Changes in Store for NY Family Courts?

In late 2007, a report was released by the Center for New York City Affairs and the Center for an Urban Future titled, “Against the Clock: The Struggle to Move Kids Into Permanent Homes”. In it, there was more than a few startling revelations concerning New York’s family court system. It read, in part:

New York City’s Family Court is in crisis, with case backlogs growing and judges unable to hold many routine hearings in a timely manner. Despite the Permanency Law of 2005 — which aimed to get children out of foster care faster — kids in New York City are staying in foster care longer. For children in foster care for the first time, the median length of stay before returning home rose from 8.2 months in fiscal year 2005 to 11.5 months in fiscal year 2007.

For any family law attorney in New York, it’s important to make a contribution to changing those statistics. For its part, the New York State Bar Association is urging state legislators and Governor Andrew Cuomo to include authorization for 20 Family Court judgeships in the new state budget being negotiated at the state Capitol. The new judgeships, says State Bar President David Schraver, are a top priority for 2014.

Recognizing the ones who benefit most, Schraver said in a presser earlier this month, “Sadly, children’s lives are put on hold while too few judges struggle with burgeoning caseloads.” He continued in his statement, “A six-month delay in resolving legal matters involving custody, foster case or adoption can put a vulnerable child at further risk, while also putting additional strain on the child welfare and court systems.”

One look at the statistics tells the tale. The number of foster care placements have jumped a whopping 40 percent since 2005 and the courts are ordering supervision and investigations into more families today than they have in decades. The number of New York children living in foster care has grown consistently every year.

This month, lawmaker sources said the Assembly and Senate are in agreement over the need for the Family Court judgeships, but not about the size of the overall Judiciary budget. This has been the challenge all along.

Authorization for the judgeships is not expected to be resolved until negotiations between legislative leaders and Governor Andrew Cuomo are wrapped up. This isn’t expected until late in the budget process. Cuomo has suggested that the court budget be trimmed; however, he’s yet to comment on the actual proposal for additional judges.

Meanwhile, court administrators want the new judges to be in place on Jan. 1, 2015, and say the $5 million would cover their cost for the last three months of the next fiscal year. The new judges would cost $20 million annually beginning in the 2015-16 budget.

There’s at least one report from last year that highlights the Task Force’s efforts towards Family Court made a persuasive case for the strain growing caseloads have placed on those courts while also highlighting the need for additional judgeships to the already 153- strong judgeships.

Ultimately, it comes down to budget constraints and in the meantime, family law firms continue to work to ensure the safety of children while also keeping the totality of family in mind. In today’s modern society, and with so many legal dynamics at play, these are issues no one can afford to take lightly.

Suzanne Latimer

Suzanne Latimer

Suzanne graduated cum laude in 1992 and was admitted to practice in Massachusetts that year and New York the following year. After graduation, Suzanne worked for twelve years as a solo practitioner, concentrating in the areas of Family and Matrimonial Law. Since 2005, Suzanne has served as Managing Partner at Latimer/Stroud, LLP.
Suzanne Latimer