The Family Court

While New Yorkers like to think of themselves as sophisticated and cutting edge, we have a court system that distinctly 19th century. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the area of Family Law.

The first thing to know is that you don’t go to Family Court for a divorce. Divorces are granted in the Supreme Court. This may seem odd. In fact, the question that I am always asked is: If you don’t get divorced in Family Court, then what do they do?
Family Court is different from the Supreme Court. It generally ends up managing and sometimes even micro-managing family relationships.

From paternity to support, to orders of protection and PINS (persons in need of supervision) petitions, the Family court in involved with all aspects of (dis)functional family life.

When a mother or father seeks to establish the paternity of a child, the action is filed in the Family Court. These days, paternity is a straight forward matter. If a person denies it, the court orders a DNA test. These tests are far more accurate than the old blood tests. In the modern family court, there is little chance of a person being forced to support a person who is not his child.

Once of the biggest areas of concern for the family court is non-support. Under New York law, a person is required to support his/her children. Also, if his/her spouse is in danger of becoming a public charge (going on welfare) then the working spouse must provide support in an amount to be determined by the court.

Under New York law, support for children is determined by the number of children. For one child the support is 17 percent of the income. Two children is 25 percent, three children is 28 percent. Income is defined as money received, from whatever source.

Generally, but not always, this means the amount of money a person earns at work. However, other monies can be counted. If a person lives rent free in an apartment owned by his parents, the value of the monthly rental will be added to his income for child support. If a person parents give him money on a regular basis, then that money will also be included in the income.

Some fathers have thought to quit their jobs in order to reduce their support obligations. This won’t work. If the court finds that a parent has voluntarily reduced his income to avoid child support obligations, then the court could find the parent in contempt and throw him in jail.

The Family court also gets involved in case of domestic violence. The violence could be spouse on spouse, parent on child, or child on parent. The court has the power and authority to issue orders of protection. If the order is violated, then the matter could be handled either in family court or in the criminal court. Violating an order of protection is a crime, and a person could receive up to one year.

The family court is also to place to go when a child is uncontrollable. Now, I don’t mean that you kid won’t do his homework, or stayed out half an hour beyond curfew. I’m talking about serious control issues. The child is taking drugs, stealing, or running away from home. When this happens, the parent can petition the court for a PINS petition (Person in need of supervision). The court tries to work with the family and social agencies to safe the child from self-destruction.

Finally, the family court is the place that juveniles are prosecuted for committing crimes. If a minor commits a crime, such as robbery or assault, he is prosecuted in the family court. Technically, this is not a criminal proceeding. The child, if found guilty, does not get a criminal record, although his vital information could end up in a national crime database. The record of his conviction is sealed and generally cannot be reopened. The family court has the authority to sentence the minor to a correctional facility. At these facilities, there are no adult offenders, only other juveniles. The idea is not to treat them as criminals, but to give then assistance in becoming productive people.

That’s the basic over view of the Family Court. While it doesn’t get involved with divorces, it does provide a wide range of services for families

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