Process & Terminology

General Stages of the Family Court Process

Juvenile Delinquency Arrest

The juvenile delinquency process begins with an arrest of a youth, aged 12 to 17 years old. The arresting police officer will fill out a Family Court Appearance Ticket (FCAT), bring the youth directly to the Family Court or the Youth Part, or bring the youth to a detention facility maintained by the New York City Administration for Children's Services Division of Youth and Family Justice.

If the youth is given a FCAT, they are released and must go the New York City Department of Probation with their parent or legal guardian on the date that appears on the FCAT.

Community Complaint When An Arrest is Not Made

The victim/person harmed in the case may pursue a complaint with the Department of Probation (an arrest is not required). The Department of Probation will determine whether to refer the case to the Law Department for investigation.

Potential Out-of-Court Resolutions


Before an arrest is referred to the Law Department, the law allows for the Department of Probation to divert the arrest through what are termed adjustment services. Adjustment services are an early means of resolving an arrest outside of the court system. Consideration is given to the victim position regarding Adjustment,. Adjustment services can last up to four months. For additional information, visit New York City Department of Probation


The Law Department also diverts arrests areferred to the Law Department by the Department of Probation. Diversion is an effort to avoid court intervention where the needs and interests of the youth are addressed while also balancing the interest of protecting public safety. All arrests are considered for diversion and an arrest that is filed in court may still be considered for diversion during the pendency of the matter before the court. The victim of the case is consulted, and the victim's input as to whether the case should be diverted, is taken into consideration.

Diversion may be utilized when the parties know one another and/or would benefit if the matter were addressed outside of the formal juvenile justice system. Diversion programs utilized by the Law Department include mediation, youth court, , individual and family counseling, substance abuse treatment, and restorative justice programs. If the youth successfully completes the diversion program, the arrest is declined for prosecution and sealed. If the matter was filed and pending before the court, the matter will be dismissed and the court record sealed.

Petition and Initial Appearance

When the Department of Probation refers an arrest to the Law Department, an Assistant Corporation Counsel (ACC) is assigned to the case. The Law Department investigates the arrest by speaking to the victim, the police officer(s), and any witnesses. The Law Department may also review documents or other evidence and in some cases may visit the scene of the incident. Based on the investigation, the Law Department makes a determination as to whether or not to file a petition.

After receiving the arrest referral from the Department of Probation, the Law Department will provide an address verification form to the youth and guardian. If the youth is not present, they will be notified by mail of the arrest referral and date to appear in court if a petition is filed. If the youth is represented by an attorney, a copy of the notice and petition will be sent to their attorney.

If the arrested youth is in detention, the Law Department has the option of conducting a pre-petition detention hearing. At this hearing, the court must make a preliminary determination as to whether the court appears to have jurisdiction over the youth. If the court makes the determination that it has jurisdiction over the arrested youth, the court must find that facts and reasons exist which would support a detention/remand order and/or a temporary order of protection. The arrested youth is represented by an Attorney for the Child.

If the Law Department decides to file a petition against the arrested youth (who in Family Court proceedings is called the respondent), the Family Court process starts. A petition is a legal document describing what offenses the respondent is alleged to have committed. A victim or witness may need to provide a signed statement or deposition describing what happened. The Law Department works closely with the victims and witnesses to address their safety concerns and refers them to appropriate services through the Victim Advocates assigned to each borough.

The Initial Appearance is the first court proceeding for the respondent after a petition has been filed. At the Initial Appearance, the charges set forth in the petition are formally read, and the Family Court Judge decides the next step for the respondent. At this stage an Attorney for the Child will represent the respondent.

The respondent may be released to their parent or guardian, ordered to comply with an Alternative to Detention (ATD) program, or in some cases, remanded (sent) to a detention facility run by the Administration for Children's Services Division of Youth and Family Justice.

Released to Parent or Guardian

Most respondents are released home to a parent or legal guardian at the time of the Initial Appearance. The Family Court Judge can set conditions for release, such as imposing a curfew, having someone check school attendance, and/or issuing an Order of Protection.

Alternative to Detention (ATD)

If the Family Court Judge decides the respondent needs supervision while living in the community, the Judge may order the respondent to attend an ATD program. Usually, the respondent is living at home, attends his or her regular school, and must attend and follow the rules of a specific program. The program coordinators report the respondent's cooperation with the program to the court at each of the respondent's court appearances. In addition to community-based ATD providers, the Department of Probtion operates an ATD called the Intensive Community Monitoring (ICM) program. For information about the ICM program, visit New York City Department of Probation and download a list of ATD programs.


In some circumstances, a respondent may not be permitted to go home at a certain stage of the proceeding. The court will not direct detention unless available alternatives to detention, including conditional release, would not be appropriate, and the court finds that unless the respondent is detained: (i) there is a substantial probability that they will not appear in court on the return date; or (ii) there is a serious risk that they may before the return date commit an act which if committed by an adult would constitute a crime. If the court determines there is a risk for such behavior, the respondent will stay in a secure or non-secure detention facility. The NYC Department of Education (DOE) operates Passages Academy, a full time educational program that tailors its curriculum to the needs of youth in detention. For more information, visit the New York City Administration for Children's Services Department of Youth and Family Justice.

Fact-Finding Proceeding/Trial

The respondent may admit the charges in the petition (plead guilty), or there may be a fact-finding proceeding. A fact-finding proceeding constitutes the actual trial. At the fact-finding proceeding, the Law Department must present evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the respondent actually committed an act(s) that would constitute a crime(s) if they were over the age of 16.

Prior to the fact-finding hearing, there may be adjournments for such things as conferences with the court and pre-trial hearings. If there is a fact-finding proceeding/trial, a victim or witness may be required to testify. Depending on the case, the number of times a victim or witness may need to come to court will vary. Attorneys will try their best to find times that are convenient for all parties. The respondent is not required to testify but may choose to do so.

At the end of the fact-finding proceeding/trial, the Family Court Judge (not a jury) will decide whether there is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the respondent committed the acts that are charged in the petition. The standard of proof is the same as in a criminal case. If the Family Court Judge makes a finding that the respondent committed the acts alleged in the petition, the case moves to the disposition stage.


The disposition is the final outcome of the case. Dispositions in Family Court focus on rehabilitation and providing services to the respondent. In fashioning an appropriate disposition, the court shall consider the needs and best interests of the respondent as well as the need for protection of the community.

At disposition, the court receives a report called an Investigation and Report (I & R) prepared by the New York City Department of Probation. The I&R details the respondent's legal history, family situation, school history, the results of a risk assessment instrument, and other pertinent information regarding his or her behavior in the community. The victim is encouraged to provide a victim impact statement.

Visit the New York City Department of Probation.

In some cases, the Judge may order a mental health study of the respondent as well. This is referred to as a Mental Health Study (MHS) and is prepared by Family Court Mental Health Services at NYC Health and Hospitals. This report is a diagnostic evaluation of the respondent and provides the court with additional information.

Everyone may agree to the disposition, or there may be another hearing. If there is a hearing, the Attorney for the Child and the Law Department are permitted to call witnesses or present evidence.

Only if the court finds that the respondent is in need of treatment, supervision, or confinement will it adjudicate the respondent a juvenile delinquent. (It is possible that the court may determine that although the acts committed by the respondent would constitute a criminal offense(s) if committed by an adult, the respondent does not need any treatment, supervision, or confinement.) The court makes this decision after reviewing reports and sometimes hearing testimony.

Types of disposition outcomes include the following:

Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD)

An ACD usually means the case will be dismissed after six months if the respondent complies with conditions set by the court. If the respondent does not engage in further misconduct, and complies with any and all of the orders made by the Family Court, the case is dismissed and sealed. During this time period, the respondent usually lives at home and can also receive social services. An order of protection for the victim, restitution for the victim and/or community service can be ordered in conjunction with an ACD. An ACD is technically not a disposition and can be entered before or after a finding.

Conditional Discharge (CD)

When the disposition is a CD, the respondent must comply with court-ordered conditions for a period of up to one year. Unlike an ACD, the case is not sealed. During this time period, the respondent usually lives at home and can also receive services. An order of protection for the victim or restitution for the victim can be issued along with the CD. The court can grant a conditional discharge with the condition being that the respondent comply with the terms of a separate dispositional order.


When a respondent is placed on Probation, they are assigned a Probation Officer who meets with the respondent and makes sure they comply with conditions ordered by the court. Youth who are on probation generally continue to reside in their home.There are different levels of probation. The respondent may receive treatment services, and in some cases, the respondent's family may also receive services. Probation can last up to 24 months. The Judge may order the respondent to participate in specialized programs. An order of protection for the victim can be issued during this period, and restitution for the victim and/or community service can also be required. For more information about probation, visit the Department of Probation's website.


If the disposition is placement, a respondent may be placed in a residential facility outside of his or her home. Usually the respondent would attend school and receive services at or near the facility. Placement can be ordered for an initial period of up to 12 or 18 months. Time periods in placement vary based in part on the severity of the criminal offense(s). Depending on the respondent's needs, Family Court Judges have the authority to extend placement on a yearly basis until the respondent reaches the age of 18 (or until the age of 21 in limited circumstances). An order of protection for the victim may be issued as well.

The types of placements are non-secure, limited secure, and secure/restrictive.

Non-Secure Placement

Under the Close to Home initiative, non-secure residential settings are located in or near New York City and are overseen by the Administration for Children's Services. Find additional information about the Close to Home initiative.

Limited Secure Placement

The court may place a respondent in a limited-secure residential facility.

Secure/Restrictive Placement

When a respondent is found to have committed a Designated Felony act, the court must consider Restrictive Placement. Restrictive placement begins with placement in a secure facility operated by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services.

Conditions of Disposition

The court can order certain conditions as part of the dispositional order. Some of the conditions are listed below.


Restitution is when the respondent must pay for property taken or damaged or another type of expense the respondent caused. The Family Court Judge can order that the respondent make restitution (not to exceed $1,500) to compensate the victim for unreimbursed medical expenses or for the cost of repair or replacement of property. If the property taken has been recovered and it is being used as evidence in the case, the property may be returned after the legal proceedings have concluded.

Community Service

A respondent may be required to perform work for the benefit of the community or to participate in a charitable event or educational program. The Family Court Judge has the ability to order a certain number of hours of community service as part of the disposition. Community service is frequently administered through the Department of Probation. The respondent will be instructed where and when to report to a specified site.

Order of Protection

An Order of Protection can be granted to certain individuals after the case goes to court. It compels the respondent to stay away from, not harass, or not contact the victim/witness and their family. If the respondent does not comply, they can be arrested. In some cases, a Temporary Order of Protection can be procured from the very beginning of the court process and be continued on each court date until the end of the case.