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Hiring the Right New York Family Lawyer

If you are seeking a divorce, gain custody of your children, draft a prenuptial agreement or are just looking for legal advice about your situation, we recommend that you speak with a lawyer. An experienced family attorney can help you understand the important legal concepts and ramifications surrounding your issue, and give you advice about a recommended course of action. The process of finding and working with the right lawyer can sometimes seem to be uncertain, but a short meeting with an attorney can often set your mind at ease and guide you towards a positive resolution.

Before you begin, there are some key issues you may want to consider as you start your search for an attorney. First, it is to your benefit to contact an attorney as soon as possible after your legal issue arises. If you wait to contact attorney, you could miss important deadlines that can affect your case or proceedings. Next, understand why you want to meet with a lawyer. Layout out the goals you hope to accomplish with them and understand the different billing methods that attorneys use. And finally, it is important to establish an open line of communication with your attorney as go through your legal process so that you are aware of unforeseen issues or complexities that may arise.

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Information About Family Law in New York

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When reaching adulthood or having children, establishing a common law marriage or dissolving a marriage, it is important to be aware that your legal status may change, along with your legal rights and responsibilities. In the state of New York, family law is governed by various state statues on topics including (but not limited to) marriage, divorce and legal separation, division of property, child custody, spousal and child support, and adoption.


In the state of New York, couples wishing to be married must apply in person for a marriage license to any town or city clerk the state. The application must be signed by both parties in the presence of the clerk. A representative cannot apply for the license on behalf of one of the parties, both MUST be present in order to obtain the marriage license. In order to establish a marriage in New York, the following requirements must be met:

  • The parties involved are of opposite genders. Only marriage between a man and a woman will be performed in New York. However, New York does recognize same-sex marriages performed in other locales.
  • The parties are not related to each other by blood, regardless of whether or not the relationships are legitimate.
  • Neither party is married to someone else.
  • Both partners are at least 18 years of age and capable of consenting to the marriage. If one or both applicants are age fourteen to eighteen, they must show proof of parental consent and also consent from the court.

In New York, a marriage license is valid for 60 days. In order to obtain a marriage license in New York, the following list of requirements must be each person applying for a license must:

  • Identification: Both parties are required to establish proof of age and identity by supplying to the issuing clerk a birth certificate, baptismal record, naturalization record or census record AND ALSO a driver's license, passport employment picture ID, or immigration record.
  • Age: 18 years and older. Minors (age 14-15) may apply for a marriage license with parental and court consent. Minors (age 16-17) may apply for a marriage license with parental consent.
  • Residency: New York residency is not a requirement.
  • Previous Marriages: You may have to provide information regarding the previous marriage(s) as well as copies of divorce decrees to the clerk at the time of application.
Page 2 of 6
  • Waiting Period: Yes - 24 hours.
  • Fees: If issued outside of New York City, the fee is $40. If the license is to be issued by the City Clerk of the City of New York, please contact the New York City Clerk's Office for current fees and requirements. The City Clerk's Office can be reached at (212) 669-2400 or via their web site at New York City Marriage Bureau.
  • Blood Test: Not required.
  • License Validity: 60 days from the date of issuance.
  • Proxy Marriages: No.
  • Common Law Marriages: No.
  • Copy of Certificate: For copies of marriage licenses issued anywhere in New York State except the five boroughs of New York City, a certified copy of the marriage record may be obtained from the office of the town or city clerk who issued the license, or from the New York State Department of Health. The fee is $10 if you obtain a certified copy from the town or city clerk who issued the license. If applying to the New York State Department of Health, the fee is $30. For a certified copy, write to:
  • Certification Unit

    Vital Records Section

    New York State Department of Health

    P.O. Box 2602

    Albany, New York 12220-2602

    For marriage licenses issued in New York City, do not apply to the New York State Department of Health. For an application, current fees and ordering information contact the City Clerk of New York at (212) 669-2400 or visit their web site at New York City Marriage Bureau. You can also write them at:


    Municipal Building

    1 Centre Street, Room 252 South

    New York, New York 10007

    Page 3 of 6


    Supreme Court Building

    851 Grand Concourse

    New York, New York 10451


    Municipal Building

    210 Joralemon Street, 2nd Floor, Room 205

    Brooklyn, New York 11201


    Borough Hall Building

    120-55 Queens Boulevard

    Kew Gardens, New York 11424


    Borough Hall Building

    10 Richmond Terrace, 3rd Floor, Room 311

    Staten Island, New York 10301

    Page 4 of 6


    In the state of New York, a divorce is a court order that legally terminates a valid marriage. The effect of a divorce, when it is finalized, is to restore the parties to the state each was in prior to the marriage.

    In order to file for a divorce, one of the following residency conditions must be satisfied:

    The marriage ceremony was performed in the state of New York and either spouse is a resident of the state at the time of the commencement of the action for divorce and has been a resident of New York for a continuous period of one year immediately before the action began.

    The parties lived as husband and wife in the state of New York and either spouse is a resident of the state at the time of the commencement of the action for divorce and has been a resident of New York for a continuous period of one year immediately before the action began.

    The grounds for divorce occurred in the state of New York and either spouse is a resident of the state at the time of the commencement of the action for divorce and has been a resident of New York for a continuous period of one year immediately before the action began.

    The grounds for divorce occurred in New York and both parties are New York residents at the time the action commenced.

    If the parties were married outside of the state of New York and have never lived together as husband and wife in the state and the grounds for divorce did not occur in New York then, one spouse must presently be a resident of New York and have resided continuously in the state for at least two years prior to filing an action for divorce.

    In New York, the following are available grounds for divorce:

    Abandonment. The court may grant a divorce in favor of one spouse if the other spouse: (1) left the complaining spouse with the intention of abandonment; and (2) remained away for one or more years.

    Adultery. The court may grant a divorce in favor of one spouse if the other spouse has committed adultery.

    Cruel and Inhuman treatment. If the other spouse is guilty of cruel treatment toward the complaining spouse of a nature that renders further living together insupportable.

    Imprisonment. The court may grant a divorce in favor of one spouse if during the marriage the other spouse has been imprisoned for at least three years.

    Living apart pursuant to separation judgment. The court may grant a divorce in favor of either spouse where the parties have lived separate and apart pursuant to a decree or judgment of separation for a period of one or more years.

    Living apart pursuant to separation agreement. The court may grant a divorce in favor of either spouse where the parties have lived separate and apart pursuant to a written agreement of separation, written and acknowledged by both parties and acknowledged or proved in the form required to entitle a deed to be recorded, for a period of one or more years.

    The New York State Unified Court System website offers free instruction booklets and forms for people starting a divorce, as well as an informational video on what to know when getting a divorce in New York.

    In New York, the Supreme Court of the State of New York, _______ County handles divorce cases. For administrative purposes, the sixty-two counties that make up the State of New York are divided into thirteen Judicial Districts and four Judicial Departments. To begin a proceeding for a divorce, one of the spouses must file an “Complaint for Divorce” with the Court in the county in which the other spouse resides.

    The other spouse is then served with this paperwork and given time to respond. If the spouses are in agreement about property and debt division, as well as child custody and child support matters (if applicable), the divorce can be finalized without a court trial. If the parties cannot come to an agreement over one or more of these matters, the court will set up a hearing.

    Page 5 of 6

    Dividing the Property

    New York is an “equitable distribution” state, which means that all of the property and debts acquired during your marriage will be divided in an equitable fashion when you divorce. Please note that equitable does not mean equal, but rather what is fair. If the divorcing parties cannot come to an agreement on property division, then the Court will divide the property as such:

    • Separate property will be awarded to its respective owner.

    • Marital property will be distributed equitably between the parties, depending on the circumstances of the case and on the following factors in regards to the divorcing parties:

    The income and property of each party at the time of marriage;

    The duration of the marriage and the age and health of both parties;

    The need of a custodial parent to occupy or own the marital residence and to use or own its household effects;

    The loss of inheritance and pension rights upon divorce;

    Any award of child support or spousal support;

    Any equitable claim to, interest in, or direct or indirect contribution made to the acquisition of such marital property by the party not having title, including joint efforts or expenditures and contributions and services as a spouse, parent, wage earner and homemaker, and to the career or career potential of the other party;

    The liquid or non-liquid character of all marital property;

    The probable future financial circumstances of each party;

    The impossibility or difficulty of evaluating any component asset or any interest in a business, corporation or profession, and the economic desirability of retaining such asset or interest intact and free from any claim or interference by the other party;

    The tax consequences to each party;

    The wasteful dissipation of assets by either spouse;

    Any transfer or encumbrance made in contemplation of a matrimonial action without fair consideration

    It's important to collect all the information you can about all your property, including when you purchased it, approximately how much it is worth, and details such as account numbers, serial numbers and so forth, as this will save you valuable time and money during the court procedures.


    Alimony, called spousal support in New York, refers to payments from one spouse to the other spouse, for the benefit of the spouse who is receiving payment. The purpose of alimony is to limit any unfair economic effects of a divorce by providing a continuing income to a non-wage-earning or lower-wage-earning spouse. A court can order alimony in any case, and will generally consider the following factors:

    • The financial resources of each party
    • The needs of each party
    • The age and health of the parties
    • The standard of living established during the marriage
    • The impact on the children (if applicable) of having the care-giving spouse working
    • Any tax consequences
    • All sources of income available to either party

    Most spousal support is ordered for a specified amount of time. Usually, the duration of spousal support is closely linked to the length of the marriage. Once ordered, it can be modified if one party proves a “change in circumstances”.

    Child Support

    Child support refers to the amount of money that the court orders one party to pay the other party every month for the support of the child or children adopted or born during the duration of the marriage.

    In New York, child support is based on the financial resources of the parties involved, including the children, the standard of living prior to the divorce, the physical and mental health of the children, the tax ramifications, the educational needs of the parents and children and any other children outside the marriage each parent may have.

    In New York, child support payments are usually made until children turn 21. However, child support payments may end before age 21 if the child is determined “emancipated”, meaning he or she is able to support him/herself though a full-time job, he or she gets married, or he or she enters the military. If both parents agree, child support may continue on for as long as the parents desire. As with spousal support, a New York child support order can be modified if there has been a “change in circumstances”.

    Page 6 of 6

    Child Custody and Visitation

    In New York, custody is the legal responsibility for the care and control of a child under the age of 18. There are two types of custody, legal and physical.

    Legal custody is the right to make major decisions about a child, including educational, medical, and religious decisions.

    Physical custody is the actual physical possession and control of a child. It refers to the parent with whom the child lives with on a day-to-day basis.

    In deciding which parent should have custody, and what type, the court will consider:

    The history of contact between the parents and the child

    The health, safety and welfare of the child

    The mental and physical health of the parents, and how close they live to each other

    The preference of a child age 12 or older

    Evidence of child abuse

    Once the judge makes a custody and or visitation order and files it with the county clerk, both parents are legally bound to it. If one or both parents want to change the order, the judge will usually approve a new custody or visitation order that both parents agree on. If the parents do not agree on the change, the parent wishing to modify the order must show that there has been a “change in circumstances” affecting the welfare of the child since the last order. Such changes in circumstances include (but are not limited to):

    change in residence of one of the parents

    desire of an older sibling to increase or decrease visitation

    evidence of child abuse

    alteration of the child's school schedule

    Visitation is now referred to "parental access" in some New York courts. It refers to the privilege granted to the parent who does not have the physical custody the child for the majority of the time, to spend a certain amount of time each day, week, or month with the child. Generally, the court will aid in creating a detailed visitation plan to prevent conflicts and or confusion.

    Supervised Visitation is granted to a parent when the child's safety and well-being require that the visits be supervised by a third party. This third party can be the other parent, another adult, or a professional agency. Supervised visitation is generally used in cases where the child and parent need to get to know one another better, for example, when the parent has been out of the child's life for a long time due to jail time or career circumstances.

    Contesting or modifying a custody and or visitation order can be a very complicated procedure. It is smart to talk to a lawyer about how the law affects you and your rights as a parent.


    Adoption refers to the process of establishing a legal relationship between a parent and child who are not each other’s biological parent or child. Adoption laws are mainly a product of individual state law, but the different types and methods in which to facilitate an adoption are generally the same nationwide. Please click here for an overview of adoption law and a basic step-by-step guide to adoption.

    In New York, the adoption process starts with choosing an agency. There are no specified guidelines for who can and who cannot be an adoptive parent in New York. You will have to submit an application to the adoption agency and undergo a home study. If you do not go through an agency, the child's consent is required if he or she is over the age 14 and the consent of the birth parents is also required (This may not be needed if the Court finds that the legal rights of the birth parent(s) have been terminated, if the birth parent(s) have serious mental illness, or other similar stipulations).


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