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Understanding the Differences of Family Court vs. Supreme Court

Couples seeking a divorce or contending with family law issues often find that it can be difficult to understand the distinction between Family Court vs Supreme Court. During your consultation in Nassau County , NY, or Queens, NY, our attorneys will explain and help you understand some of the key differences between the two jurisdictions.

Primary Differences Between the Two Courts

Cases may often include both the Family Court and the New York Supreme Court, as both share authority of various domestic issues. However, there are primary differentiators between the two courts, including:

Supreme Court: Each of the state’s 62 counties is represented by a Supreme Court. New York’s Supreme Court is the state’s trial-level court of general jurisdiction, authorized to hear essentially all matters, including divorce cases. Governed by the Civil Practice Law and Rules, Supreme Court cases are referred to as actions, in which regular evidence rules apply. As a result of the complex procedural rules, it is increasingly necessary to obtain legal representation. Specific cases such as divorce can only be filed in the state Supreme Court.

Family Court: Filing your case in Family Court is typically less complex than in Supreme Court proceedings, but it is still recommended to obtain legal counsel. Experienced attorneys can help in matters of paternity, custody agreements, visitation rights, and many more domestic issues that are heard under Family Court's jurisdiction.

If family law issues such as custody, child support, visitation, abuse, neglect, and adoption are being addressed in the context of a divorce, these issues will then be transferred to the Supreme Court.

In New York, both the Supreme Court and Family Court can hear a wide range of family law issues and case types. When family law issues become part of the divorce proceedings, they will then be transferred to the Supreme Court. If not in the context of a divorce, the Family Court will hear issues concerning: 

  • Paternity Cases: Family Court can hear paternity cases and issue paternity orders.
  • Custody and Visitation: Family Court can order custody and visitation awards, or modify existing orders, unless there is a previous order limiting the case to Supreme Court. Additionally, Family Court has authority over parental rights termination, guardianship, and adoption cases.
  • Child and Spousal Support: Family Court can issue the initial awards of support and can change or enforce existing orders. Family Court cannot enforce separation agreements, including the aspects of the agreement pertaining to support.
  • Persons in Need of Supervision (PINS): All PINS proceedings take place in Family Court, although some cases may be settled outside of court.
  • Family Offense (Orders of Protection): Family members or those who have an intimate relationship with the respondent may file a petition for a protective order in Family Court.
  • Child Protective Proceedings: Family Court can consider a proceeding started by an authorized agency to remove abused or neglected children and place them in foster care against the parents’ wishes.

Special Issues for Filing in Supreme Court

The only family law matter that cannot be filed in Family Court is divorce. Couples seeking to bring a divorce action must file in the state’s Supreme Court. Additionally, if family law issues such as custody, child support, visitation, abuse, neglect, and adoption are being addressed in the context of a divorce, these issues will then be transferred to the Supreme Court. However, if any of these issues take place prior to, or after a divorce, they can be completed in Family Court.

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For additional help with your family law matter and to further understand the difference between Family Court and Supreme Court, please contact our office today and schedule a consultation with one of our expert attorneys.

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