Committee Reports

Support for legislation in relation to notices given to respondents in child abuse and neglect proceedings in family court

SUMMARY

The Family Court and Family Law Committee issued a report in support of legislation relating to notices given to respondents in child abuse and neglect proceedings in family court. The supported legislation ensures that when parents consent to findings in Family Court Act, Article 10 proceedings, they receive accurate information concerning the findings’ collateral consequences at the New York Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment. Currently, Section 1015(f) of the Family Court Act leaves jurists without any option except to provide inadequate warnings to litigants. Amending the legislation is the only way to protect litigants from receiving misleading information, and to make sure that consent is willingly, knowingly and voluntarily made.

BILL INFORMATION

A.7348 (AM Dickens) / S.9745 (Sen. Brisport) – Updates the provisions providing notice to respondents in child abuse and neglect proceedings in family court (NYS 2023-24).

REPORT

REPORT ON LEGISLATION BY THE FAMILY COURT AND FAMILY LAW COMMITTEE

A.7348 (AM Dickens)
S.9745 (Sen. Brisport)

AN ACT to amend the family court act, in relation to notices given to respondents in child abuse and neglect proceedings in family court (OCA 15-2023)

THIS BILL IS APPROVED

The Family Court and Family Law Committee of the New York City Bar Association supports and urges enactment of A.7348 (AM Dickens) / S.9745 (Sen. Brisport) (the “Bill”). The Bill ensures that when parents consent to findings in Family Court Act, Article 10 proceedings, they receive accurate information concerning the findings’ collateral consequences at the New York Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment (“SCR”).

I. BACKGROUND

A. 2020 Amendments to Social Services Law § 424-a

The Social Services Law was amended in 2020 to ensure that findings in related Family Court and SCR proceedings align in their outcomes.[1] These amendments altered several portions of Social Services Law § 424-a. Significantly, potential employers requiring SCR clearances are now informed that any finding more than eight years old is not reasonably related to employment if the indicated report is for maltreatment, not abuse.[2] Prior to the amendment, parents would have to wait until their youngest child reached the age of 28 before indicated reports were automatically not disclosed to employers. The Legislature added the eight-year non-disclosure provision as a new subsection within Social Services Law § 424-a.[3]

B. Disclosure Requirements of Family Court Act § 1051(f)

In order to ensure that respondents in Family Court Act, Article 10 proceedings are willingly, knowingly, and voluntarily allowing the court to enter a finding against them on consent, Family Court Act § 1051(f) contains various disclosures a jurist must make to the litigant concerning the consequences of that finding. When the 2020 Amendments to the Social Services Law went into effect in 2022, the Section 1015(f) warnings no longer reflected New York law. For example, Section 1015(f) does not currently contain a disclosure that court findings of neglect are sealed eight years after the report is made (unless sealed earlier by administrative order). Jurists are therefore left without any option except to provide inadequate warnings to litigants.

II. THE PROPOSED LEGISLATION

A. Office of Court Administration Proposed Solution to Align the Statutes

The Office of Court Administration has understandably asked that the Legislature amend Section 1051(f) to ensure that when litigants consent to a finding, they are not provided incorrect information. Because the § 1051(f) warnings are statutory, Family Court jurists cannot alter the information they provide to litigants, despite knowing that the warnings do not reflect the actual law. Amending Family Court Act § 1051(f) is the only protection that exists to avoid respondents receiving misleading information concerning the consequences of their consent to a finding.

The Bill takes the necessary and appropriate corrective action that will ensure whenever a respondent consents to a neglect finding, they are doing so willingly, knowingly, and voluntarily because they have received adequate warnings that do not misstate the Social Services Law. No litigant can reasonably be expected to understand the true consequences of their consent unless we ensure that the information our courts provide to them is itself indicative of the state of the law on the date they consent to a finding.

Jurists should not be required to provide incorrect and misleading information merely because of an out-of-date statutory warning. New Yorkers reasonably expect that jurists’ statements are based on the law’s present state. Having outmoded statutory warnings that reflect the law as it was over two years ago diminishes the trust, faith, and equity that litigants have placed in our courts. Unfortunately, without this proposed amendment, jurists will have to continue providing litigants in their courtrooms with information that is no longer accurate. This situation is unacceptable and, as recognized by the Office of Court Administration, should be immediately remedied.

III. RECOMMENDATION

We therefore call on the New York State Legislature to pass this critical and straightforward piece of legislation to ensure that the warnings provided to litigants when they consent to findings under Family Court Act, Article 10, match the 2022 Amendments to the Social Services Law. This corrective action will ensure that litigants are provided with consistent and accurate information concerning the impact of the finding being entered against them. Only then will any consent be willingly, knowingly, and voluntarily made.

Family Court and Family Law Committee
Michael Weinstein, Co-Chair
Tuozhi Zhen, Co-Chair

June 2024

Footnotes

[1] L. 2020. c. 56. Part R.

[2] Social Services Law § 424-a(1)(e)(iv)(B).

[3] Social Services Law § 424-a(1)(e)(iv)(B).