Many people who are victims of crime experience problems in different areas of their life, including their family life. For some of these problems, there may be a legal solution. In our Family Law section, you can find information and resources about the most common family law issues.
Being a crime victim can have a huge impact on your ability to parent and care for your children. While children can be an enormous comfort and source of love, some crime victims may need additional help caring for their children’s emotional or financial needs. Securing child support is one way to make sure that you can provide for your children. For others, being a crime victim may mean that they can no longer afford to make their child support payments. This section addresses both victims who are seeking child support and those who may need to lower their payments.
What is child support?
Child support is money paid to the “custodial parent” (the parent living with the child most of the time) by the other parent to help with their child’s care and upbringing. It includes cash payments, child care payments, health insurance and other health care costs.
In New York State, you are responsible for supporting your child until they turn 21 years old.
How is the amount of child support calculated?
Figuring the amount of child support you are owed can be confusing. Generally, the amount of child support depends on the number of children and the parent’s income:
- One Child: 17% of the combined parental income (both parents’ income)
- Two Children: 25% of the combined parental income
- Three Children: 29% of the combined parental income
- Four Children: 31% of the combined parental income
- Five + Children: no less than 35% of the combined parental income
Each parent is responsible for their pro rata (proportional) share of child support.
Who can get child support?
You can get child support through a child support order if:
- You were never married to the other parent.
- You are divorced or legally separated and you have physical custody of the child (that means, the child lives with you most of the time).
- You live with the other parent but the other parent refuses to help with the child’s expenses.
- You are caring for a child as a foster parent. Both parents can be ordered to pay child support.
How do I get child support?
You can file a child support petition in the Family Court in the county in which your child lives. You can contact the Child Support Enforcement Unit (CSEU) to help you start the Family Court Case. Once the petition is filed, you are responsible for making sure that the other parent is served with a summons, a petition, and a financial disclosure form.
There are no filing fees in Family Court.
What do I do if I don’t want the other parent to know where I live?
If you need to keep your address a secret from the other parent so you can’t be found, tell the Court Clerk or the CSEU worker. Your address can be kept confidential if you need to protect yourself.
What do I do if the other parent does not pay?
If you have a child support order but the other parent is not making timely payments, you can file a petition in Family Court to ask the judge to enforce the child support order.
The Child Support Enforcement Unit can help you collect overdue child support and medical coverage. The program can also locate the other parent, establish paternity, establish support orders, collect and distribute child support payments.
Or you can use the Court’s free Do-It Yourself (DIY) Support Enforcement/Violation Petition Program to make your Family Court Papers.
How do I make changes to my child support order?
If your circumstances have changed, for example, you lost your job or you had another child, you can file a petition asking the judge to change the amount of child support. You can also ask the judge to change the amount of child support if the other parent’s circumstances have changed, for example, if they got a higher paying job.
Use the Court’s free Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Support Modification Petition Program to make your court papers to file in your county’s Family Court.
The trauma of victimization or involvement with the legal system may have a negative effect on a crime victim’s ability to care for their children. For some crime victims, securing the safety of their children after their own victimization may be a priority; this may be especially true when the offender is the other parent. In these different situations, custody may be a legal matter victims can pursue.
What is custody?
Custody gives someone the legal responsibility for the care of a child. In New York State, courts can issue custody orders for children under 18 years old. These orders decide how children will be cared for and where they will live or spend time. There are two parts of custody: (1) legal custody and (2) physical custody.
- Sole legal custody: one parent has the right to make important decisions about a child’s upbringing, including medical care, education, and religion.
- Joint legal custody: both parents make decisions about the child’s upbringing regardless of which parent the child lives with.
- Sole physical custody: the child lives with this parent more than 50% of the time and the other parent is given visitation with the child.
- Joint physical custody: the child lives with each parent for an equal amount of time.
In New York State, courts give custody based on what is best for the child. If there is no court order, then both parents have equal rights to physical and legal custody of the child.
Can I file for custody?
Any adult that plays an important role in a child’s life can file for custody. This includes grandparents, aunts, uncles, older siblings, and family friends. Courts use different standards depending on who files for custody.
Parent filing for custody against the other parent:
If you are a parent filing for custody against the other parent, the court will conduct something called a “best interest analysis.” During this process, the court will look at many factors affecting the well-being of the child, such as each parent’s:
- Previous caretaking role in the child’s life,
- Mental and physical health,
- Work schedule,
- Parenting skills,
- Any history of domestic violence between the parties, and
- Ability to share the duties of parenting with the other parent if given joint custody of the child.
Depending on the child’s age, the court may consider what the child wants.
Non-parent filing for custody against a parent:
- The court must consider whether there are “extraordinary circumstances” present. This may include:
- Neglect or abandonment.
- Abuse, or
- If a parent is in prison.
- If the court determines that extraordinary circumstances exist to consider granting custody to someone who is not a parent, the court then conducts a “best interests analysis.” This means, to decide custody, the court looks at which party can best meet the needs of the child.
How do I file for custody?
There are two ways to start a custody proceeding.
- File a custody petition in the Family Court in the county where the child lives. It is free to file in Family Court.
- If you are filing for divorce, you can file for custody as part of the divorce proceedings. File in Supreme Court in the county where the child lives. There are filing fees in Supreme Court.
Parent filing a custody petition against the other parent:
- If you are filing a custody petition against the other parent, it is your responsibility to serve a copy of the petition and summons on the other parent.
Non-parent filing a custody petition against a parent:
- If you are not the parent and are filing a custody petition, you must serve a copy of the petition and summons on both parents.
Use the Family Court custody petition form. After the other party is served, there will be a custody hearing in Family Court.
How do I enforce a custody order?
If you have a custody order but the other party is not following it, you can file a petition to ask the judge to enforce the custody order.
Use the court’s free Do-It-yourself (DIY) custody/visitation enforcement petition program to make your court papers.
How do I modify a custody order?
If you need to change your custody order, file a petition asking the court to do so. To change the custody order, you must show that there has been a “substantial change in circumstance,” such as a change in the child’s educational needs, change in the child’s health, or a parent’s move to a new location.
Use the Court’s free Do-It-Yourself (DIY) custody/visitation modification petition program to you’re your court papers.
Some crime victims may need to change the amount of time they spend with their child. This may require addressing the issue officially in court through visitation.
What is visitation?
Visitation refers to a set schedule when you can spend time with your child. Often, when one parent is granted sole custody of the child, the other parent is given weekly visitation.
The court often makes decisions about the custody of the child and the visitation schedule in the proceeding or case. When making decisions about visitation, the court considers the child’s best interest. Generally, a parent has the right to frequent and meaningful visitation unless it would be harmful to the child.
Can I request visits?
If you are a child’s parent, grandparent, or sibling, you can file for visitation.
If your child is in foster care but your rights as a parent have not been terminated, you also have the right to visit the child.
How do I file for visitation?
If you want to be able to visit with your child, you can ask the court for visitation. You will need to file a petition in the Family Court in the county where your child lives.
There are no filing fees in Family Court.
What are the different types of visitation?
Supervised visitation is when the court orders that someone else be present during a visit between a parent and a child. These types of visitations are ordered when the court finds evidence that the child would be in danger if they are alone with the parent. Visits can be supervised by a family member or friend, or by staff at an agency.
Unsupervised visitation means that the parent can visit the child without another person being present. Most visitations are unsupervised.
What do I do when the other parent doesn’t follow the visitation order?
If you have a visitation order but the other parent is not allowing you to visit with your child, you can file a petition asking the judge to order the other parent to follow the visitation order.
Visit custody/visitation enforcement petition program to complete and submit a DIY form to your county’s Family Court.
How do I change a visitation order?
If you need to make a change to your current visitation order, you can file a petition asking the court to modify the custody and visitation order. You must show that there has been a substantial change in circumstance.
Visit custody/visitation modification petition program to complete and submit an online DIY form to your county’s Family Court.
According to New York State law, a child born to unmarried parents has no legal father. Unmarried parents need to establish paternity before they can seek child support, visitation, or custody. For some crime victims, establishing paternity may be necessary to secure financial assistance and protection for themselves and their child.
What is paternity?
Paternity is a way to legally show that a man is a child’s father. Once a man is considered a child’s legal father, he has the right to custody and/or visitation with the child, and the responsibility to pay child support.
How is paternity established?
In New York State, paternity can be established in three ways:
- If the parties are married when the child is born, the husband is considered the child’s legal parent.
- If the parties are not married when the child is born, paternity can be established by an:
- Acknowledgment of Paternity: both parties can sign this form to name an individual as the father of the child [Here you can find an Acknowledgment of Paternity Form]
- Order of Filiation: when one of the parents is unwilling to sign the acknowledgemt of paternity, the court can enter this Order after a paternity case is brought in Family Court
Can I file for paternity?
You can file for paternity if you are:
- the child's mother
- a man who believes he is the father
- the child or child's guardian
Also, the Department of Social Services may file to establish paternity if the child receives public assistance
How do I file for paternity?
You can file a paternity petition in the Family Court in the county in which the child lives. Use the Court’s free Do-It-Yourself (DIY) paternity petition program to make your court papers.
Once you file a paternity petition, you are responsible for making sure a copy of the petition and summons is served on the other parent.
There are no filing fees in Family Court.
Crime victims often experience emotional and psychological trauma that can affect their relationships with friends and loved ones. Unfortunately, for some people, the strain of victimization may permanently impact their marriage. Below is some basic information about divorce, and additional resources where you can learn more.
What is a divorce?
Divorce is the legal ending of a marriage by court order. The divorce case, also called a “matrimonial action,” will address a range of issues, including:
- Who will have custody of any children.
- Who will pay child support and how much.
- How property, such as your home and cars, will be divided up and cared for.
- Who will pay for bills, such as your mortgage, credit cards, car payments, personal loans and debts.
There are two types of divorces:
- Uncontested divorces: When both spouses agree to the divorce and are in agreement about what will happen with the children, property, and finances; or there are no issues to be resolved.
- Contested divorces: When the spouses do not agree on what will happen with the children, finances, or other issues at stake in the divorce.
Can I get a divorce?
When asking for a divorce in New York State, you must prove to the judge one of the following about your marriage:
- Irretrievable breakdown: For at least six months, either or both spouses no longer want to live with each other, and your relationship cannot be repaired.
- Cruel and inhuman treatment: Your physical or mental health is in danger if you continue living together.
- Abandonment: Your spouse left you for at least a year and does not intend to return.
- Imprisonment: Your spouse has been in jail for at least three years after you were married.
- Adultery: Your spouse commits adultery.
- After a legal separation: You and your spouse have lived apart for a year after signing an “agreement to separation.”
- After a judgment of separation: You and your spouse have not lived together because of a “judgment of separation.”
- You meet the “residency requirement.”
- You or your spouse have been living here continuously for at least one year and you got married in New York State, you lived here as a married couple, or the divorce grounds arouse here.
- You or your spouse have been living in New York State for at least two years.
- You and your spouse live in New York State when the divorce is started and the grounds for divorce happened here.
For more information about residency and divorce grounds, please see the New York Courts website.
How do I file for divorce?
You can file for divorce in Supreme Court in the county you live.
If you and your spouse agree to all issues in your divorce, you can file what is called an “uncontested divorce” packet.
- If you do not have children under the age of 21 and your relationship ended at least 6 months ago, you can use the Court’s free online Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Uncontested Divorce Program.
- If you have children under the age of 21, you can use the paper Uncontested Divorce Packet Forms
If you and your spouse do not agree on all the issues in the divorce, such as what will happen to your children, finances, or property, you may wish to hire an attorney. Contested divorces often involve multiple dates in court. Visit our Legal Help Directory for information on finding an attorney who may be able to help you.
After you file for divorce, you must serve your with the divorce papers. Visit serving the defendant in an uncontested divorce to learn more about service.
For more information about divorce in New York State, please see the New York Courts website.
For immediate help and to report a crime, call 911.
Visit the NYS Social Programs website for help with housing, food, unemployment assistance, and other services.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - confidential support for people in distress: 1-800-273-8255.
Adult Protective Services: 1-844-697-3505.
Domestic Violence and Sexual Violence Hotline: 1-800-942-6906.