Family Court

Who’s Who’s In New York Family Court

JUDGES: A judge is in charge of the hearing (trial). Judges listen to witnesses, examine the evidence, and then decide whether the case has been proven. 

SUPPORT MAGISTRATES: A support magistrate hears support cases (petitions seeking monetary support for a child or spouse) and paternity cases (petitions to declare someone to be the child’s father). 

COURT ATTORNEY REFEREES: Court attorney referees hear and issue orders in custody, visitation, and foster-care cases. 

PETITIONER: A petitioner is a person or agency filing the petition. A petition is a written request to the court to make a decision. 

RESPONDENT: The respondent is the person or agency against whom the petition is filed. 

COURT OFFICERS: Uniformed court officers are assigned to every courtroom and hearing room. They are responsible for security throughout the courthouse and call the parties into the hearing rooms when the judges or support magistrates are ready to hear the case. 

INTERPRETERS: The court provides interpreters for parties and witnesses who have difficulty with English. Albanian, Creole, Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), Spanish, and Russian interpreters are available daily in the courthouse in many counties. The court may also order interpreters for many other languages, including sign language for the hearing-impaired. 

COURT REPORTERS: Court reporters record all testimony and statements made during court hearings. In some courtrooms, court reporters take notes during the hearing using a machine that looks like a typewriter. The court reporter may be asked to type a “transcript,” a word-for-word report of what is said during the hearing. Hearings before support magistrates and some hearings before judges are recorded on tape recorders. The parties may also order a transcript of the taped proceeding. 

COURT ATTORNEYS: Court attorneys are lawyers who work with a judge and help the judge by conducting legal research and conferencing cases. Court attorneys also often meet with the parties and their lawyers to reach an agreement without the need for a trial. 

COURT CLERKS/ COURT ASSISTANTS: Court clerks and assistants sit near the judge or support magistrate and prepare court orders for the judge or support magistrate to sign. 

ASSISTANT CORPORATION COUNSEL: Assistant Corporation Counsel is lawyers from the New York City Law Department who prosecute juvenile-delinquency cases. These lawyers also represent the petitioner in support and paternity cases when the custodial parent is on public assistance or in the family- offense cases if the judge assigns them. 

SPECIAL ASSISTANT CORPORATION COUNSEL: Special Assistant Corporation Counsel is lawyers from the Department of Social Services or Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) who prosecute child abuse and neglect cases, termination of parental rights cases, and present support cases involving children receiving public assistance. 

ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEYS: Assistant District Attorneys (ADAs) prosecute juvenile-delinquency cases involving children between the ages of 13 and 15 accused of committing serious or violent acts. 

LAW GUARDIANS: Law guardians are lawyers the judge assigns to represent a child in Family Court. They may be from The Legal Aid Society, Lawyers for Children, The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, or Children’s Law Center, but they may also be solo practitioners. 

GUARDIANS AD LITEM: Guardians ad litem are assigned to act in the place of a parent for a child whose parents must appear in court but are unable to be there. They also work in the areas of adults mentally or physically unable to speak for themselves in court. 

ASSIGNED COUNSEL: Assigned counsel are lawyers appointed by the judge or support magistrate if a party cannot afford one. This lawyer, sometimes called an “18-b” lawyer, represents that person and is paid by the City. 

PROBATION OFFICERS: Probation officers work for the New York Department of Probation and prepare reports for the judges about the people involved in the cases. The Probation Officer assigned to the courtroom is called a Court Liaison Officer (CLO). 

CASEWORKERS: Caseworkers are social-service agency workers assigned to work with families. They bring case records to court and testify about the family during hearings. 

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What You Need To Know About New York Family Court

The Family Court of the State of New York has the authority to decide cases affecting children and families’ lives. The court has a wide range of powers to fit the needs of the people who come before it.

The Family Court Act gives the Family Court power to hear certain types of cases. Each case filed is given its own identifying number, called a “docket number.”

The docket number begins with a letter that identifies the type of case filed:

A: Adoption

AC: Adoption Pre-Certification

AS: Judicial Surrender

B: Permanent Termination of Parental Rights D: Juvenile Delinquency

E: Designated Felony

F: Child or Spousal Support

G: Guardianship

K: Foster Care Review

L: Voluntary Foster Care Approval

M: Marriage Application

N: Neglect

NA: Neglect/Abuse

O: Family offense (order of protection)

P: Paternity

S: PINS (Person in Need of Supervision)

U: Interstate support

V: Visitation and Custody of Children

In New York City, each of the five boroughs has its own Family Court. Generally, a case may be filed for free in the county where one of the parties lives.

The Office of the Self-Represented helps those who represent themselves to prepare and file court papers, including petitions and motions. The Office of the Self-Represented will give legal information but not legal advice.

Judges preside over most Family Court hearings (trials). Support Magistrates hear child or spousal support and paternity cases. Court Attorney Referees attend custody, visitation, and foster-care matters. Judicial Hearing Officers (JHOs) hear some adoption and voluntary-placement foster-care cases. There are no juries in Family Court.

The Family Court is usually open to the public and the people directly involved in a particular case, also known as “the parties.” The judge or support magistrate presiding over each case may exclude the public from the courtroom if the claim involves private issues that would embarrass or harm families and children or for security reasons.

Each Family Court in New York City is open all day from Monday through Friday, except on holidays. At lunchtime (usually from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. or 2:15 p.m.), the hearing rooms in each courthouse close for a lunch recess, but each building remains open public. 

Night Court is available on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays in the Bronx, Kings (Brooklyn), and Queens Counties for cases involving family offenses (violence), custody, visitation, guardianship, and support. 

Persons scheduled to appear in court are expected to arrive at the courthouse on time. If a party is absent when the case is ready to be heard, the judge or support magistrates may begin and decide the point in that person’s absence or dismiss it. Parties should understand that even if they arrive early, they might be required to spend a long period of time at the courthouse because Family Court calendars are very busy.

The Family Courts in Bronx, Kings, New York (Manhattan), Queens, and Richmond (Staten Island) Counties have Childcare Centers, where children from six weeks to the age of 12 may stay while their parents or caregivers are in the courtroom. These Childcare Centers have experienced staff to take care of children while a case is being heard in court.

After a case has been completed and a final decision has been made, each party has the right to appeal the judge’s or court attorney referee’s decision. An appeal is a request for the court to take another look at the case. A support magistrate’s decisions are appealed first by filing an “objection” with the Family Court judge. The judge reviews the support magistrate’s decision, and then the judge’s decision may be appealed to the Appellate Division. An appeal may result in a decision being “affirmed” (left as is), “modified” (changed somewhat), or “reversed” (changed entirely).

The general public is not allowed to look at the court records of Family Court cases. The court may, however, let someone see the records if appropriate. Only people directly involved in a case, including the lawyers, are entitled to get a copy of a court order and other documents in the court file. They may wait in the courtroom or just outside the courtroom to get the order, or they may request a copy at the Record Room of the courthouse where the case was heard. Proof of identity is required to see or obtain copies of court records. A party is better off being represented by a lawyer when appearing in Family Court than appearing without one. As explained, for many types of Family Court cases, a party is entitled to have a court-appointed lawyer. In these cases, the party does not pay for the lawyer; the lawyer is paid with government funds. A party whose income is below a certain level (which varies with family size and other things) might help get help from a legal aid or legal services office. People who have cases should inquire about that in the Family Court clerk’s office.

For information on serving legal papers, click here or call (800) 774-6922. Representatives are available Monday-Friday 8 am – 8 pm EST.  If you found this article helpful, please consider donating.  Thank you for following our blog, A space dedicated to bringing you news on breaking legal developments, interesting articles for law professionals, and educational material for all. We hope that you enjoy your time on our blog and revisit us!  We also invite you to check out our Frequently Asked Questions About Process Servers by clicking here.

Juvenile Delinquency Within New York Courts

WHO IS A JUVENILE DELINQUENT? 

A “juvenile delinquent” is someone at least 7 but under 16 years old who commits an act that would be a crime if committed by an adult and is found to need “supervision, treatment or confinement.” The act committed is a “delinquent act.” Juvenile delinquency cases are heard in Family Court. In Family Court, the accused child is called “the respondent.” The alleged victim is called “the complainant.” 

Children who are 13, 14, or 15 years old who commit certain more serious or violent acts may be treated as adults. These cases are heard in Supreme Court but may sometimes be transferred to the Family Court. If found guilty in the Supreme Court, the young person is called a “juvenile offender” and can be subject to more serious penalties than a juvenile delinquent. 

HOW DOES A DELINQUENCY CASE BEGIN? 

After a youth is arrested, the police may release the young person with a “desk appearance ticket,” directing the child to appear in court on a specific date. If the court is still in session, the police will bring the young person to court. If the child is not released from the police department and the court is not in session, the child is taken to a detention center until court reopens on the next business day. 

At court, the young person goes through the Probation Intake process. An intake officer from the Department of Probation (Probation) interviews the young person about the alleged crime, school attendance, and living situation, among other topics. The intake officer also interviews the arresting officer, the complainant/victim, and the young person’s parents or caregiver. The intake officer then determines whether the case should be referred for formal court proceedings (prosecution) or held open with Probation for adjustment services. Adjustment services can include restitution, community service, referral for community-based services, letter of apology, and/or mediation. If the case is held open for adjustment services, it may be monitored by Probation for up to four months. 

If the intake officer refers the case to Family Court, the matter proceeds to the Office of the Corporation Counsel, which prosecutes Family Court juvenile delinquency matters, including more serious crimes called “designated felonies.” These attorneys, also known as the Presentment Agency, prepare the petition against the child describing the acts the child is accused of committing. In court, the child and the parent or guardian are given a copy of the petition. 

DOES THE CHILD NEED A LAWYER? 

The child must have a lawyer. If the parent or guardian cannot afford to hire a lawyer, the court will assign a lawyer to represent the child for free. This lawyer is called an “attorney for the child.” 

WHERE DOES THE CHILD GO WHILE THE CASE PROCEEDS IN COURT?
When the case first comes to court, the child is “arraigned” on the charges. This is called the “initial appearance.” The child is assigned his or her lawyer, and the child can plead not guilty and ask for a trial or can plead guilty. When the child is being interviewed by Probation, the Probation officer conducts a risk assessment using a Risk Assessment Instrument (RAI). The RAI uses a young person’s strengths and risk factors to assess what level of risk the young person would be at to commit a delinquent act or fail to reappear in court if released at the initial appearance. At the initial appearance, the CLO recommends “parole” or “remand” of the child based on the RAI results. 

If the child is detained while the case is proceeding, the child can be held in secure detention or non-secure detention. This detention is called “remand.” Alternatives to Detention (ATD) were also developed to provide a true continuum of supervision and service options based on a youth’s risk level. The ATDs allow the child to be “paroled” (sent home with a parent or guardian) because they attend one of these programs. If the child presents a low risk, the child can be “paroled home” with no conditions while the case proceeds in court. No bail is set in juvenile delinquency cases. 

WHAT TYPES OF HEARINGS ARE HELD? 

In a juvenile delinquency case, the trial is called a “fact-finding hearing.” A fact-finding hearing is the same as a criminal trial but without a jury. The judge decides whether the child committed the acts described in the petition. 

If the child is “remanded” to secure or non-secure detention until trial, the child is entitled to a “probable cause hearing” before the fact-finding hearing to determine whether there is good reason to hold the child in detention. 

The Presentment Agency must give certain police reports and other documents to the respondent’s lawyer to prepare a defense. Other hearings might be scheduled to determine whether the Presentment Agency may use those documents or other certain evidence at the fact-finding hearing. 

WHAT HAPPENS AT THE FACT-FINDING HEARING? 

At the fact-finding hearing, the Presentment Agency must prove its case by calling witnesses and showing other evidence to the court. The respondent’s lawyer may cross-examine the witnesses and present witnesses and evidence for the respondent. If the Presentment Agency proves the case beyond a reasonable doubt, the judge makes a “finding” that the respondent committed some or all of the acts described in the petition. If the case has not been proven, the judge will dismiss the case. 

If a finding is made, the judge will schedule a “dispositional hearing.” 

WHAT HAPPENS AT THE DISPOSITIONAL HEARING?  

The purpose of the dispositional hearing is for the parties to argue and offer evidence so that the judge can decide what to do next. To prepare for the hearing, the judge will order the Department of Probation to investigate and prepare a report about the respondent’s home and school behavior. The judge may also order Mental Health Services to evaluate the child. 

At the dispositional hearing, the judge decides whether the respondent is a “juvenile delinquent” in need of supervision, treatment, or confinement (placement). During the hearing, the judge may hear testimony from the probation officer who conducted the investigation regarding the respondent’s home and school behavior and about any other court cases involving the respondent. The respondent, the respondent’s parents or guardians, and any other persons with information helpful to the respondent may testify. 

The Probation Officer may make one of several different recommendations in their report: 

. 1)  That the respondent is permitted to live at home without court supervision but with certain conditions that the judge sets called a “conditional discharge.”

. 2)  That the Department of Probation supervises the respondent while living at home.

. 3)  That the child is placed on Probation but with the condition that he or she attends an Alternative to Placement (ATP) program such as the Juvenile Justice Initiative (JJI) or Esperanza.

. 4) The child is placed away from home in a juvenile incarceration facility or foster care with Social Services Commissioner.

The judge must decide which of these recommendations is best for the child and the community; the judge must balance the child’s needs to protect the community. The judge is required to use the “least restrictive” option, meaning that the court must not lock up or otherwise limit the respondent’s freedom more than is necessary to achieve the goals of helping the respondent change his/her behavior for the better and protecting the community from further crimes by that respondent. 

Even if a judge finds that the respondent committed the acts described in the petition, the judge may dismiss the petition at disposition if the judge finds that the respondent does not need supervision, treatment, or confinement. The judge may also adjourn the case in contemplation of dismissal (ACD). For an ACD, the judge will set conditions for the respondent to follow. If the respondent follows the conditions and is not re-arrested, the petition will automatically be dismissed after 6 months. 

When the judge reaches a decision, the court issues a written decision, ordering the respondent to cooperate with that disposition (“dispositional order”). 

WHAT HAPPENS IF THE RESPONDENT DISOBEYS THE DISPOSITIONAL ORDER?
If the respondent does not obey the dispositional order, the Probation Officer or the Presentment Agency may file a Violation of Probation (VOP) petition. If a violation is proven, the judge can order a different disposition, including placement in a juvenile incarceration facility. 

For information on serving family court papers, contact a professional process service, or call (800) 774-6922. Representatives are available Monday-Friday 8 am – 8 pm EST.  If you found this article helpful, please consider donating.  Thank you for following our blog, A space dedicated to bringing you news on breaking legal developments, interesting articles for law professionals, and educational material for all. We hope that you enjoy your time on our blog and revisit us!  We also invite you to check out our Frequently Asked Questions About Process Servers.

Rules, Laws And The Process of Guardianship

WHAT IS GUARDIANSHIP? 

A guardian is a person or an agency that the court gives authority to be responsible for a child’s care. The Family Court may grant guardianship of a child 18 years of age or younger or an 18-21-year-old with the young person’s consent. Guardianship is similar to custody and adoption: a person’s petitions to care for and be legally responsible for a child. 

An adult relative, family friend, or a child protective agency may petition the court to be appointed the child’s guardian. Guardianship is the most extensive power, short of adoption that a court can give a non-parent. It is not a permanent relationship; it ends automatically when the child reaches 18 years of age (21 if the child consents) or when the child marries or dies. The child’s guardian can, among other things, obtain or consent to medical, educational, and mental health services; consent to marriage; consent to enlistment in the armed services; and consent to the inspection and release of confidential medical records. 

WHAT IS STANDBY GUARDIANSHIP? 

Standby guardianship is a way for a terminally or seriously ill parent to plan for a child’s future. The parent selects who he/she wants to care for the child if the parent dies. The parent makes this decision legally valid by signing a sworn statement of his/her wishes or filing a petition in court. If the parent does die before the child reaches 18, the standby guardian must petition the court for guardianship. The guardian must serve the other parent, such as a legal father. If the surviving parent wants custody of the child, a fact-finding hearing is conducted and the court makes a decision based on what is best for the child. 

IS GUARDIANSHIP DIFFERENT IN SURROGATE’S COURT? 

Guardianship of a child under age 18, or 18-21 with the young person’s consent, may be sought in Surrogate’s Court or Family Court, though these petitions are most often filed in Family Court. Additionally, the Surrogate’s Court may grant guardianship of an adult who is mentally impaired and unable to care for him/herself. 

WHAT HAPPENS AT THE FACT FINDING HEARING? 

In a guardianship hearing, the court takes testimony about the person seeking guardianship to determine whether it would be in the child’s best interests to allow that person to take responsibility for the child’s care. The court may consider the child’s wishes. Before the guardian’s appointment becomes permanent, the guardian will be fingerprinted and undergo a background check. A person with prior child abuse or child neglect case cannot be approved as a guardian. 

WHAT SHOULD THE PERSON SEEKING GUARDIANSHIP BRING TO FILE A PETITION?
To file a guardianship petition, the petitioner should bring to court the child’s birth certificate, the original death certificate (if the parent is dead), and proof of identification (picture ID), proof of residence. If the child is over 14 years old and unable to appear in court, the child should sign and notarize a Form 6-3, “Preference of a Minor over 14 Years of Age.” If the child’s parents are unable or do not wish to appear in court, the parents should sign and notarize a Form 6-4 “Waiver of Process, Renunciation or Consent to Guardianship.” The petitioner should bring these forms to the court. 

WHAT IS KINSHIP GUARDIANSHIP? 

Kinship Guardianship, or subsidized kinship guardianship, allows relatives who take guardianship of children who have been in foster care to receive financial assistance. The relative must be related to the child either by blood, marriage, or adoption; must be caring for the child as a foster parent, and the child must have been in the relative’s home for at least six months. While an order of guardianship is a determination made by the court, the Administration for Children’s Services decides whether to provide financial assistance to the guardian. For information about the application process for Kinship Guardianship, speak with a foster care agency or with the Family Court’s Clerk. 

For information on serving family court papers, contact a professional process service call (800) 774-6922. Representatives are available Monday-Friday 8 am – 8 pm EST.  If you found this article helpful, please consider donating.  Thank you for following our blog, A space dedicated to bringing you news on breaking legal developments, interesting articles for law professionals, and educational material for all. We hope that you enjoy your time on our blog and revisit us!  We also invite you to check out our Frequently Asked Questions About Process Servers.