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NY Family Court Orders of Protection During the COVID-19 and Coronavirus Pandemic

How do I get a Domestic Violence Order of Protection in New York when the Family Court is “closed” due to the Coronavirus pandemic? Do I have to file criminal charges and have the NYPD or other police officers arrest my domestic abuser to get a Restraining Order? If I am being threatened, harassed or assaulted by a current or former boyfriend, girlfriend, partner or family member, what are my options? The simple answer to these questions is clear. Even in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, a Family Court lawyer experienced in drafting petitions for and ultimately securing Stay Away Orders in NYC and NYS can get you the protection you need. Equally important, he or she can do so with both a sense of exigency and in short order. Although the Family Court may be “closed,” you need not wait for your victimizer to be arrested and charged with a crime. Take the initiative to protect yourself and those who matter most.

NYS Family Court: Physically Closed but Open for Emergency & Urgent Business

Preliminarily, as with all other courts throughout the state, Family Court is adjourning all cases while also refusing to hear new matters. The exception to this, however, is where the application or issue is considered an emergency or urgent. These matters include failure to pay child support, child abuse and neglect involving a child protection agency, and juvenile delinquency cases in which prosecutor are seeking that the accused be held in custody. In the context of pseudo or non-criminal Domestic Violence applications, these matters involve all newly filed cases where the petitioner or “complainant” files for an Order of Protection against a family member or current/former intimate partner for any statutorily identified Family Offense including Stalking, Assault, Harassment, Revenge Porn, Sexual Abuse, and other “crimes.”

Family Offense Petitions: The “Regular” Process & Procedure

But for the Coronavirus and COVID-19, you would normally file a petition in person with the clerk of the Family Court. Sometime thereafter, whether an hour later or at the end of the day, you would go in front of a judge to be immediately heard as to the exigency necessitating your request. This initial hearing does not involve the person who is being accused and is considered ex-parte. Ultimately, the presiding judge would review your submission and potentially ask you questions. Assuming that he or she finds that you provided “good cause” to believe that a Family Offense has been committed, judge would then issue a Temporary Order of Protection. This would require that the accused person stay away from you, the petitioner. Similarly, that party must refrain from calling or contacting you by email or social media, refrain from committing additional crimes and offenses against you, and refrain from any so-called “third-party contact” via other individuals. Equally important, should you reside together, your harasser would be removed from the home. This court order typically stays in effect until the next court date at which time the person being accused is required to appear and respond to the allegations after being served with a summons and a copy of the petition by the NYC Sheriff or a process server. There is typically a short period of time, perhaps only a few days or weeks depending on the jurisdiction, for all parties to return to court.

Restraining Orders During COVID-19: Changed Procedures Due to the Coronavirus

As of Thursday, March 26, 2020, emergency hearings, including newly filed requests for Stay Away Orders, are being heard by remote video appearances or by telephone in the Family Court of New York City, including Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx. Similarly, this is occurring in Westchester, Rockland and other counties. Instead of going to the courthouse, judges will hear applications from remote locations via video conference or telephone.

If you do not have counsel, in order to file a petition under these circumstances you must go to the court website to retrieve the Family Offense petition form. Alternatively, if you’ve hired an attorney, he or she will draft a robust and thorough application, file the same, and take you through the process including “appearing” before the judge. Regardless, once completed, the materials, including any attachments, mut be submitted to the court. Once received, the court will respond with further instructions. Please know that if you are unable to do complete this process on your own or cannot retainer counsel, Safe Horizon is available to assist and be reached at 1-800-621-4673 or by going to their website at safehorizon.org.

Weekends and Nights: Securing Stay Away Orders

If issues arise after 5 p.m. or on the weekend, you can still secure the formal end enforceable safety you need. You or your counsel can contact the NYC Criminal Court by calling 833-503-0447 or emailing NYFCInquiry@nycourts.gov. Again, you can contact Safe Horizon's 24-hour hotline with any Domestic Violence issues at the number or website above and if you do not have the means to hire legal counsel. As always, if you are in immediate danger you can call 911.

What Happens Next: Temporary Orders of Protection & Returning to Court

During the COVID-19 crisis, once a Family Offense petition has been filed and a Temporary Order of Protection granted, the court may not consider it an “emergency” matter anymore. This means that the first appearance following the initial hearing may not be scheduled for several months. The positive side of this is that you will still have the protection afforded by the Temporary Stay Away Order during this time. Conversely, the person being accused will not have a chance to respond to or refute the allegations during the long period of delay. Therefore, right or wrong, he or she will be subject to that temporary restrictions for a relatively significant amount of time.

Protecting Yourself: Taking the Right Steps

With the added layers of and complications to a system that is already overwhelming for so many, it is even more crucial to understand both your rights and the legal process. Do not let self-quarantines, stay-at-home orders or the anxiety and fear of the unknown keep you from protecting yourself. While it may seem daunting, whether on your own or with legal representation as a victim in a Family Offense proceeding, use the legal system and tools to ensure your safety and of those you love.

Crotty Saland PC is a New York family and criminal law firm representing petitioners, respondents, and other parties in both Family and Criminal Courts throughout New York City and the Hudson Valley. Both founding partners served as prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s Domestic Violence Unit.

A recent news article regarding this issue with commentary from one of our law partners is available here.

Call the New York City family lawyers and former prosecutors at (212) 312-7129 or contact us online today.

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