What Are Trial Courts ?

By: Undisputed Legal/Court Service Department

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. 

Surrogate’s Court: The Surrogate’s Court handles all cases involving wills, estates, and property of deceased persons, and guardianships. The court shares authority with the Family Court in adoption cases. Surrogate Court judges are elected for 10-year terms in most of the state (14-year terms in New York City). 

County Court: The County Court hears felony cases and civil cases involving claims of $25,000 or less. Each county, excluding the five counties of New York City, has a County Court. The County Courts in the Third and Fourth Departments hear appeals from cases originating in the City, Town, and Village courts, although they primarily function as trial courts. County Court judges are elected for 10-year terms. In some rural upstate counties, County Court judges serve simultaneously as the local Family Court judge and/or the local surrogate. 

Court of Claims: The Court of Claims is the exclusive forum for civil claims brought against the State of New York or its state agencies. The governor appoints the judges of the Court of Claims from a list submitted by a state judicial screening committee for 9-year terms. 

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