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Stages in the Family Court Case

The Petition: How a Case Begins

In Family Court, an individual or agency that wants to initiate a case - the petitioner - must first file a petition. A petition is a written description of the circumstances of the case. The petitioner’s attorney, petition clerk, or probation officer interviews the petitioner and prepares the petition based on the information provided. The petition is then filed with the court. The petitioner is subsequently given a date to appear in court. Once the petition is filed, the judge directs it to be “served” upon or delivered to the opposing party or the respondent.

The Fact-Finding Hearing

A trial in Family Court is known as a fact-finding hearing. There are no jury trials in the Family Court. Instead, the judge decides if the evidence provided by the petitioner in the form of witnesses, testimony or written documentation is enough to prove the charges described in the petition. The respondent also has the opportunity to refute the charges and challenge any of this evidence. If, after considering all of the evidence provided at the fact-finding hearing, the judge determines that the petitioner has not sufficiently proven the charges, the case must be dismissed. For example, after a juvenile delinquency petition is filed, a fact-finding hearing is held to determine whether the respondent committed the alleged act and if this act constitutes a crime.

In addition, fact-finding hearings take place in abuse and neglect, family offense, PINS and termination of parental rights proceedings.

The Dispositional Hearing

If the judge decides that the case has been sufficiently proven at the fact-finding hearing and the charges described in the petition are true, a dispositional hearing is held to determine the appropriate legal remedy. The dispositional hearing can be held immediately after the fact-finding hearing, or scheduled for another day. At this hearing, the judge determines what should happen to the parties and to any children who may be involved in the case, by issuing what is called a dispositional order. Possible dispositional orders in juvenile delinquency, PINS, neglect and abuse, and family offense cases include probation, adjournment in contemplation of dismissal (ACD), detention in a secure facility, placement of children in foster care, placement of respondent under supervision, community service, and/or restitution.

Residential Placement

Residential commitment may be for a specific or indeterminate ordered time period. In 2009, nationally 27% of adjudicated delinquents were placed in a residential facility. The facility may be publicly or privately operated and may have a secure prison-like environment or a more open, even home-like setting. In many States, when the judge commits a juvenile to the State department of juvenile corrections, the department determines where the juvenile will be placed and when the juvenile will be released. In other instances, the judge controls the type and length of stay. In these situations, review hearings are held to assess the progress of the juvenile.

Intake Services

The Suffolk County Probation Department has been operating Intake Services since first authorized to do so by the Family Court Act in 1962. The Family Court Intake function is comprised of three distinct sections. One section handles the preparation of petitions in cases of Family Offenses, Support, Paternity, Custody, Visitation and Conciliation cases. The other two sections focus on cases related to two youth populations, Persons In Need of Supervision (PINS) and Juvenile Delinquents (JD). Each of these sections specializes in the screening and monitoring of cases with a goal of providing services in a Pre-Court status where possible.

Article 8 on Family Offense proceedings provides in Section 823 that the rules of court may authorize the probation agency to attempt to informally adjust suitable cases before a petition is filed. A two-month adjustment period is specified with the possibility for two successive 60-day extensions with the permission of the court. The Probation Department currently prepares Family Offense petitions for the Family Court on a limited basis.

A family offense petition is filed when a family member claims that another family member committed one of the following acts against another family member:

  • Disorderly conduct
  • Harassment
  • Aggravated harassment
  • Menacing
  • Reckless endangerment
  • Assault or attempted assault
  • Stalking
  • Criminal mischief

For the purpose of filing a family offense petition, "family members" are defined as individuals related by blood or marriage, individuals who were formerly married, or individuals who are unrelated but have a child together.

Family Court

Person in Need of Supervision (PINS)

Persons in Need of Supervision, or PINS, is a term used to describe a child under the age of 18 who has committed a status offense. Examples of a status offense are running away, using marijuana, or skipping school (truancy).

A PINS petition is a written request asking the Family Court to get involved when PINS Diversion efforts to control a child have failed.

Most PINS petitions are filed by the parent or caregiver of a child. But school officials, police officers, or the Department of Social Services may also file a PINS petition.

There are two juvenile classifications under New York State Law for crime‐involved juveniles:

Juvenile Delinquent (JD) and Juvenile Offender (JO)

A JD classification is assigned at arrest to cases involving juveniles ages 7‐15 charged with committing non‐JO felony and misdemeanor offenses. A JO classification is assigned at arrest to cases involving juveniles age 13‐15 at the time of an alleged crime commission who are charged with certain serious offenses specified in PL §30.00(2). JO cases are initially under the jurisdiction of the adult court system, but these cases can be removed or transferred to the family court where they are reclassified as JD cases.

Family Court Appearance Ticket (FCAT)

A youth’s first contact with the juvenile justice system occurs when a youth comes into contact with the police. Following an arrest, police can release the youth to a parent’s or guardian’s and issue a Family Court appearance ticket (FCAT). If police do not release the youth, they must take the youth directly to Family Court, or, if court is closed, to a detention center. A Family Court Appearance ticket ( also known as FCAT) is a written notice issued and subscribed by a peace officer, a probation service (department) director or his designee, or the administrator of a detention facility or his designee, directing a child and his parent or other person legally responsible for his care to appear at the probation service (department) on a specified date, in connection with the child's alleged commission of a crime or crimes.

Presentment Agency: The agency or authority responsible for presenting a juvenile delinquency petition. In Suffolk County, this agency is the County Attorney's Office. For youth who have committed designated felony acts, the agency responsible for filing the petition is the District Attorney's Office.

Designated Felony Act: An act which if committed by an adult would be a crime." This category includes the more serious offenses such as murder (first and second degrees), manslaughter in the first degree, arson in the second degree, rape in the first degree.


Secure Detention: A form of locked custody of JD youth pre-trial who are arrested—juvenile detention centers are the juvenile justice system’s version of “jail,” in which most young people are being held before the court has judged them delinquent. Some youth in detention are there because they fail the conditions of their probation, or they may be waiting in detention before their final disposition (i.e. sentence to a community program, or juvenile correctional facility.

Under certain circumstances, as noted above, a youth may be temporarily placed in juvenile detention following arrest, before appearing before probation or the Family Court. The court may also order detention of a juvenile at any appearance in court, based on an assessment of the risk that the youth may not return to court on the ordered date or that the youth may commit another delinquent act.

Non-Secure Detention: A group home type facility which is not locked, but is “staff secure”. These youths are supervised around the clock, but are not “locked” in the facility. This may be used for both PINS and JD cases prior to final disposition, pending placement or in cases wherein there is no parent or legal guardian available to whom to release the youth.


Adjustment is when the Department of Probation decides to resolve the case through services rather than the through the court system. Adjustment services are provided for up to four months depending on the type of case. As part of the adjustment services, the child may be required to report to a Probation Officer, perform community service, and participate in any programs or activities deemed appropriate by the Probation Officer, the child and the child’s family.


A disposition is the final decision or sentence that a child receives after the Court finds that he/she or she committed the acts as charged in the petition. Types of dispositions include:

  1. Dismissal
  2. Withdrawal
  3. Adjourned in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD) for 6 months Conditional Discharge (CD) for 1 year
  4. Probation Supervision for up to 2 years
  5. Placement in a juvenile detention/residential placement facility
Violation of Probation

"VOP" stands for “Violation of Probation.” A VOP is filed when a child on probation repeatedly does not follow the conditions of his or her supervision and/or gets re-arrested. The Probation Officer prepares a Violation of Probation petition to return the juvenile to Court for further action.

The terms used in New York’s Family Court differ from that used in other courts.

The table below delineates the differences.

Criminal Court Term

Family Court Term




The person or agency who files a petition and initiates a case.



The person or agency against whom the petition is filed, and who responds to the petition.


Fact-finding Hearing

A hearing to determine if the allegations of the petition have been proven.


Dispositional Order

The final order entered by the court following the dispositional hearing.

Family Court Guide (PDF)


Family Court Petitions

Custody, Visitation, Support, Paternity, Orders of Protection

You may file an action (termed a petition) at Probation Family Court Intake in order to gain entry to Family Court. Such petitions may concern Custody, Visitation, Paternity and various Support issues.

Intake services are located in two offices. For residents of Western Suffolk, Probation Intake is located in the Cohalan Court complex, 400 Carleton Avenue, Central Islip (631-853-4246). For residents of Eastern Suffolk, Probation Intake is located in the Riverhead County Center (631-852-1939).

Probation Intake in Riverhead also file petitions for Family Court Orders of Protection. At the Cohalan Court Complex in Central Islip, petitions for Family Court Orders of Protection are filed directly with the Family Court Clerk's Office, located in Room 134.

When filing for Custody or Visitation, the child must currently be in Suffolk County or have been a resident of Suffolk County within the last six months in the case of out of state custody actions.

Probation Intake files modifications of support petitions for non-custodial parents. Probation Intake can also file a petition if you are the custodial parent and are requesting that the order of support be paid directly to you.

Child Support Enforcement Bureau (CSEB) (1-888-208-4485) files petitions for custodial parents seeking an order of support payable through CSEB. They also file petitions for modification or violation of support orders for custodial parents who already receive CSEB services. Any petitions for support for minor children where the other party (respondent) resides out of state must be filed at CSEB.

To file a petition, you need to know the specific relief you are seeking and be able to state the reason you are requesting that relief, an address for the other party and two copies of any pertinent Court orders, if applicable.

You may choose to file your own Family Court petition. To do so, go to the website listed below and choose the type of petition you want to file. Completed petitions must be filed with the General Clerk of the Family Court (631-853-4289).


New York State mandates that the Suffolk County Probation Department is the lead agency responsible for the delivery of services for any adolescent exhibiting incorrigible or truant behaviors. Diversion is mandated by State law. Diversion is defined as the intervention services with the goal to improve the youth’s behavior. Thereby diverting him/her from becoming involved in the court system. Diversion services includes any and all forms of counseling, parenting education, evaluations, and school interventions. In Suffolk County, we have a pre-diversion program the AFY Program. This program is engaged even before the youth gets to diversion.

The first program parents are referred to is the Alternatives for Youth Program. The AFY program is a pre-diversion program and all Parent PINS cases are referred to this program prior to formally entering the juvenile justice system (Pre-petition). If the youth referred does not complete or is unsuccessful in the AFY program we open a PINS diversion case, school PINS cases receive diversion services as the AFY program is designated for Parent PINS cases. In our diversion program youth are given services such as drug & alcohol/Mental Health/Anger Management treatment referrals. PINS Diversion cases are monitored by a PO, who will meet with the child regularly at home & school. Youth in the diversion program they are given services and monitored by a probation officer. If all diversion efforts are unsuccessful, a PINS petition is filed.

The diversion program has no time limit. For example, it does not end after 12 months of participation. It may, however, be discontinued after the teen turns 18 years of age, or if there is non-compliance with the program. A new application for participation in the diversion program usually cannot be filed after the child’s 18th birthday.

The youth remains in the diversion program until either:

  • the diversion program is assessed to be no longer needed due to marked improvement in behaviors;
  • the diversion program is assessed to be ineffective and unlikely to be effective with continued involvement; or
  • the case can also be terminated if a parent or school is assessed to be uncooperative or noncompliant with the program’s directives.

If #2 is cited, the family can be referred to a judge. However, this second reason for discontinuation is difficult to achieve and sometimes, even if a family is referred to a judge, the judge can then simply refer the family back to the diversion program for continued attempts.

Parents/Guardians/School Districts are mandated to cooperate with all diversion services and sanctions can follow if they fail to comply. For example, this could be due to the family failing to attend parenting classes or counseling or a school district failing to convene a required CSE.

All cases that come into PINS Diversion are referred to the designated assessment services team (DAS). All PINS diversion cases are opened for thirty (30) days. All efforts are made to route this youth into our pre-diversion program Alternatives for Youth Program (see AFY section. If the youth does not successfully complete the program, they are then sent to PINS Diversion, PINS Diversion cases may be referred to An educational advocacy program run by The Long Island Advocacy Center, and to the Home Based Services program, run by a contracted agency Family Services League, which facilitates a more intense program for high risk youth. The implementation of the Alternatives For Youth program and PINS Reform Legislation in 2005 resulted in a reduced number of DAS referrals and is directly responsible for the significant decrease in the number of DAS case referrals thereafter. Since inception in 2005 the DAS case numbers fell significantly and have remained consistently low.


If a child engages in runaway behavior, the new PINS law mandates that the parent/guardian immediately file a missing person’s report with their local police department. The Family Court no longer issues routine warrants for runaway behaviors. If a child is located by a police department, the police officer’s first responsibility is to return the child to the family. Only in unusual circumstances will a child be brought to a runaway facility or respite program.


Screening Unit

Phone: (631) 853-7889

Monday through Friday

From: 8:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. at either 853-5281 or 853-7889

This program is considered a pre-PINS diversion program that is the first place that parents should call for help with children under the age of 18 who exhibit a pattern of incorrigible behaviors (runaways, curfew violations etc.) in the home. If eligible, interested families are referred on to an agency that provides in-home services beginning within 24-48 hours. A variety of services, including case management for up to one year, can be readily accessed through this program. All cases are screened by the probation department and referred to the designated program agency after screening.

The program provides linkages to services for substance abuse treatment, anger management, mentoring, individual and family counseling, mental health evaluations, and more. AFY starts with immediate, home-based crisis intervention by a Case Manager to stabilize the family crisis, implement a Family Intervention Plan, and link the family with community resources, which help provide ongoing support. Because many adolescents need someone closer to their age to guide them in the right direction, AFY has a group of male and female Peer Specialists who work hard to engage the youth in positive recreational and educational activities, including both one-on-one and group activities. For young women, the H.E.R.S. (Helping Each other Reach Success) peer group focuses on making healthy choices. For young men, the Boys to Men group focuses on the journey of building strong character to improve their life skills. Furthermore, AFY conducts training sessions to empower parents and enable them to better handle their family’s specialized issues and needs.

How to access services:

Call the Probation Department AFY Screening Unit at (631) 853-5281 or 853-7889.

  1. Do not go to any Probation Department office to initiate the AFY process. The entire procedure can be handled in a phone call. Coming into a Probation Department office will result in lengthy delays, at best, since their locations are not set up to provide AFT services.
  2. The Probation Department screening unit will determine if you and your family are appropriate for diversion services. You must be able to provide the officer with a pattern of recent incorrigible behaviors that can include running away, substance abuse, or resistance to appropriate parental authority.
  3. If your case is accepted by the screeners, you will be immediately referred to the Alternatives For Youth Program within 72 hours. The AFY caseworker will contact your family to evaluate your situation and make appropriate referrals.
  4. The AFY caseworker will work with you for up to five weeks, at which time whatever ongoing services that are deemed appropriate will be put into place. A family can always reapply for additional AFY services by going through the above telephone screening process. There is no limit, except beyond the child’s 18th birthday, to the number of times that a family can request assistance.
Juvenile Delinquency Diversion & Supervision

JD’s are juveniles adjudicated for an offense which would be a criminal offense if they were 16 or older. The Probation Department receives arrest paperwork from the Police Department (in certain cases JDs are immediately put in detention, but if a case is low risk, there is a parent/guardian to release them to/etc., they are given a Family Court Appearance Ticket also known as “FCAT”. In such cases, the probation department attempts to “adjust” the case with permission form the victim, if there is one. Adjustment entails the Department of Probation deciding to resolve the case through services rather than the through the court system. We can have juvenile pay restitution, write apology letters, do community service. Additionally, a referral may be made to Town Youth Courts, or to contracted local treatment providers. Another option at our disposal are “Restorative Circles” which bring the victim/complainant & the youth together to resolve and discuss the matter. The department has 60 days to work with the youth this can be extended to 60 more days if it is determined it would be appropriate. If the youth are noncompliant we may then refer it to court, if all goes well the case is closed as adjusted and there is no record. If the youth is unsuccessful, non-compliant in diversion efforts, the youth returns to court and the judge may then order probation supervision or placement.

Out of Home Placements

If the judge finds the youth entering the criminal justice system needs to be confined, he/she will decide which type of facility is most appropriate. Juvenile Delinquents and Juvenile Offenders are placed with the New York State Office of Children and Family Services’ Division of Juvenile Justice and Opportunities for Youth (OCFS) and non-Juvenile Offender-Youthful Offenders (16 – 18-year-olds) are placed with the New York State Department of Correctional Services (DOCS). PINS youth are not placed in OCFS facilities. PINS are sent to Residential Placements (private not for profit facilities), some JD’s are also sent to these Residential Placements instead of OCFS placements, ultimately the judge determines where a youth is sent. In addition, another type of out of home placement is a diagnostic placement. These diagnostic evaluations provide the judge with mental health diagnostic reports which are then used to inform his/her decisions regarding disposition. These out of home placements are ordered by the judge either pre-adjudication or can be ordered if the youth goes before the judge post adjudication if he/she has committed a violation of probation.


Juveniles (JDs and JOs) temporarily confined in a secure or non-secure juvenile facility either after an arrest or during the probation intake or petition process.

“Detention” means the temporary care and maintenance of children away from their own homes, as defined in section five hundred two of the executive law. Detention of a person alleged to be or adjudicated as a juvenile delinquent shall be authorized only in a facility certified by the division for youth as a detention facility pursuant to section five hundred three of the executive law. 4.

“Secure detention facility” means a facility characterized by physically restricting construction, hardware and procedures.

“Non-secure detention facility” means a facility characterized by the absence of physically restricting construction, hardware and procedures.


More Information

Suffolk County Government

H. Lee Dennison Bldg

100 Veterans Memorial Hwy
P.O. Box 6100
Hauppauge, NY 11788

Riverhead County Center

County Road 51
Riverhead, NY 11901