.

Ilyssa Panitz: We keep hearing divorces cases are on the rise. Is that statement true?

Magnolia Levy: My phone has definitely been ringing lately. I think that as people get vaccinated and can see a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, they are reassessing their lives and trying to figure out if they are really happy.

Ilyssa Panitz: New York is considered a no-fault state. Can you please explain what that means?

Magnolia Levy: Actually, New York still requires someone who wants to get divorce to state a legally acceptable reason for a divorce. We call them “grounds.” New York has seven grounds one of which is called the “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage for a period of at least six-months. This is usually called the no-fault ground. This means that you can get divorced for any reason or no reason, but you have to be able to state that the marriage has been over for at least six-months and that all economic issues will have been settled by the time the court enters a Judgment of Divorce.

Ilyssa Panitz: Can you describe, what the logistics are to filing for a divorce?

Magnolia Levy: It is rather straightforward: you (or your lawyer) prepare and file a Summons with Notices or a Summons and Complaint. Once they are filed, you must personally serve your spouse with the documents. These are documents designed to give your spouse notice that you are seeking a divorce, the grounds for your divorce, and any additional relief you are asking for.

Ilyssa Panitz: Can you ask for things such as: child support, alimony, health benefits and legal fees up front in this paperwork?

Magnolia Levy: Yes. These are all examples of the “additional relief” you might be asking for. It could also include the enforcement of a prenuptial agreement (or to set one aside), the equitable distribution of marital property, and a distributive award of marital property.

Ilyssa Panitz: How long does the other person (The Defendant) have to respond to the divorce papers brought about by The Plaintiff?

Magnolia Levy: The spouse who is served with the divorce papers has 20-days to respond if served personally within the State of New York and 30-days to respond is served personally outside the State.

Ilyssa Panitz: If you are concerned that your spouse has been spending your marital money on a “significant other,” how do you preserve your right to ask for that money back in a divorce?

Magnolia Levy: Spending marital money on a significant other is what is known as marital waste or the wasteful dissipation of assets. Asking for the equitable distribution of assets or a distributive award in your summons should preserve those claims. But you always have the right to ask to recoup the money that was spent if you discover evidence of it later.

Ilyssa Panitz: Why is the discovery process, (the exchange of financial records) crucial when it comes to this piece of the puzzle?

Magnolia Levy: That is where you can see whether your spouse has in fact been spending money on a significant other. Look to see whether there are purchases for jewelry, luxury items, hotel rooms, airline tickets, fancy dinners. Do you see charges at Tiffany’s or Hermes? A trip to Las Vegas? Do you see large withdrawals of cash that have no real explanation? If so, these might be marital waste.

Ilyssa Panitz: What exactly is marital waste?

Magnolia Levy: Marital waste is the wasteful dissipation of marital assets by either spouse. Waste can be money spent on an extramarital affair, gambling, or on drugs, but it can also be the transfer of money or assets to a third party just before divorce, the intentional sale of assets below market value or the intentional destruction of assets. Examples of this might be transferring real estate or cash to family members or a significant other.

Ilyssa Panitz: Is it difficult to prove marital waste?

Magnolia Levy: Yes, it can be. If you think about it, you are dealing with a spouse who has been engaged in illicit activities. This is someone who has been sneaking around for a while and is likely good at covering their tracks. This means your attorney may need to hire a forensic accountant to review all the bank and account statements or even possibly hire a private detective.

Ilyssa Panitz: At what point in this part of the process does a client have to make a decision to keep digging for information about what the other side allegedly did or walk away?

Magnolia Levy: I think that line in the sand is different for each client. You have to weigh the expense of having your attorney and a forensic accountant review the documents against how much money you suspect may have been wasted. Often times the cost to determine if there has been waste exceeds the potential recovery.

Ilyssa Panitz: Is it common for one’s emotion to cloud their judgement?

Magnolia Levy: It sounds counter-intuitive, but a divorce (without custody issues) is essentially a financial transaction. Emotions tend to cloud reason when it comes to financial business dealings. As a result, the angrier and more resentful someone is, the more irrationally they may behave. Irrational people make bad financial decisions. Being so angry that you want to make your ex “pay” is only going to drive up your own legal bills.

Ilyssa Panitz: Assuming one side has concrete proof that a spouse blew a ton of money on a girlfriend/boyfriend, does it hold weight during the negotiation process or if the matter heads to a Judge in a courtroom?

Magnolia Levy: I think if you can connect the dots and show that a spouse wasted marital money on a girlfriend, gambling, drugs, or disposed of property, then you have a good shot in claiming that money should be credited back to the marital estate for the purposes of determining how much there is to divide. This applies both in a negotiation and if you are litigating the matter in court.

Ilyssa Panitz: Can “the girlfriend/boyfriend” be deposed by legal counsel or in a courtroom?

Magnolia Levy: There may be circumstances where that is appropriate from a financial perspective. This just happened in Dr. Dre’s divorce from Nicole Young. In that case, it seemed as though Nicole was arguing that Dr. Dre may have transferred money or assets to his alleged girlfriends and that the money transferred should be considered by the court in determining the money Dr. Dre has available to him to pay Nicole spousal support. It is an interesting argument and certainly can put pressure on your spouse to settle. But keep in mind you have to have a legitimate and likely financial basis for wanting to take that person’s deposition. Deposing a paramour just to watch your spouse squirm is not going to cut it.

Ilyssa Panitz: What are the pros and cons to going this route?

Magnolia Levy: It is an extremely provocative move and will likely be met with a flurry of motion practice to stop it from happening.

Ilyssa Panitz: Is it accurate to say, by doing this, it can run up a client’s bill?

Magnolia Levy: Yes. You are paying for your lawyer’s time to prepare for and take this deposition. The amount you are looking to recover needs to be significantly more than the expense of trying to track down these assets.

Ilyssa Panitz: What is not considered marital waste?

Magnolia Levy: Continuing to pay your expenses as you always have during your marriage is not waste. Spending down assets because you have lost your job, or you have had another significant life change is not waste.

Ilyssa Panitz: Letting your anger get in the way can be a financial disaster. Can you explain why people need to really watch the clock when they meet with their attorney?

Magnolia Levy: It is important for clients to try to separate emotional issues from legal issues. Divorce lawyers can help clients with the legal issues and try to support clients through the emotional roller coaster of the process, but we are not really in a position to take on the role of therapist as well. Also, lawyers charge by the hour, are often more expensive than a therapist, and we are not covered by insurance. Understand that if you use your lawyer as a therapist, there is going to be a cost for that.

Ilyssa Panitz: Getting back to the money. Let’s say the husband allegedly spent a fortune on the other women. If that was the case, can the wife ask for money for child support and alimony?

Magnolia Levy: Yes, as we talked about earlier, if a husband is claiming he does not have the money to pay the wife spousal support, but the wife has evidence suggesting he gifted a girlfriend a home, jewelry, cars, etc., then the wife can try to argue that income should be imputed to the husband for support purposes.

Ilyssa Panitz: What is the time frame for a case like this to be settled?

Magnolia Levy: It depends. I typically tell clients to be prepared for it to last 18 to 24 months, but it also really varies depending on the case.

Ilyssa Panitz: What are 5 things someone needs to know to survive and thrive during and after a divorce?

Magnolia Levy: One: Do not cede control of the finances to your spouse during your marriage! I know there is a division of labor during the marriage but stay involved, stay engaged, and stay in the know.

Two: You do not have to listen to everyone. When you tell people you are divorcing, everyone will have an opinion. Pick one or two people to confide in and listen to, along with your lawyer, and tune out the rest of the Greek Chorus.

Three: Your children are watching everything you say and do. Make sure they feel safe, loved, and supported. Do your best to present a unified front with your spouse.

Four: No one wins a divorce. Prepare for an emotional roller coaster. It has its ups, it has its downs, it will make you nauseous, but the ride ends.

Five: It will be okay. You will be okay. Your kids will be okay. Day follows night and this too shall pass.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film…

Ilyssa Panitz

Written by

Ilyssa is a Divorce Journalist, Content Producer at The NADP and Host of “The Divorce Hour with Ilyssa Panitz” on CRN Digital Talk Radio.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Ilyssa Panitz

Written by

Ilyssa is a Divorce Journalist, Content Producer at The NADP and Host of “The Divorce Hour with Ilyssa Panitz” on CRN Digital Talk Radio.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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