How are child custody cases affected by abuse and neglect claims?

Neglect or abuse allegations come up frequently in child custody matters. The purpose of this blog entry is to discuss some of the nuances of how abuse and neglect accusations come into play in a custody case. Like me, Long Island Child Custody Lawyers and attorneys that handle cases in and around the New York City area acquire this information through years of practice.

A notable procedural matter in the New York Family Courts concerns when an abuse/neglect case is pending at the same time as a custody case involving the same parties. In most instances, the custody case cannot be resolved until such time as the abuse or neglect case is completed. Therefore, the custody case usually will be assigned to the same Judge that has the abuse/neglect case.   The custody case will then follow along with the abuse or neglect case.   In the New York family courts an abuse/neglect case is commonly referred to as an “N” docket case as the docket number starts with the letter “N”. Custody/visitation cases (parenting time) cases in the family court are called “V” dockets as the docket numbers in those cases begin with the letter “V”.

Often, an N-docket case might be resolved if the Respondent in the N-docket case agrees to V-docket custody be given to the other parent or petitioner in the custody case.   What this means is that the County or protective services agency that is proceeding with the case against the Respondent will request to withdraw the N-docket case if they are satisfied that the child is safe with the other parent or other party in the V-docket matter. If there is not an agreed upon resolution, and the N-docket case proceeds to a hearing, the Judge that is listening to the evidence on the N-docket case can consider whatever evidence is adduced at that hearing when deciding the V-docket child custody cases.

In a child custody or parenting time case, a referee or judge might ask Child Protective Services, for Long Island cases, or Administration for Children Services, for New York City cases to perform what is called a Court Ordered Investigation.   The investigation’s purpose is to determine whether the children involved in a child custody case are being exposed to abuse or neglect. What happens in the case is that a CPS or ACS worker will visit and speak with the children and the parents and make a report back to the court. The court and the attorneys for the parties get to review the report. In what might seem like a quirky rule, the report is usually not allowed to be given to the parties of the case. If the report uncovers a concern, a N-docket case might be initiated. If there are findings of neglect or abuse by the caseworker the worker can be called as a witness in the custody case. Even if the case is unfounded, however, the information revealed by the report could end up being a valuable tool that a savvy attorney can use to develop the case.

Likewise, CPS workers that investigate matters outside of a court case and find that allegations of abuse or neglect are founded or “indicated” can be subpoenaed to testify at a custody trial or hearing. Their records and reports connected to the investigation can be subpoenaed as well and produced at trial under the proper evidentiary procedures. Statements by a child regarding abuse or neglect can be admissible at a custody trial as an exception to the hearsay rules. Most of these tools are applicable both to child custody cases in the family court and divorce or matrimonial cases in the Supreme Court, although there are different procedural aspects to each type of case. Since I handle cases in both the Supreme and Family Courts, I can discuss the differences with my clients.

Please click around my blog and website for more information about child custody cases. If you have questions or are seeking representation in a custody, abuse, neglect, mediation, collaborative law or other family law matter feel free to call about your free initial consultation. Mediating couples can take advantage of their free half hour consultation together in our Nassau County office. Individuals seeking representation of a lawyer may choose a phone or face to face consultation.   Contact us to arrange what will work best for you. It would be our pleasure to speak with you about it.

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