What Exactly is a Family Offense?

In today’s blog post, I discuss what constitutes a family offense, and how to go about filing a Family Offense Petition and obtaining an Order of Protection in Family Court.

In simple terms, a family offense is a crime committed against a relative or other person whom the perpetrator has an “intimate relationship” with. This could be someone you are married to, someone you used to be married to or someone you have a child with. Some of the crimes included in the statutory definition of a family offense are harassment, disorderly conduct, stalking and assault, to name just a few.

If a family offense has been committed against you, in addition to calling the police and filing criminal charges, you have the option of going to Family Court and filing a Family Offense Petition. In that Petition, you would set forth in detail the offense that was committed against you, who committed it, and the relief you are seeking. The most common form of relief sought is an Order of Protection.

An Order of Protection issued by the Family Court can either be a full Order of Protection or a limited Order of Protection. A full Order of Protection requires the perpetrator of the family offense to stay away from the victim of the offense (the Petitioner in the Court action) and refrain from any communication with the Petitioner, including phone calls, text messages, e-mails, Facebook contact and the like. A limited Order of Protection does not require the perpetrator (or Respondent in the Family Court action) to stay away from the Petitioner or cease all contact with the Petitioner, but prohibits the Respondent from engaging in any further criminal activity toward the Petitioner. Many people call a limited Order of Protection a “be good” Order, because it essentially prohibits the Respondent from misbehaving with respect to the Petitioner.

When you first go to Family Court to file a Family Offense Petition, you will be seen by a Judge and, in many cases, be issued a temporary Order of Protection, which will then be served upon the Respondent. You will then be given a date to come back to Court, at which time the Respondent will have a chance to appear and respond to the allegations made in the Petition. The parties have the right to be represented by attorneys in family offense proceedings, and if they cannot afford attorneys and meet certain financial guidelines, the Court will assign attorneys to represent them.

The next step in the process is to either resolve the family offense case with a settlement or to proceed to trial. In many cases, Respondents will consent to Orders of Protection without admissions, which means that they do not admit the allegations against them in the Family Offense Petition but agree to an Order of Protection for a specified period of time. Parties also sometimes agree to what is called an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, or ACD. If the parties consent to an ACD, the Family Offense Petition gets adjourned for a specified period of time, during which a temporary Order of Protection remains in place. If the Respondent does not violate the Order of Protection during the specified period of time, the Family Offense Petition gets dismissed.

If the parties are unable to settle a family offense case, a trial will be held, at which time the Petitioner will have to prove to the Court through testimony and evidence that the allegations in the Family Offense Petition are true. If the Court finds the allegations to be true, and finds that a family offense has been committed by the Respondent, the Court will then decide how to dispose of the case, which will often include an Order of Protection.

While we hope that you never find yourself in the above situation, if you have been the victim of a family offense and need to discuss your rights and options, feel free to contact us at (845) 203-2287 for a free consultation.

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