Additional Areas of Law
New York State Family Courts hear cases involving Family Offenses committed by "family members" and those who are in an intimate relationship. Family Offenses as defined by New York State include the following, and each have specific elements that must be met to be deemed as having occurred:
Reckless Endangerment Stalking
Criminal Obstruction of Breathing or Blood Circulation
Criminal Mischief Coercion
All of the above listed offenses are similar to criminal acts except that they have been committed against a family member and are heard before the Family Court and as a result are civil, not criminal.
The complaining party who is referred to as a Petitioner, has a right to go into any New York State Family Court and file a Family Offense Petition and to have that Petition heard by a Judge the same day. The Court recognizes that offenses involving family members are very sensitive in nature because the parties have some sort of emotional relationship that often cannot be ignored for too long. You may also consult with an Attorney prior to going into court and have your Attorney file a Petition on your behalf. Family members are defined by New York State Family Courts as individuals who fit the following criteria:
Unrelated individuals who have a child/children together
Related by blood or by marriage
Individuals who were formerly married
Unrelated individuals who are or have been in an intimate relationship together
If the Judge finds that there is "good cause" that elements of the Family Offense being alleged are present, a new court date will be scheduled wherein, the Petitioner, and the person alleged to have committed a crime, referred to as the Respondent, must appear in Court to answer the charges. The Judge may also issue a Temporary Order of Protection in the meantime while waiting for the new court date.
On the next court date, the Respondent may admit or deny the allegations described in the Petition and or consent to the entry of a full Order of Protection. If a resolution is not reached at this time, the parties may elect to hire an attorney, or if a party cannot afford an attorney, based on certain financial criteria, one may be appointed. The parties feel they wish to further litigate, a Family Offense case may be ongoing for several months and can even end up on trial if a resolution cannot be reached.
A dispositional hearing will be held and if the judge finds the allegations were not proven, the case will be dismissed, however, if the Respondent is found to have committed a Family Offense, the Judge may impose sentences which may include any of the following:
A suspended judgment for up to 6 months (which is also called an Adjournment in - -Contemplation of Dismissal or ACOD) This gives the Respondent up to 6 months of conditions to comply with and upon successful completion, the case can be dismissed and sealed.
Probation for up to 1 year with conditions such as domestic violence programs, parenting classes, drug or alcohol programs, costs and fees.
Payment of restitution of up to $10,000.00
Issue a Final Order of Protection lasting anywhere from 2 - 5 years
A paternity matter will be heard before the Family Court by filing a Petition. A Petition can be filed not just by the mother, but also by a man who believes himself to be the father of the child, by the child at an appropriate age as determined by the court, or by an appointed guardian of the child (i.e. a grandparent, aunt or uncle). It is important to understand that if the child is receiving or is in need of and applying for public assistance, the Department of Social Services may first step in and file a Petition against the putative father, seeking an Order of Filiation and an Order of Support.
A man believing, he is, or knowing for sure that he is the father of the child, may sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity at time of birth in the hospital. A man has no obligation to pay support for the child and has no legal right to custody or visitation with the child, unless he is legally named the father of the child, either through an Order of Filiation or an Acknowledgment of Paternity.
If the mother was not married when the child was born and the respondent admits that he is the father, the Court will enter an Order of Filiation. If the alleged father denies that he is the father, the Court will order blood or DNA tests of the mother, the alleged father and the child. Once the test is complete and the results are returned to the Court, the parties will be called back into Court for a reading of the results. If the results are inconclusive or there shows to be probable cause that the man tested is the father, a further hearing will be held, wherein the parties are able to call witnesses, hire experts and offer evidence to try and prove why they believe or disbelieve the father is the man being questioned in court. If there is sufficient proof after hearing, the court will enter an Order of Filiation and if not, the case will be dismissed.
Abuse & Neglect CPS/ACS
Child Neglect and Abuse Petitions are filed in Family Court when it is known or suspected that the parent or guardian has harmed the child(ren) or has failed to properly care for the child(ren). The allegations of Neglect and Abuse are very serious matters and can become very complex.
Child Neglect occurs when a parent or guardian is suspected or is known to have failed to provide suitable medical care or has prevented the child(ren) from getting suitable education. Additionally, a parent or guardian can be charged with Neglect if they abandon the child(ren) or have failed to exercise a minimum degree of care for the child(ren).
Child Abuse occurs when a parent or guardian is suspected of having physically, sexually, mentally, or emotionally injured the child(ren). Child Abuse allegations are also very serious matters and can become very complex. There are several directions your case can go.
In addition to a Family Court proceeding, it is New York State Law, that each alleged case of Child Neglect or Child Abuse be thoroughly investigated by the Department of Social Services (DSS) depending on your County of residency or if in New York City, by the Administration for Children Services (ACS). If there is evidence found that Abuse or Neglect taking place, then DSS or ACS can file their own Petition with Family Court to assist in helping protect the child(ren). In severe cases, where the child(ren) is in imminent danger, the Family Court Act authorizes that ACS, DSS or the local police department can remove the child(ren) from the home either, with, or without a Court Order.
Before formal hearings begin in Family Court, a copy of the Petition is served upon the parent or guardian who officially becomes the Respondent in the case (the person being accused of Neglect or Abuse). The Respondent will be allowed time to hire an Attorney or to be appointed one if they cannot afford one. Additionally, the Court will automatically appoint a Law Guardian, also known as an Attorney for the Child(ren) to represent the child(ren)'s best interests and to act on behalf of the child in Court. Essentially being the voice of the child(ern) in the proceedings.
A Fact-Finding hearing is held to determine whether a child has been neglected or abused and all sides are able to present and challenge evidence and witnesses. The Respondent is also able to present their own case. The Judge will take all into consideration and determine if the allegations are sufficiently proven, if not the case may be dismissed, and a child be returned to the Respondent. If the judge determines that the allegations have been sufficiently proven, a hearing will be held to decide where the child shall be placed, such as in foster care or with a family member or trusted friend. The Respondent must be made aware of the fact that a report of Child Abuse or Neglect will remain on file in the New York State registry until the child(ren) named in the case turn 28 years of age.
As mentioned earlier, there are several layers to Child Abuse and Neglect allegations and cases. The information provided here is for general information purposes only and your specific case should be talked over in great detail with an Attorney to make sure you are aware of all of your options, your rights and of all the elements these cases entail.
The State of New York recognizes Domestic Partnerships for both opposite and same sex couples. This is an alternative to actually being married and reaps most of the same benefits as a marriage.
Applying for and entering into a Domestic Partnership with someone is a fairly easy process as far as applications and such, however, entering into one is a major commitment and should not be taken lightly. Therefore, speaking with an attorney prior to signing any agreements is the best way to make sure you fully understand, and are aware of, all of your rights and obligations taking such a commitment will have on you and your partner.
Couples in New York State can apply for a Domestic Partnership if:
1. The parties are 18 years or older
2. The parties are not related by marriage or blood
3. They are both residents of the County or City in which they are applying
4. The parties are both residents of the city or county in which they are applying
5. The parties have been living together for a continuous 6-month period and are in a committed relationship
6. Both parties must not have been in any other Domestic Partnerships within the past 6 months
*Keep in mind that these laws may differ slightly from county to county across the state.
Being in a Domestic Partnership now means are both now dependent or mutually interdependent on each other for support relating to matters such as those involving common ownership of housing or property, shared incomes and children in common, just to name a few.
Parties under a Domestic Partnership are also now eligible to receive many of the same benefits as married couples do, such as being eligible for your partner's health benefits, life insurance and death benefits, being considered "a family member" in situations where you are visiting at a hospital or prison as well as for the purpose of rental agreements, you would be considered "family" and therefore be able to live under the same rental agreement.
When it comes to dissolving a Domestic Partnership, the process is much easier than the process of divorce in marriages. Either party can terminate the partnership at any time by filing a termination statement in person at the city or county office where they originally registered their Partnership. This termination statement states that a Partnership is terminated, and the parties are no longer partners and relieves the couple from any further legal bond. There will of course be other issues that arise from the termination that the statement does not address. These issues can range from separating finances or claiming assets, to splitting or recuperating property, child custody and debts. In some cases, you may need to take your matter to Supreme or Family Court to be resolved or mediated by a Judge.