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Securing the Safety of Clients in Family Court

Published July 15, 2021

Elder Law practitioners work within complex family dynamics when they engage with their clients on a variety of topics. Most often, even if tension exists among family members, the exchanges among the parties are civil. In some circumstances, however, family dynamics are more complex and even become unsafe. When this arises the elder law practitioner is faced with how best to advise a client about means of protecting themselves and their property against unwanted interference or criminal behavior.

Imagine the following scenario:

Multi Generation Family Enjoying Picnic Together

Mom is facing increasing age-related memory impairment and feels anxious about her finances and getting care at home. Her son, who is financially reliant on Mom, mounts increasing efforts to access Mom’s bank accounts directly and has begun to harass Mom with repeated phone calls, text messages and emails. This escalation in son’s behavior causes Mom a great deal of distress, annoyance and alarm and Mom expresses fear for her safety if she financially cuts off her son. Even after repeated requests by Mom to stop this troubling contact, son continues to persist in his course of conduct and even begins to show up at Mom’s home demanding financial support.

What remedies does Mom have and how can we support clients in these tough situations?

Our team of experienced elder law attorneys can successfully guide families to the necessary resources to address situations like the one discussed above. Most elder law work centers either in the state Supreme Court (for cases like adult guardianship) or in Surrogate’s Court (for cases involving wills, trusts and guardianship over disabled individuals). A lesser known, and less utilized option is the New York State Family Court system.  Parties who are in an Intimate Partner Relationship are eligible to access the Family Court system for assistance if they are seeking to be protected from a named party.

The Social Services Law helps to define an Intimate Partner Relationship and thus indicates that an intimate relationship includes family or household members. This definition also includes many kinds of close relationships. Due to these broad definitions, domestic violence can occur between any of the following:  people legally married or divorced; people with a child in common, including adopted children; people related by marriage, like in-laws; people related by blood, like siblings, parents or cousins; unrelated people who live, or have lived together for periods of time; unrelated people in, or who were in an intimate relationship.

A party who has been subjected to criminal behavior can seek an Order of Protection from the Family Court in their county of residence. This is accomplished with the commencement of a Family Offense Petition. A family offense petition is a sworn statement made by the victim (known as the Petitioner) which details the allegations of criminal behavior by the perpetrating party (known as the Respondent). The allegations must be detailed and specific and include relevant dates/times of the alleged offense. In order to qualify for an Order of Protection, the Respondent must have committed a designated offense, including but not limited to, disorderly conduct, harassment, assault or attempted assault or identity theft. This is not an exhaustive list and the law includes a wide variety of offenses which can cause an Order of Protection in favor of the victim.

In our example, Mom can seek relief from the Family Court to restrict her son from the harassing contact and the unwanted intrusion of her home. This remedy is efficient and user-friendly and will serve as a notification to the offending party, in this example the son, that his conduct must stop.

While it is never pleasant to initiate this type of proceeding, the protections afforded by the Family Court are often essential to securing the safety and well-being of our senior clients. The experienced litigation team at Littman Krooks can help guide you or your loved ones through this process.

Unfortunately, the incidence of elder abuse is on the rise. Accessing resources to tackle these problems is a top priority of attorneys at Littman Krooks. Contact us today to learn more about how we can support you and your family through trying circumstances.

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