Prominent Family Law Law Firm Serving Albany, Schenectady, Troy, Latham, Saratoga, and all of Upstate New York
The trusted family law attorneys at E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy have years of experience handling many types of domestic relations and family law cases throughout New York State. You need a legal team that will listen to you and your goals, who will work tirelessly on your behalf to help you reach those goals, and we are the ones to contact.
We understand that going through a tough legal process such as a divorce or a parenting/custody dispute is nothing to take lightly. The wellbeing of you and your family is of the utmost importance; we pledge to treat your case with the attention and urgency that you deserve.
Compassionate, Objective, and Tough
We recognize that our family law clients may experience a multitude of emotions and thoughts over the course of their cases, including sadness, anger, fear, uncertainty, anxiety, exasperation, and resignation. Through compassion, personalized attention, and dedication to your case, we pledge to help you reach your ultimate goals in light of and despite your emotions.
The reality is that you need a legal team that not only understands the many layers and complexities of your case – but that will also advise you in a truthful, objective manner; even if it is sometimes difficult to hear. Because that is what you deserve – the best possible chance at reaching your goals.
At E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy, our family law attorneys possess the experience and legal skills to help you and your family move on with your lives.
The Value of Having Experienced Litigators in Handling Family Law Issues
In representing clients in Family Court matters, we have helped our clients resolve all types of family law issues. We are familiar with the very specific laws, court rules, and procedures that govern family law cases. We also enjoy a solid and favorable reputation with many judges, arbiters, mediators, and other family law attorneys. Our credibility within the legal community serves as an invaluable benefit to our clients.
Sometimes the answer is not found through negotiation but through trial. That’s why it is essential that when you have a case in Family Court, you are represented by attorneys with real trial experience. It actually quite simple. In the background of every Family Court negotiation is this question: what would happen if this case goes to trial? You need an attorney who is both able and prepared to answer that question, and who is not afraid to try a case in Family Court if that becomes necessary.
Trials are uncertain, and in many cases, the certainty that comes with an agreed-upon resolution achieved through negotiation is the best fit for our clients. However, our attorneys are able to try cases to a verdict if necessary and to preserve your victory if the other side appeals.
Parenting and Custody
Agreements and/or court orders regarding the parenting and custody of your children may be the most important element in your case. Whether you are married or unmarried, divorced or separated, New York’s courts approach parenting and custody matters with a guiding principle: the best interests of the child(ren). An important part of the court’s analysis includes the premise that children should have meaningful access to both parents.
In order to obtain a Family Court order for custody or visitation, it is necessary to bring a petition in Family Court. A parent may seek an order for custody when he or she believes that it is in the best interest of the child to live with him or her the majority of the time. Other times, parents may need to seek a custody order when the other parent has acted – or threatened to act – in a way that may be detrimental to the welfare or upbringing of the parties’ child.
In awarding custody, Family Court must determine which parent will be the primary physical custodian (the parent who has the child physically in his or her care more than 50% of the time), but the Family Court must also decide the issue of legal custody. The legal custodian has the responsibility and the right to make important decisions about the child’s healthcare, education, and other similar issues. In many instances, legal custody is shared equally between parents, even when physical custody is not.
Typically, the parent who does not have primary physical custody is awarded visitation, which many Family Courts now prefer to call “parenting time,” in reflection of the reality that, just because a parent does not have primary physical custody, he or she is no less a parent. Sometimes it is necessary to bring a petition for visitation when custody is not desired or appropriate, but the other parent is wrongfully preventing the non-custodian parent from access to the child.
Frequently, family circumstances change over time, and an order of custody or visitation that once was appropriate may no longer work for you and your child. In these instances, it may be necessary to petition the Family Court to modify a current order of custody. A modification petition may be brought when there has been a substantial change in circumstances that necessitates a change to further the best interest of the child.
Such changed circumstances may include:
- One or both parents have relocated or wish to relocate
- The child’s educational needs have changed
- The child’s medical needs have changed
- There has been a substantial change in one parent’s household composition
- A Family Offense has been committed by one parent against the child or the other parent
- One or both parents have experienced a significant change in circumstances, including:
- Substance abuse problems
- Legal troubles
- Psychological issues
- Depending on his or her age, a child strongly desires a change in custody
Finally, when custody or visitation orders are entered, they must be obeyed. When they are violated by one parent, the other may seek to enforce the order by bringing a petition that alleges the violation and seeks relief from the Family Court, including an order to enforce the terms of the prior court order of custody or visitation.
Our family law attorneys have the experience necessary to negotiate a different parenting plan, and if necessary, litigate the matter. Judges have the discretion to create deviations from the traditional parenting schedule, but you must have a skilled attorney to provide a persuasive argument as to why.
Unlike the sometimes gray area of spousal support, New York’s child support laws are straightforward and based on specific calculations that take into consideration both parties’ income. There are certain elements factored into these calculations – including those warranting a deviation from the guidelines. We fight hard for our clients to ensure the correct and fair child support amount is implemented.
In general, the parent having primary physical custody receives an award of court-ordered support from the other parent. The noncustodial parent’s support obligation is in many instances determined based upon application of a formula given by state statute to the parents’ collective income. The basic, default obligation amounts can be approximated with reference to a chart produced by the state. However, no two situations are truly alike, and there are many times in which the court may order a deviation from the default amount.
As with custody, the parties’ financial circumstances may change. When a substantial change in circumstances occurs, it may be beneficial or necessary to seek a modification of a prior order of support. Sometimes the custodial parent may seek an upward modification of support if the noncustodial parent’s ability to pay significantly increases. Likewise, if the child’s financial need dramatically increases, due to medical or other reasons, it may be appropriate to seek an upward modification. The parent paying support may seek a modification to reduce his or her obligation, as when, through no fault, that parent’s income is substantially reduced and the parent is no longer able to meet his or her burden of support.
When the parent owing support fails to pay on time or in full, it may be necessary for the parent receiving support to bring a violation petition, asking the Family Court to order payment as set forth in a prior order of support and to order payment of unpaid support. Additionally, if the parent who owes support has willfully failed to pay, the parent receiving support may ask the court to impose sanctions that can include loss of visitation, driving privileges, or even liberty. When support has wrongfully been willfully withheld, the parent owed support may also seek attorney’s fees for attorney work related to the enforcement proceedings.
It is critical that you have an attorney with the right education and experience to see you through the obviously complicated issues that surround orders of support. In seeking to obtain, modify or enforce orders of support, the attorneys at the E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy law firm have the experience necessary to help you through the process.
Family Court has jurisdiction over a number of specific offenses when those offenses are committed by a “member of the same family or household” against another member. Members of the same family or household is a term defined by law and includes:
- Former spouses
- People with a child in common, even if never married or never cohabitated
- Blood relatives, or relatives by marriage or adoption
- People who are or were in an “intimate relationship,” whether or not they ever lived together
This means that even people who have no children together and never lived together but were in an intimate relationship – essentially a romantic relationship – may find themselves in Family Court facing a family offense petition, or may seek relief in the Family Court by alleging a family offense.
Family offenses can include any of the following acts when committed between members of a family or household:
- Harassment in the first degree
- Harassment in the second degree
- Aggravated harassment in the second degree
- Sexual misconduct
- Forcible touching
- Sexual abuse
- Criminal mischief
- Menacing in the second or third degree
- Reckless endangerment
- Criminal obstruction of breathing or blood circulation
- Strangulation in the first or second degree
- Assault in the second or third degree
- Attempted assault
- Identity theft in the first, second or third degree
- Grand larceny in the third or fourth degree
- Coercion in the second degree
People bring family offense petitions when they seek, among other things, the protection of the Family Court through issuance of an Order of Protection, that may limit or condition the kind of conduct the offending party may have with them.
At the conclusion of a dispositional hearing on a family offense petition, the Family Court may suspend judgment up to six months, place the responding party on probation for up to one year, may issue an Order or Protection prohibiting all contact, or may order restitution, when appropriate.
Under New York’s Family Court Act, concurrent jurisdiction over family offenses is given to both family and criminal courts, meaning that there are times when people face the same allegations in two separate courts. Family Court, however, is a civil court, meaning that there is a lower standard of proof, and the allegations need only be proven by a preponderance of the evidence, rather than beyond a reasonable doubt.
It is essential that litigants facing or bringing family offense petitions be represented by attorneys with the relevant experience and knowledge. We have experience representing people in both bringing and defending against Family Offense petitions. We have represented people who face the same allegations in criminal courts as well as in the Family Court. Many of these cases involve custody issues as well. We work hard to protect all of our clients’ many interests and meet all of their varied needs when facing family offense allegations.
Child Protective Services Investigations and Reports and Fair Hearings
In New York State, reports of suspected child abuse, maltreatment or neglect may be made anonymously to the State Central Registry. Although anyone may make such a report, a number of individuals are mandated by law to make reports when, in the course of their professional or official duties, they encounter conduct against which they suspect to be abusive or neglectful.
Outside of New York City, once such a report is received by the Central Registry, it is transmitted to the local Office of Child Protective Services (CPS). CPS then investigates the report of suspected maltreatment, neglect or abuse.
Allegations that fall under the jurisdiction of CPS include:
- Physical abuse, including excessive corporal punishment
- Mental abuse
- Lack of adequate parental supervision, including leaving small children unattended
- Intoxication from drugs or alcohol by the caregiving parent
- Failure to provide for a child’s basic needs, like food, clothing, and shelter
- Sexual abuse
Once an investigation is commenced, the agency typically has 60 days in which to complete the investigation; however, many times circumstances dictate that the investigation lasts longer. During the investigation, CPS caseworkers will likely seek to interview the subject individual. We advise that anyone under investigation by CPS seek legal representation, especially given the possibility of overlap between allegations of abuse or neglect and potential criminal investigations. Under certain circumstances, when caseworkers determine that there is cause to believe criminal conduct against a child has occurred, they may refer the allegations to local law enforcement agencies, all while continuing their own investigation.
At the conclusion of the investigation, the subject of the investigation is notified of the outcome. CPS may determine that the allegations are “unfounded,” meaning that there was insufficient credible evidence to support a determination that the abuse, neglect or maltreatment occurred. Alternatively, CPS may determine that the report is “founded,” meaning that there is “some credible evidence” to support the allegation. In other words, “founded” does not mean that the abuse or neglect happened.
However, the consequences of a founded report, if left unchallenged, can be devastating. Although not made public, should someone seek employment in a field related to the care or supervision of children, many of those employers are required to search the State Central Registry for the existence of any founded reports. Likewise, in issuing an order of visitation or custody, the Family Court is required to search the State Central Registry. Founded reports can have a direct impact on a parent’s ability to seek or maintain custody.
We have experience in challenging and successfully founded reports. This may be accomplished in one of two ways. A subject of a founded report may seek an administrative appeal of the determination, in which the agency is asked to reconsider the investigation and reevaluate the determination. Supporting documentation and evidence may be submitted in aid of the appeal. If the appeal is denied, or as an alternative to even attempting an appeal, a subject of an indicated report may demand a “fair hearing” by filing a timely request.
A “fair hearing” is a trial heard by an administrative law judge in which attorneys from the county in which the abuse or neglect is alleged to have occurred seek to prove through witnesses and documentary evidence that the abuse or neglect occurred. The standard of proof at the hearing is by a preponderance of the evidence, which means that, in order to sustain the determination, the evidence must show that it is more likely than not that the abuse or neglect occurred. The burden remains upon the agency throughout the hearing. The ordinary rules of evidence that apply in criminal or civil trials do not apply in the “fair hearing” context. There are many other procedural and technical differences that make these hearings different from almost any other type of proceeding.
Time limits, filing procedures, notice provisions and other rules apply throughout the CPS investigative and adjudicative process. It is essential that you have an attorney experienced in all phases of a CPS case whenever you are contacted by that agency. The E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy law firm has the experience you need to ensure that your rights are protected throughout the process. Maintaining our client’s good names and reputation, and vindicating the wrongly accused, are our top priorities.
At E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy, we specialize in helping clients with many other types of family law matters, including but not limited to the following:
- Initiating or opposing actions to enforce compliance of agreements or court orders
- Preparing for and attending emergency hearings
- Bringing or opposing actions to modify existing agreements or orders
- Negotiation and drafting of prenuptial agreements
Contact Us Today
E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy always offers free initial consultations to those who wish to meet us and discuss their family law matters at any of our four regional law offices in Albany, Troy, Latham, and Saratoga Springs, NY. Schedule a confidential meeting online using our contact form, or call us today at (518) 663-6015. We look forward to hearing from you.