Some of the information on this page may have been temporarily changed by governments and courts in response to Coronavirus.
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.
For parents who are separated or divorced, the Covid-19 crisis can be especially difficult.
- Children's schools or daycare centers are closed
- Children cannot play with friends because of social distancing guidelines
- Parents may now have to work from home, work extra hours, or have lost their jobs
It is important to know that how you act now can affect a court's decision in the future. Here are some guidelines for parents. Judges advise that you focus on your children and do what's best for them.
Here are some suggestions that can help with visitation:
- Keep your visitation schedule if it is safe for you and the children. Consider:
- Can the non-custodial parent visit with the children at the custodial parent's home? (Can they play on the lawn, or visit through a screen door if it's not safe for them to come inside?)
- Can you replace in-person visits with more phone calls, text messages, FaceTime, or Skype visits?
- Can you arrange for extra visitations after the Covid-19 crisis is over?
- If visitations must be supervised but supervised visitation centers are closed, can vists happen using Skype, Zoom, or phone conference calls with the children, the non-custodial parent, and the visitation supervisor?
- If you, the other parent, or the children have been exposed to someone with Covid-19 or are ill, talk to a doctor and get medical advice to help decide the right time for visitation.
- Keep a record of your communications with the other parent. This can help you in the future by showing your requests for visitation were reasonable, that you were flexible, and that you were thinking about your children's needs. Here are some ways to keep a record of your communications:
- Save texts, voicemails, and emails.
- If you agree on something over the phone, send an email to confirm what you agreed to.
- Keep track of the following:
- All the times children visited and communicated with the non-custodial parent (through FaceTime, calls, etc.)
- The length of these visits and calls
- Times requests for visits were denied
- Ask your attorney for help talking to the other parent about visitation. The attorney may be able to arrange a new schedule that works during this crisis, or ask a court to help.
You can find a lawyer with our Legal Help Directory.
All temporary and final child support orders will continue as written.
Right now, most courts are not hearing violation of child support cases (cases where child support has not been paid) unless it is considered an emergency.
If you are using the Child Support Collection Units, please go to the NYS Child Support website for more information, including applying for services, or making payments.
If you were laid off because of the Covid-19 health crisis and cannot pay child support, you can file for unemployment.
For information about stimulus checks and child support, please go to Empire Justice Center's website.
Please contact your attorney for advice, or talk to a lawyer for more information.
Being a crime victim can have an impact on your ability to parent and care for your child’s physical, emotional and financial needs.
If you are a crime victim, you may:
- Need child support to help you provide for your children, or
- No longer be able to afford to pay the same child support.
This section tells you how to ask for child support or ask to lower the amount you pay.
What is child support?
Child support is money one parent pays to the other parent where the child lives most of the time. This helps make sure that both parents are sharing in the child’s care. The parent the child lives with most of the time is also called the custodial parent.
Child support includes:
- Child care payments
- Health insurance
- 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?
The amount of child support usually depends on how many children there are and both parents’ incomes combined. It can be confusing; this chart can help:
|Number of Children Supported||% of parents' combined income|
|5 or more||35% or more|
Each parent pays a share of child support proportionate to their income.
Can I get child support?
You can get a child support order if:
- You never married the other parent.
- You are divorced or legally separated and the child lives with you most of the time.
- You live with the other parent but they refuse to help with the child’s costs.
- You are a foster parent. The court can order the child’s parents to pay child support.
How do I get child support?
To get a child support order, follow these steps:
- File a child support petition in the Family Court in the county where your child lives.
- Have the other parent served (given) a summons, petition, and financial disclosure form.
If you need help to start your Family Court case, contact the Child Support Enforcement Unit (CSEU).
Do I have to pay to file for child support?
No. It is free to file in Family Court.
What if I don’t want the other parent to know where I live?
Just tell the court clerk or the CSEU worker if you need to keep your address private from the other parent.
What if the other parent does not pay?
If you have a child support order but the other parent does not pay:
- File a petition in Family Court to ask the judge to make the other parent pay, or
- Ask the Child Support Enforcement Unit (CSEU) to help you collect past due child support and health care costs. They can also help you:
- Find the other parent
- Establish paternity
- Set up new support orders
- Collect and pay your child support payments
Need help? The Court’s free Do-It Yourself (DIY) Support Enforcement/Violation Petition Program can help you fill out your Family Court forms.
How do I change to my child support order?
You can file a petition asking the judge to change the child support amount if:
- Your situation changes, such as losing your job or having another baby or
- The other parent’s situation changes, such as getting a higher paying job.
Need help? The Court’s free Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Support Modification Petition Program can help you fill out your Family Court Papers.
For more information:
Being a crime victim or being involved in a legal case can be very stressful. You may not be able to care for your children, but you want to keep them safe, especially if the offender is the other parent. Custody may be a legal way to take care of your children.
What is custody?
Custody is the legal responsibility to care for a child. New York courts can make custody orders for children under 18. Custody orders say who will care for the children and where they will live or spend time.
Custody includes legal custody and physical custody.
Legal custody is who has the right to make important decisions about a child’s upbringing, education, health care, and religion. There are 2 types:
- Sole legal custody: One parent makes these decisions.
- Joint legal custody: Both parents decide.
Physical custody is who a child lives with. There are 2 types:
- Sole physical custody: The child lives with one parent more than half the time. The child has visitation with the other parent.
- Joint physical custody: The child lives half the time with each parent.
Both parents have equal rights to physical and legal custody of their child. If a court makes a custody order, the order will be based on what is best for the child.
Can I file for custody?
You can file for custody if you are an adult who plays an important role in a child’s life. , This includes:
- Aunts and uncles
- Older siblings
- Family friends
Courts use different standards depending on who files for custody.
Parent filing against the other parent
If you are a parent filing for custody against the other parent, the court will decide what is in the child’s best interests. It will look at many things that affect the child’s well-being, such as each parent’s:
- Previous caretaking of the child
- Mental and physical health
- Work schedule
- Parenting skills
- Any history of domestic violence between the Ability to share parenting duties with the other parent if the court gives joint custody.
The court usually considers what the child wants if the child is at least 13 years old.
Non-parent filing against a parent
The court must consider if there are extraordinary circumstances, such as:
- Neglect or abandonment
- Parent in prison
If there are extraordinary circumstances, the court will consider giving custody to someone who is not a parent. The court will decide what is in the child’s best interests. This means looking at which party can best meet the child’s needs.
How do I file for custody?
To start a child custody case:
- File a custody petition in the Family Court in the county where your child lives. Use Family Court custody petition form. It is free to file in Family Court.
- If you are filing for divorce, file for custody as part of your divorce case. File in the Supreme Court in the county where your child lives. You have to pay filing fees in Supreme Court.
Serve the other parent(s):
- If you are a parent filing a custody petition against the other parent, you must have a copy of the petition and summons served on (given to) the other parent.
- If you are not the parent and are filing a custody petition, you must serve (give) a copy of the petition and summons on both parents.
After the other party is served, there will be a custody hearing in Family Court.
What if the other parent (or person) doesn’t obey the custody order?
If the other parent (or person) doesn’t obey the custody order, you can file a petition asking the judge to make them obey it.
Need help? The Court’s free Do-It-Yourself (DIY) custody/visitation enforcement petition program can help you fill out your Family Court forms.
How do I change a custody order?
You can file a petition to ask the court to change your custody order.
You MUST show that there has been a substantial change in the situation. Examples include a change in one of the following:
- Child’s educational needs
- Child’s health
- Parent’s move to a new location
Need help? The Court’s free Do-It-Yourself (DIY) custody/visitation modification petition program can help you fill out your Family Court forms.
For more information, visit:
Some crime victims may need to change the amount of time they spend with their child. You may have to do this through a court order of visitation.
What is visitation?
Visitation is a schedule that says when you can spend time with your child.
The court often decides visitation as part of a custody case. If the child lives with one parent, the other parent usually has weekly visits.
The court considers what is best for the child.
Usually, a parent has the right to spend quality time with a child, unless it would be harmful to the child.
Can I ask for visits?
You can file for visitation if you are a child’s:
- Grandparent or
What if my child is in foster care?
If the court has not “terminated” or ended your rights as a parent, you have the right to visit your child.
How do I file for visitation?
If you want visits with your child, ask the court for visitation. You will need to file a petition in the Family Court in the county where your child lives.
It is free to file 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. Supervised visits are ordered when the court believes the child would be in danger if left alone with the parent.
The supervising adult can be:
- Family member
- Friend or
- Staff at an agency
Unsupervised visitation means the parent can visit the child alone. Most visitations are unsupervised.
What if the other parent doesn’t follow the visitation order?
If the other parent is not following the visitation order, file a petition. Ask the judge to order the other parent to follow the visitation order.
The Court's free Do-It-Yourself (DIY) custody/visitation enforcement petition program can help you fill out your Family Court forms.
How do I change a visitation order?
If you need to change your visitation order, file a petition to ask the court. You must show the situation has changed in an important way. For example:
- There is a change in a parent's finances or home.
- The child is abused or neglected.
- The child is asking for a change in visitation.
The Court’s free Do-It-Yourself (DIY) custody/visitation modification petition program can help you fill out your Family Court forms.
Some crime victims may need financial help and protection for themselves and their child. If you and the other parent were not married when the child was born, you must prove paternity before you can ask for child support, visitation, or custody.
What is paternity?
Paternity shows who is a child’s legal father.
A legal father has a:
- Right to custody and visitation with his child, and
- Responsibility to pay child support.
How do I prove paternity?
In New York State, if the parents are married when the child is born, the husband is the child’s legal father.
But if the parents are not married when the child is born, the child does not have a legal father.
Unmarried parents can prove paternity by:
- Acknowledgment of Paternity: Both parents sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity Form, OR
- Order of Filiation: If one parent refuses to sign the Acknowledgement of Paternity, file a paternity case in Family Court. The court can make an Order of Filiation.
Can I file for paternity?
You can file for paternity if you are the:
- Child's mother
- Man who believes he is the father
- Child's guardian
If the child received public assistance, the Department of Social Services may file a paternity petition.
How do I file for paternity?
To file for paternity, follow these steps:
1. File a paternity petition in the Family Court in the county where your child lives. It is free to file in Family Court.
2. Have the other parent served (given) a copy of the petition and summons.
The Court’s free Do-It-Yourself (DIY) paternity petition program can help you fill out your Family Court papers.
Crime victims often experience emotional and psychological trauma. The trauma can affect your relationships with friends and loved ones, and may even impact your marriage. This section has basic information about divorce and resources that can help you.
What is a divorce?
Divorce is the legal ending of a marriage by court order.
A divorce case can deal with issues including:
- Custody of the children
- Child support
- Dividing up property, such as your home and cars
- Payment of bills, such as your mortgage, credit cards, personal loans and debts
There are 2 kinds of divorces:
- Uncontested divorce: Both spouses agree to the divorce and agree about the children, property, finances, and other issues.
- Contested divorce: The spouses do not agree about the children, property, finances, and other issues.
Can I get a divorce?
To get a divorce in New York State, you must prove 1 of these things:
- Irretrievable breakdown: For at least 6 months, one or both spouses have not wanted to live with each other, and your relationship cannot be fixed.
- Cruel and inhuman treatment: Your physical or mental health is in danger if you keep living together.
- Abandonment: Your spouse left you at least 1 year ago and does not plan to return.
- Imprisonment: Your spouse has been in jail for at least 3 years after you got married.
- Adultery: Your spouse committed adultery.
- Legal separation: You and your spouse have lived apart for at least 1 year after signing a legal agreement to separate.
- Judgment of separation: You and your spouse have not lived together because of a “judgment of separation.”
AND you must meet 1 of these residency requirements:
- You or your spouse have lived in New York for at least 2 years before the divorce case is started.
- You and your spouse lived in New York when the divorce started and the reasons for the divorce happened here.
- You or your spouse have been living in New York State for at least 1 year and (1) you got married in New York State, or (2) you lived here as a married couple, or (3) the reason for the divorce happened here.
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 about all the issues in your divorce, use the uncontested divorce packet.
- If you do not have children under 21 with your spouse and your relationship ended at least 6 months ago, use can use the Court’s free online Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Uncontested Divorce Program.
- If you have children under the age of 21 with your spouse, use the hard-copy forms in the Uncontested Divorce Packet Forms
If you and your spouse do not agree about all the issues in your divorce, such as property, support, custody, or visitation, talk to a lawyer. A contested divorce can be complicated. You may have to go to court several times.
To find a lawyer, visit our Legal Help Directory.
After you file for divorce, you must have your spouse served (given) a copy of the divorce papers.
To learn more about how to serve divorce papers, visit serving the defendant in an uncontested divorce to learn more about service.
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.
The New York State Hotline for Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence: 1-800-942-6906.
National Human Trafficking Hotline: Call 1-888-373-7888 (TTY: 711) | Text 233733