I’ve become so consumed with the missing Malaysian airplane that I have had no time to read any other news or even think of something else to write about here (priorities?), so I figured that I would write what I know. Through the course of my employment, I’ve learned a thing or two about filing Family Offense Petitions (FOP) in the Family Court of our state, some things that I feel might be useful for social workers working with domestic violence survivors and their families.
Why file an FOP?
Family Offense Petitions ask the Family Court to issue an Order of Protection (OP). They allege that the Petitioner has been a victim of family offenses. These offensesmust be perpetrated by anyone related by blood or marriage, a person the petitioner was or is married to or with whom they share a child or someone the petitioner is involved in an intimate relationship with, like dating. Family offenses in the state of New York include varying degrees of assault, harassment, stalking and sexual assault.
Why an Order of Protection from the Family Court instead of Criminal Court?
A person may have both an order of protection from the Criminal Court and the Family Court. A criminal OP comes as a result of criminal charges and a case brought by the District Attorney’s Office. The police would have to be involved to make the report the DA’s office. The case is not in control of the victim, it is the DA’s case. Many such cases (particularly first offenses) will get pled out and while an OP is usually part of that plea, it’s not always the case. In Family Court the victim has more control. It is their case. One does not have to have called the police during incidents, though police reports can be good evidence. In Family Court, the petitioner has more control over the types of relief granted by the OP but it will require more court appearances.
What goes in an FOP?
An FOP should contain VERY detailed accounts of the family offenses perpetrated against the survivor. A good jumping off point often mentioned is “First, Worst and Most Recent.” Mention the place the incident occurred and the date (at the very least a month/season and year). Victims should include any injuries sustained in the incident, emotional and physical.
Here’s an example:
On or about January 8, 2014, Respondent and I were in the marital home when Respondent became very angry that I left the door open. Respondent lunged across the room and grabbed me by the arm. He was screaming words to the effect of “Close this door right now or I will punch you in the face’ I felt very fearful of Respondent. When he released me, I had bruises on my right arm. The bruises were present for a week and were so visible that I had to wear long sleeves to cover them. I felt very ashamed and embarrassed.From experience, I can say that it may be very helpful for a social worker to spend some time with your client (if they have it) creating this list of incidents. Your clients may have trouble recalling incidents or time frames, particularly in a long abusive marriage. They may also feel compelled to include things that aren’t necessarily family offenses that would dilute the strength of the petition, for example, they may want to include that their partner is cheating on them. Thats terrible and certainly distressing but infidelity is not in and of itself an offense punishable in the Family Court.
An FOP can ask for various forms of relief. It can order the Respondent to stay away from Petitioner, to refrain for committing family offenses against them or contacting them even through third parties. It can order them out of the home the parties share. It can grant temporary custody and child support. The Petitioner should indicate what relief they are looking for exactly to the clerk when they file.
How does one file an FOP?
To file an FOP, one must go to the petition room of the Family Court in their borough. The clerk will type up the FOP for them. There is no filing fee.
What happens after it is filed?
The petitioner will be called before a judge. If the petition is filed in the morning, this will likely happen in the same day. If one files later in the day, one may have to return the following day to see the Judge. When before the judge, the judge may ask them to speak about the incidents alleged in their petition. One should answer the questions completely and truthfully. If the judge deems the petition sufficient cause to issue an OP, they will issue a temporary one. This TOP must be served on the Respondent for it to be in effect. Service must be carried out by a party that is over 18 and not involved in the action. One can ask a mutual friend or can go to their local police precinct to effectuate service. The TOP will come with a summons, summoning the Respondent to the court at a future date. At the next court date, both parties, if they are low income, may request a court appointed attorney.
Filing an FOP can be a very daunting process for our clients, one they are very reluctant to undertake alone. Offering to accompany a client to court for this filing process can be the difference between them obtaining an OP or not. You can find out more information here. Another way our clients can get assistance with filing an FOP is by visiting the Family Justice Center of their borough. (Manhattan just opened theirs)