Supreme Court: The Supreme Court is a statewide trial court that has the broadest jurisdiction of any court. The Supreme Court hears civil and criminal cases, but not claims against the state. It is the only court that handles divorces, annulments, and separations. Supreme Court justices are elected for 14-year terms.
Family Court: The Family Court, present in every county in New York State, hears cases involving children and families including child custody and support, neglect and abuse, juvenile delinquency, family offenses (i.e. domestic violence), and paternity. The Family Court does not decide divorce, annulment, or separation proceedings. In New York City, pursuant to an executive order, the Mayor appoints Family Court judges from a list of candidates submitted by the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on the Judiciary. In all other counties, Family Court judges are elected. All Family Court judges serve 10-year terms.
The Family Court of the State of New York has the authority to decide cases affecting the lives of children and families. 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 “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 be in need of “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.
WHO FILES A PETITION TO TERMINATE A PARENT’S RIGHTS?
ACS or the foster care agency may in some circumstances file a petition asking the court to terminate (end) a parent’s legal rights to a child so that the child may be adopted.
WHAT ARE A PARENT’S LEGAL RIGHTS?
The rights that the child protective agency seeks to terminate include the parent’s right to custody, to raise the child, to make religious, educational, or medical decisions for the child, to visit with the child, to speak with the child, to contact the child, and to learn about the child.
WHO MUST BE NOTIFIED ABOUT THE PETITION?
The mother must be served with the petition and a summons. If the child’s parents are or were married, then the agency must also serve the father.
An order of custody gives responsibility for the child’s care, control, and maintenance to one or both of the child’s parents or to another party. The court may not decide issues of custody and visitation if the child is 18 years or older.
A person who has an interest in a child’s well-being and has some connection or relationship with the child may file a petition in the Family Court requesting that the court place the child in his or her custody. The petition should be filed in the county in which the child resides, so long as the child as been residing in the state for the past six (6) months. A copy of the petition and a summons must be delivered personally to (served on) the person or parties who have custody of the child. If the child’s parents are separated and one parent seeks a custody order, that parent must have the papers served on the other parent. If a non-parent is seeking custody of the child, then both the child’s parents must be served.
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Takeaway: While states differ in the way they approach arranging child custody, the best interest of the child is always viewed as the priority.
Child custody is a very emotional and sensitive issue. In most cases, although not all, child custody battles are a result of divorce. The parents are dealing with the breakup of their marriage at the same time as they are fighting for the right to have custody of their child. This can create a bitter situation.