Life is full of twists and turns, and many unexpected challenges.  No one ever plans on having to appear in court, especially family court.  Family court hears and determines a variety of personal legal matters including custody, child support, spousal support, paternity, abuse and neglect, juvenile delinquency, PINS and family offense proceedings.  It does not however deal with criminal matters between individuals that do not have a familial or intimate relationship with each other, divorces, or property disputes.   Support proceedings usually are presided over by a Support Magistrate who is a specially designated and trained attorney assigned to handle child support and spousal support issues.  All other matters in family court will be handled by a judge.

There are two ways that you may find yourself in a family court:  either you petition the family court yourself or someone else petitions you. If you are not the person starting the family court proceeding, then you are called “the Respondent.”  If you are starting the proceeding, then you are called “the petitioner”.  The petitioner may also be the Department of Social Services or another agency who is concerned about the well being of a child.  Petitioners and respondent are often referred to as “the parties”.   You do not need to have an attorney to file the petition and at present, there is no cost to file a petition.  All family courts keep sample forms available to the public that can be filed out.

Over the next several weeks, we will be posting content to support the value of having an attorney with you at Family court, should you have to appear.

First, the personnel at family court can answer general questions but cannot provide you with legal advice, drafting suggestions or answer questions about what you should or should not do.  It is preferable to have an attorney assist you in drafting a petition because in certain cases, the petition can be thrown out or dismissed if it is not filled out correctly and/or does not provide sufficient facts to support what is being requested.  Often people file petitions when they are upset or angry and that is when mistakes and errors tend to get made.  Attorneys are familiar with how petitions need to be filled out and can avoid these crucial mistakes.

Source: Westlaw – Callagan’s Family Court and Law Practice New York  

For more information or to speak with an attorney specializing in Family and Divorce Law and Child Custody, contact Vanessa Gabriele at  or call 716.856.1344.