The Family Courts in New York State are trial courts of limited jurisdiction. The Family Court can only hear specific types of cases, including those related to the abuse or neglect of children, adoption, custody and visitation, domestic violence, foster care approval and review, guardianship, juvenile delinquency, paternity, persons in need of supervision, and support. Disputes brought in the New York State Family Court are called proceedings. Depending on the type of proceeding, the parties may have a hearing before a Magistrate or a Family Court Judge.
The Supreme Court in New York State is the trial court of general jurisdiction and, despite its name, it is the lowest such court in the New York State judicial system. The Supreme Court hears all cases that arise under the New York State Constitution and laws. Disputes brought in New York State Supreme Court are called actions. In Supreme Court actions, the party alleging wrongdoing, the plaintiff, must file a complaint, where he or she explains the facts of the case and relief sought against the defendant. All actions for divorce, separation and annulment of marriages must be commenced in the Supreme Court.
The New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, is the intermediate appeals court of the state. There is only one appellate division, but it is divided into four different departments, each of which serves several counties. The Appellate Division decides issues of law. A panel of five justices decides whether the law was applied correctly by the trial court. The party who does not prevail on the appeal may then have the right to appeal to the New York State Court of Appeals.
The New York State Court of Appeals is the highest state court. It uses a seven-judge panel. Like the Appellate Division, the Court of Appeals only decides questions of law. All decisions of the Court of Appeals are binding on all courts in New York State. A ruling of the Court of Appeals is usually final, although occasionally a case advances from the Court of Appeals to the United States Supreme Court.
In all cases, procedures must be carefully followed. An experienced attorney, familiar with New York State s various courts, will guide you through the process and protect your legal rights.