The Family Court in New York has the jurisdiction to hear cases involving allegations of abuse and neglect of children. They are commonly referred to as “N” docket cases since the docket number starts with the letter N. Generally the case belongs in the county of residence of the subject child or children. There is nothing to prevent criminal proceedings at the same time as the family court proceedings, however, the family court cases are intended to be about protecting the children, whereas criminal proceedings are about crime and punishment. Services might be ordered by the court to help protect a child, improve the family situation or to aid in getting children out of foster care while the case is ongoing.
One of the first acts that a court will take when an abuse or neglect proceeding is initiated will be to appoint an attorney to represent the child or children who are the subjects of the case. The job of the attorney for the children is to advocate for what the children want. This is their same role whether they are appointed as attorneys for the children in a child custody case, which are commonly referred to as “V” docket cases, or in an “N” docket cases. In the case of children not old enough or mature enough to formulate their own opinions of what they want an attorney for the child is permitted to substitute their judgment for that of what the children say they want. It is the job of the judge to determine what is in the children’s best interests.
Often child custody, abuse and neglect cases proceed at the same time in front of the same judge since they involve the children and what is in their best interests. I often represent a parent or a relative in such cases. Many times my client is attempting to get custody for themselves when someone else is facing the allegations of abuse or neglect. Children might be ordered to be removed from their home when an abuse or neglect case is ongoing, Relatives are supposed to be located and informed that the case is ongoing and that they have the possibility to seek custody, become foster parents, or in cases where reunification with the parents is not necessary or possible, that they may seek to adopt the children themselves. When there is an appropriate relative to live with, and the children need to be removed from their current home, the court can give that relative custody, place the children with that parent, or in the care of the social services agency to place with the other parent, relative or in foster care when there are not other appropriate options. Sometimes the court might decide that the child should remain with the same parent despite that the neglect or abuse case is ongoing.
Usually “N” docket cases are initiated by child protective services, on Long Island, or in New York City the Administration for Children’s Services (CPS or ACS). The Family Court Act, however, does allow other people to start the case but the court has the discretion to require a referral to CPS or ACS for the agency to determine whether to initiate a case or not. Hospitals, private or public agencies with evidence about abuse or neglect can have their records subpoenaed by the attorney for any of the parties, the attorney for the children. The identities of the people that filed reports about abuse or neglect may be redacted (but in the event of a hearing it might be required to be revealed). There is nothing to prevent a person, however, to make an anonymous complaint to CPS or ACS about suspected child abuse or neglect.
Cases might be dismissed, withdrawn, settled or Adjourned in Contemplation of dismissal. Often, if there is an agreement for someone else to get a final order of custody, the child protective agency will no longer see the need to proceed with the case. If there is not an agreed upon resolution, any respondent in an abuse or neglect case has the right to a fact finding hearing. Any finding that someone has committed abuse or neglect must be by a preponderance of evidence. This means that the court finds that it is more probably true than not that the child has been abused or neglected.
Once there is a finding of abuse or neglect then the court must conduct a dispositional hearing. The court can suspend judgment, release the children to his parents or other guardian, place the children with relatives or state custody or otherwise, issue an order of protection, and or place the respondent under supervision. There needs to be what is called permanency hearings for children that are placed out of their homes to promote safety and well-being for the children. The goals for the children might be reunification with their parent or parents. If the conditions that caused the abuse or neglect are not remedied, as directed by the court, for a substantial period of time (usually one year), then a termination of parental rights petition might follow.
If you have questions about abuse, neglect, child custody, family or matrimonial law feel free to call about your free initial consultation. For more information about various family law and matrimonial topics, including mediation, litigation or collaborative law please click around our blog, website or call. It would be our please to see if we can help.