On December 26th, 2012, CFR won a groundbreaking appeal that clarifies the Family Court’s role in reunifying families and potentially will impact practice throughout New York State. CFR’s client Marie was the catalyst for this major decision.
When CFR met Marie nearly a year ago, she was facing neglect charges and her two children had been placed in foster care. With help from her CFR team, Marie made outstanding efforts to reunite her family and completed every service asked of her. Within months, a Family Court judge ruled that reunification was in the children’s best interest. However, an order of protection previously issued in Criminal Court barred Marie from contact with her children, but had language that made clear that this barrier could be removed by the Family Court. Nonetheless, the Family Court judge thought that she could not change the order to permit Marie’s children to come home.
For many years, there has been disagreement among Family Court judges about whether they can modify Criminal Court orders to reunite families like Marie’s. The Family Court judge believed that the children could not be returned to Marie because of the criminal order of protection. When the judge decided she was powerless to let the children return even though she wanted to, CFR teamed up with pro bono attorneys from Proskauer Rose LLP to appeal the decision.
While the appeal was pending, CFR’s team went to criminal court and convinced that judge to expressly allow reunification. After spending nine months in foster care, Marie’s children were able to return home. Just a few months later, on December 26th, the Appellate Division, 2nd Department, overturned the Family Court and decided in favor of CFR and Proskauer.
This important decision puts a longstanding discrepancy to rest and acknowledges that despite Criminal Court orders, Family Courts are in the best position to make decisions about reunifying families. Not only will CFR clients benefit, but so possibly will many vulnerable families throughout the State. With help from Proskauer Rose, CFR is proud to have laid the groundwork for countless families to stay together.