Helpful Family Court Information and Overview

Family Court In New York

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If you find yourself in a position where you need to deal with a family law matter, then you may end up presenting your case at the Family Court in your local county. Venue is usually proper in a County in which one of the parties resides. Regardless of the circumstances, presenting your case within a court setting can be incredibly nerve-wracking and worrisome, which is why I often try to put my client’s minds at rest by discussing the nuances of family court with them beforehand.

A Family Court is the court that is convened to decide upon matters and make orders regarding family law, such as when dealing with child custody and visitation (now called parenting time), orders of protection (family offense cases), support matters, juvenile delinquency cases, abuse, neglect, termination of parental rights, PINS (Person in Need of Supervision), and adoptions. A family court in New York can not get people divorced and do not deal with equitable distribution of marital assets and property claims.

Your family court lawyer may have a hearing or trial presided over by a Judge, but support magistrates are required to hear paternity, spousal or child support cases. Court attorney referees can hear cases regarding visitation, custody, orders of protection and some matters of foster care. Judicial hearing officers hear cases regarding custody, visitation, voluntary placement for foster care, adoption and some family offense cases. Notably, there are no juries within a Family Court setting. All magistrates that deal with Family Proceedings Courts will undergo extensive and specialist training before managing any case. Procedures within Family Court are often quite different from that of Supreme Courts.

In Family Court cases, the probation department or in some locations the office of the self-represented can sometimes assist those who choose to represent themselves when it comes to filing and preparing court papers, including motions and petitions. Although, in regards to legal proceedings, no tool or service will ever be quite as useful as having a professional and experienced attorney on hand, the office of the self-represented can offer some legal information – but no legal advice. Typically individuals will find that their Family Court remains open to them all day throughout working days (Monday to Friday), except for on noted national holidays. Usually, the hearing rooms in each courthouse will close between 1:00pm and 2:00pm for lunch, but the building itself will continue to be open to the public.

Attending Family Court

Throughout New York City and Long Island, each County has its own specific family court: Nassau County, Suffolk County (both in Central Islip and Riverhead), Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island and the Bronx. Typically, it will be possible to file a case without any charges in the county where at least one of the parties to present the case lives. What’s more, the Family Court is generally open to any people directly involved within a particular case, the public can go to the court, but are usually not allowed into a courtroom for any case but their own. Sometimes a friend or family member can accompany an individual into a courtroom, for comfort, but the support magistrate, referee or judge that presides over each case will have the capacity to exclude people from the courtroom. A consideration is that if a friend or family member is going to be a witness at a hearing then it could be problematic for them to be in the courtroom during preliminary stages.

If you are dealing with a matter that requires your appearance at Family Court, then you should receive a summons to attend your local court on a specific date, at a specific time. People who are scheduled to appear in court will always be expected to arrive at the courthouse for their allotted time, and I usually suggest that it is a better idea to be there early, than run the risk of being late. However, with that in mind, it’s also worth mentioning that even when parties do arrive early at the courthouse, they may be asked to spend a long time, or sometimes most of the day at the courthouse dealing with their case, because the calendars for Family Courts are often very busy. If you, or the other party involved in your case is not at the court, or is marked as absent when the support magistrate, judge, or referee is ready to hear the case, then the proceedings may begin regardless, and the case could be decided in that person’s absence. On the other hand, if the petitioner is not present for his or her allotted time frame, then the judge may completely dismiss the case.

The Final Decision

Once a case has been successfully completed and a final decision has been recorded in writing, each party involved directly within the case will be entitled to a copy of that written decision. This documentation is known as a “final order”, and only the parties that are involved in that specific case – including their lawyers – will be entitled to get a copy of, or view that court order, as well as any other papers in the court file. Parties that wish to obtain a copy of the order will be allowed to either wait just outside of the courtroom or in the courtroom itself, or go to the Record Room of the courthouse where the case was heard and request a copy. Generally, a picture ID or Proof of Identity will be required in order to obtain or see copies of court records, as members of the general public are not permitted to see the records retained within Family Court cases.

Both parties involved within the case will have the right to appeal the final order of the judge or the court attorney referee. Written objections that are reviewed by a Family Court judge, is usually the first step before an appeal is necessary for a support matter. An appeal, in simple terms, requests for a higher court to consider the case. For a support magistrate’s decision to be appealed, the party must first file and serve the “objection” within the Family Court, but they might “win” before an appeal is necessary since the judge could overturn the decision. Following that, a judge will review the decision and decide whether they consider the decision to be correct. The decision of the judge may then be further appealed in the Appellate division, and the appeal could result in the decision being reversed, modified, or affirmed. Because of the complexity of the appeal process, it is always better to have a lawyer on hand than to try to move through a case without one.

As usual, please browse through our web pages and blog entries for more information on family law, court proceedings and more. Feel free to call about your initial consultation too – it would be our pleasure to speak with you.