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Family Court Overview

 

The Family Court of the State of New York was established to take action in the lives of children, parents and spouses. The court has a wide range of powers to fit the particular needs of the people who come before it.

The Family Court Act gives the Family Court power to hear certain types of cases. As each case is filed in the court, it is assigned its own identifying number, called a docket number. The docket number begins with a letter which tells the type of case filed. For example, a paternity case is given a docket number beginning with the letter "P".

Most Family Court hearings (trials) are heard by judges. Support magistrates hear support and paternity cases. There are no juries in Family Court: the judge or support magistrate conducts a hearing and decides the case.

The Family Court is generally open to the public, in addition to those persons who are directly involved with a particular case. However, the judge or support magistrate presiding over each case has the authority to exclude the public from the courtroom depending upon the nature of the case or the privacy interests of the parties.

Persons who have been scheduled to appear in court are expected to arrive at the courthouse on time. If a party (a person who has a direct involvement with a case) is not present when the case is called into the courtroom, the judge or support magistrate may proceed and decide the case in that person's absence, or may dismiss it. Parties should understand that although they arrive early, they may be required to spend a lengthy period of time at the courthouse.

After a case has been completed and a final decision has been made, each party has the right to appeal the judge's decision, asking a higher court to review the evidence and any testimony presented at the Family Court hearing. (Decisions made by support magistrates are appealed first by filing an objection to the decision; a Family Court judge reviews the support magistrates' decision and order.) An appeal may result in a decision being affirmed (left as it is), or modified (changed somewhat), or reversed (changed entirely).

The court records of Family Court proceedings are not open to public inspection. However, the court may permit access to records where appropriate. Persons directly involved with a case who wish to obtain a copy of a court order may request a copy at the Record Room of the courthouse where the case was heard; proof of the person's identity is required.

Each Family Court in New York City is open all day from Monday through Friday, except on holidays. At lunchtime, the parts (hearing rooms) within each courthouse close for a lunch recess, but certain areas of each building remain open to the public. Specific information on hours may be obtained by calling the courthouse.