Brooklyn bar owner David Kelleran might just be getting used to spending time in New York’s many courts. In 2005, he and his wife Hannah Casey finalized their divorce, and the father of two agreed to pay $2,000 per month to his ex-wife in child support for their daughters.
In 2011, police mistakenly raided his Greenpoint bar, Coco66, and dumped his inventory of alcohol down the kitchen drain and arrested him for operating without a liquor license.
Kelleran eventually plead guilty to a disorderly conduct violation for selling liquor without a license, but launched a damages suit against NYPD in 2012 which was ultimately settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.
Now, Kelleran is back in court, Manhattan’s federal court this time, alleging that his ex-wife hacked his laptop and stole documents from a brokerage account and his Google account in order to increase his child support obligation.
Cases like this show how difficult a divorce and family matter can be for both parents, even years after a marriage ends. Parents remain responsible to each other for the financial well being of their children, but for many, working together in their children’s best interest can be tough going.
The case laid out in Kelleran v. Casey might be a textbook example of how not to seek to modify a child support order, and how not to sue for damages when one is, allegedly, incorrectly decided.
First, the facts of the case, according to the lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal court. In October 2005, Kelleran was ordered by Brooklyn family court to pay $2,000 per month in child support to his ex-wife.
It isn’t known whether this sum was decided through the settlement process, and the suit does not specify whether the payments were consistently made over the ensuing years or whether there were amounts unpaid.
In May of 2012, Kelleran let one of his daughters borrow his laptop for a weekend, during which time he alleges that his ex-wife, the girl’s mother, used the laptop to access a file containing a listing of an apartment in Manhattan that Kelleran’s brother owned.
Further, Kelleran alleges that in June of 2013, his ex-wife again accessed confidential information, this time by hacking his Charles Schwab brokerage account. He claims to have had no knowledge of the breach, and did not give her his password or permission to access the account.
In September and again in October 2013, Kelleran alleges that his ex-wife broke into his Google account. Documents that were retrieved through these alleged break-ins were then handed over to Hannah Casey’s attorney, who used the material to build a family court case that was heard in December 2013.
Based on the material submitted to that court, Kelleran was ordered to increase his child support payments from the original $2,000 per month to $2,954 per month, and to pay Casey $26,000 in child support arrears, plus $23,000 in legal fees. He was also ordered to pay 88% of the children’s health insurance costs, and 75% of their private school tuition fees, according to the New York Post.
According to Kelleran’s suit, he only became aware that information had been stolen from his Charles Schwab account during that December court date, and the current action relies on the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Stored Communications Act to seek civil damages against Casey.
One element to keep in mind here is that Manhattan federal court cannot overrule the family court decision regarding the child support payments, so the suit is limited in what it can achieve in terms of recovery.
Kelleran will not end the process with a lower child support payment, though if he prevails he may recover some of the nearly $50,000 the Family Court ordered him to pay in arrears and attorney fees.
Another piece of this story worth considering is the lengths that Kelleran believes his ex-wife went to in order to obtain financial information that, under New York law, she had a right to request as part of a child support modification proceeding.
It’s unclear whether Casey had been seeking modification prior to the December 2013 proceeding, but if she had been, Kelleran would have had an obligation to produce up-to-date disclosures and would have faced penalties if he failed to do so.
When divorced parents fight, the ramifications for the children can be enormous. In this case, the parents seem to have been in and out of court repeatedly in the decade since the marriage ended, with large sums hanging in the balance.
Launching a federal lawsuit against your children’s mother may sound excessive, but as a multi-year fight over who pays for what and how much drags on, both parties are liable to experience a hardening of positions that can make settlements or negotiations impossible.
Add into the sequence of events something like a lawsuit against NYPD that settles for an undisclosed amount, and you’ve got a perfect storm of mistrust, knowledge that there is likely more money than previously reported on disclosures, and perhaps a belief that one party has been underpaying their fair share for years.
That’s when extreme measures might start to seem reasonable, and that’s when the co-parenting train can fly right off the rails.
The attorneys at Zelenitz, Shapiro & D’Agostino know that the end of a divorce is just the beginning of the next phase of the relationship between two parents. When kids are young, that can mean another decade or two of planning and logistics, financial obligations, and, ideally, finding ways to be civil and constructive with one another.
The best way to achieve these is with a solid custody and child support agreement at the outset that’s negotiated openly, with experienced attorneys who can properly evaluate your spouse’s financial disclosures and verify their accuracy.
As circumstances change, your agreement may need to be modified as well, and working within the system can save you enormous headaches down the road.
When you’re considering divorce or need help with modification to an agreement from a divorce, we have the experience to help you get the very best deal possible in Brooklyn.
Call us today at 718-725-9601 and talk to a Brooklyn divorce and modification attorney for free.