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HOW THE CRIMINAL COURT SYSTEM WORKS IN NEW YORK STATE

Arraignments

The arraignment is the first time you go to court in front of a Judge. At the arraignment, you are told what the charges are against you and what your rights are, like the right to a trial and the right to have an attorney appointed for you if you don’t have the money to hire one. After you have been given an attorney, you then answer the charges. You answer the charges by telling the court if you are guilty or not guilty. This is called the plea. Before the plea, your lawyer and the prosecutor may talk about settling your case without having a trial. This is called Plea Bargaining. If you plead not guilty, you will get a court date for a hearing or trial. If you plead guilty, the court will decide your punishment. This is called the Sentencing.

Plea Bargaining

Plea bargaining is when your lawyer and the prosecutor talk about settling the case without having a trial. This can be done at any time during the case, from the arraignment up until a verdict in a trial. You can ask for a plea bargain, but the prosecutor can choose not to plea bargain with you. If you agree on a plea bargain, it must be approved by the Judge. Only the Judge can decide your sentence. For example, you may agree to plead guilty in exchange for the prosecutor’s promise to ask the Judge for a sentence with no jail time, just probation. Or, you and the prosecutor may agree that you will plead guilty to a lesser charge that has a lower range of punishments for the Judge to choose from at your Sentencing.

HOW THE COURT DEALS WITH VISITATION/CUSTODY IN NEW YORK STATE

In most cases, the court wants the child to have a relationship with both parents. When one parent has sole custody, the court will let the parent who doesn’t have custody have visits with the child and spend time with the child unless there is a good reason for the parent not to have visitation.

Custody and visitation are two separate matters but they are usually decided during the same hearing. A visitation petition can be filed as a separate case.

The court will order visitation if it is in the best interest of the child. Visitation is also called “parenting time”.

Best Interest of the Child

When there is a court case that affects a child, like custody, parental rights, or adoption, the court will consider the “best interest” of the child when making its decision.

There is no standard definition of “best interest” of the child. In general, it refers to the factors that the Judge considers when deciding what will best serve the child and who is best suited to take care of the child. In New York, the “child’s health and safety shall be the paramount concerns” when making a decision.

 

Custody and Visitation– When awarding custody and visitation, courts do not favor one parent over the other parent. The court awards custody and visitation based on what is best for the child. The Judge will look at many things to figure out what would be in the best interest of the child, such as:

  • which parent has been the main care giver/nurturer of the child
  • the parenting skills of each parent, their strengths and weaknesses and their ability to provide for the child’s special needs, if any
  • the mental and physical health of the parents
  • whether there has been domestic violence in the family
  • work schedules and child care plans of each parent
  • the child’s relationships with brothers, sisters, and members of the rest of the family
  • what the child wants, depending on the age of the child
  • each parent’s ability to cooperate with the other parent and to encourage a relationship with the other parent, when it is safe to do so

Who Can File For Visitation– A child’s parents, grandparents, and siblings can ask the court for visitation. This doesn’t mean that the court will give visitation.

If the child is in foster care, a parent has a right to visit with the child unless his or her parental rights have been “terminated.” If the parent’s parental rights have been terminated, this means that they do not have a right to visit the child. 

The Visitation Hearing– Usually, a child’s parents can agree on a visitation schedule on their own. But, if the parents can’t agree then the Judge will have a hearing to decide on a visitation schedule, unless there is a good reason for one parent not to have visitation. 

Help with Your Visitation Order– If you already have a custody or visitation order for your child from Family Court, you can use the Custody/Visitation Modification DIY Program to ask the court to change the order or the Custody/Visitation Enforcement DIY Program to ask the court to enforce it if it is not being followed.

Custody/Visitation Modification Petition Program

Aviso: Este programa es en inglés, pero obtendrá su traducción al pulsar sobre “ESPAÑOL.” Deberá responder en inglés o el tribunal rechazará sus documentos. Cuando termine este programa podrá imprimir las instrucciones en español.

You can use the Custody/Visitation Modification Petition to change the custody/visitation order if there is a “change in circumstances.” This free program will help you fill out the petition that you will need to file in Family Court.  

File this form in Family Court.

You can use this program if:

  • the custody/visitation order is signed by a Judge from a New York State Court,
  • you are the parent of the child or children,
  • the child or children are not in foster care, and
  • only you and the other parent are on the order.

Information Checklist– You will need the following information with you when you use this program:

  • The name and address of the other parent.
  • A copy of the custody/visitation order.
  • The names, addresses and birth dates of the children.

About DIY Forms– This program is not e-fileable. Your papers must be printed, then filed at the Court.

Who Can Use These Programs?

You can use DIY Forms if:

  • you’re a court user and you don’t have a lawyer;
  • you’re a legal services provider;
  • you’re a pro bono lawyer. Pro bono lawyers filing a DIY Form must submit this pro bono affirmation.
  • you’re from a low-bono (reduced fee) program recognized and authorized to use the DIY Form programs by the NYS Courts Access to Justice Program. You must submit this low-bono affirmation with the filing.

Commercial use is prohibited and no one may charge for using these programs. When you begin the program, you will be asked to accept these terms of use.

Custody/Visitation Enforcement Petition Program

Aviso: Este programa es en inglés, pero obtendrá su traducción al pulsar sobre “ESPAÑOL.” Deberá responder en inglés o el tribunal rechazará sus documentos. Cuando termine este programa podrá imprimir las instrucciones en español.

You can use the Custody/Visitation Enforcement Petition if the custody or visitation order is not being followed. This free program will help you fill out the petition that you will need to file in Family Court. 

File this form in Family Court.

You can use this program if:

  • the custody/visitation order is signed by a Judge from a New York State Court,
  • you are the parent of the child or children,
  • the child or children are under 18,
  • the child or children are not in foster care, and
  • only you and the other parent are on the order.

IMPORTANT:

If you believe that a child is being neglected or abused, contact the child welfare authorities at 1-800-342-3720. If a child is in immediate danger, call 911.

Information Checklist– You will need the following information with you when you use this program:

  • The name and address of the other parent.
  • A copy of the custody/visitation order.
  • The names, addresses and birth dates of the children.

About DIY Forms- This program is not e-fileable. Your papers must be printed, then filed at the Court.

Who Can Use These Programs?

You can use DIY Forms if:

  • you’re a court user and you don’t have a lawyer;
  • you’re a legal services provider;
  • you’re a pro bono lawyer. Pro bono lawyers filing a DIY Form must submit this pro bono affirmation.
  • you’re from a low-bono (reduced fee) program recognized and authorized to use the DIY Form programs by the NYS Courts Access to Justice Program. You must submit this low-bono affirmation with the filing.

Commercial use is prohibited and no one may charge for using these programs. When you begin the program, you will be asked to accept these terms of use.

For information on serving Visitation or Custody papers, contact undisputedlegal.com or (212) 203-8001. Representative are ready to assist you, we serve all legal papers, call now!

How To File For Divorce in District of Columbia

You can file for divorce in District of Columbia (“DC”) if either you or your spouse has been a resident of DC for six months before the date you file the divorce papers with the court. It does not matter where you are married. Only one of you has to meet the DC residency requirement. One can only ask for alimony and distribution of marital property in your divorce case. You will lose your opportunity to obtain alimony and distribution of marital property if you do not ask for them in your divorce case.

One may include requests for child custody and child support in a divorce case. You also can ask for child custody and/or child support in a separate case from the divorce case. In some instances a divorce can be filed in the District of Columbia but child custody and/or child support must be filed in another state. There are two grounds for divorce in DC

HOW TO SERVE LEGAL PAPERS IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Rule 4. Summons 

(a) CONTENTS; AMENDMENTS. (1) Contents. A summons must: 

(A) name the court and the parties;

(B) be directed to the defendant;

(C) state the name and address of the plaintiff’s attorney or—if unrepresented—of the plaintiff;

(D) state the time within which the defendant must appear and defend;

(E) notify the defendant that a failure to appear and defend will result in a default judgment against the defendant for the relief demanded in the complaint; (F) be signed by the clerk; and

(G) bear the court’s seal. 

(2) Amendments. The court may permit a summons to be amended. 

(3) Service Outside the District of Columbia; Process Service in Suit Seeking Seizure of Property in the District of Columbia. A summons, or notice, or order in lieu of summons should correspond as nearly as possible to the requirements of a statute or rule whenever service is made pursuant to a statute or rule that provides for: 

HOW TO SERVE LEGAL PAPERS IN NEW YORK STATE

Delivering legal papers is called service of process. The law says that legal papers have to be delivered the right way. Every adult and organization listed in the case must be served with its own set of papers. This includes any papers that are mailed.

Who Can Serve Legal Papers– A party in the case can never serve legal papers, like a Summons and Complaint, a Notice of Petition and Petition, or a Motion, unless a Judge says it is o.k. A process server can be paid to serve the papers. Process servers are listed in the Yellow Pages or on the internet. Or, anyone, like a friend, can serve the papers. But, the person serving the papers must be 18 years old or older. A party can go with the person serving the papers when they are served. In NYC, the person serving the papers is not allowed to serve more than five papers each year. 

HOW TO SAVE YOUR HOME FROM FORECLOSURE IN NEW YORK STATE

Foreclosure is a type of lawsuit. In a foreclosure the holder of your mortgage asks a court to let them sell your house at auction in order to pay off your debt. If that happens, you could lose your home. The mortgage holder is often the bank that you borrowed the money from to buy the house, but it could be another bank or company that has taken over the mortgage. The mortgage holder will be the “plaintiff” in the lawsuit and you will be named as the “defendant.” You may not recognize the name of the plaintiff because you may be making payments to some other company that works for your lender called a “mortgage servicer.”

This section of the website tells you what to do in a New York State Supreme Court case after you get a foreclosure Summons and Complaint. If a foreclosure case has not been started yet, but you have missed mortgage payments or you have gotten an Acceleration letter from mortgage holder, it is very important that you seek help now.

NEW YORK STATES APPROACH TO SEXUAL OFFENDERS

A sex offender is a person who commits a Sex Offense. Sex offenders must Register with the Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS).

Risk Levels-There are 3 levels of sex-offenders divided by the risk of re-offense, meaning how likely it is that the sex offender will commit another sex related crime. The sex offender level is set by the court. The 3 levels are:

Level 1 – lowest risk

Level 2 – moderate risk

Level 3 – highest risk

There are also three designations that the court can give a sex offender: sexual predator, sexually violent offender and predicate sex offender. These designations and the risk level assigned determine the sex offenders reporting requirements and how much information is open to the public.

CRIME VICTIMS RIGHTS IN NEW YORK

Was your money or property stolen? Were you hurt or stalked? Maybe your identity was taken? If so, you are a crime victim. If an arrest was made and the police told you that the case is going to court, you may have questions about the criminal case. A criminal case is not the same as a civil case. In a civil case, you start a court case for money or damages against the person who injured you. But, in a criminal case, you can’t bring criminal charges against the person that injured you. You go to the police and the police bring the criminal charges. Criminal cases are handled by a lawyer from the District Attorney’s Office on behalf of the People of the State of New York. The lawyer is called a prosecutor. As a crime victim you are not a party and you do not need to hire an attorney. What you have to say about what happened is part of the prosecutor’s case against the defendant. But, you do have certain rights in the case. If you are a crime victim, an immediate family member of a person who was killed, or an immediate family member or guardian of a child crime victim, this section is for you.

HOW NEW YORK STATE HANDLES SEXUAL ABUSES OF CHILDREN

A person who sexually abuses a child under 18, can be punished in different ways in the courts. In a criminal case, the People of the State of New York charge the abuser with crimes to punish and possibly imprison them. In a civil case, the victim sues the abuser for money to make up for any harm caused by the sexual abuse.

There are laws that say how long after an event, a court case can be started based on those events. These laws are called Statutes of Limitations. Under the Child Victims Act, child sex abuse victims now have more time to seek justice against their abusers. CPLR 214-G, CPL 30.10(3)f.

Time Period for Starting Cases-There are different time periods for starting cases against the child sex abuser or the institution that covered up or was involved in the abuse. The time period depends on the type of case.

HOW TO GET A COPY OF A DEATH CERTIFICATE

A death certificate is a paper that records the official date and location of a person’s death. The funeral director usually purchases several copies for your use.

In some cases, you might need a “certified” copy of the death certificate. A certified copy has security features that proves that the document is genuine. Depending on where the death certificate is from a certified copy can have a watermark, a raised seal, micro-printing, multi-colored background, heat sensitive ink, etc. A certified copy is good for legal purposes such as settling an estate or claiming insurance benefits.

Person Died In New York City- If the person died in New York City (Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island), you can order a certified copy of the death certificate online or by mail from the Office of Vital Records.