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How your lawyer can help you get your children back

Authored By: National Coalition for Child Protection Reform
Read this in:
Spanish / Español


This guide is meant to help you, the parent, work with your lawyer to get your children back and to keep your family together. It is not meant to replace your lawyer, and you should always talk to him or her before you do anything.

Family court can be a very confusing place because of the different people and agencies involved. Besides you and your lawyer, some of the important people are: the Family Court judge, the prosecutor (the lawyer for the New York City Administration for Children's Services, also known as "ACS"), the caseworker for ACS, and the law guardian (the lawyer for your children). If your child's other parent is involved, he or she will have a different lawyer than yours.


In child neglect or abuse cases, parents and step-parents have the right to a lawyer. If you are given court papers requiring you to appear before a Family Court judge you have three choices:

  1. You can hire a lawyer. If you don't know any attorneys, call the City Bar Association's Legal Referral Service: 212-626-7373 (English speakers and for interpreters for other languages) or 212-626-7374 (Spanish speakers), or 1-800-LAWYERS, and they will refer you to a specialist.
  2. If you can't afford a lawyer, call Legal Services, 212-431-7200, to find out if they can give you a free lawyer.
  3. Go to court on your scheduled court date and tell the judge that you would like the court to give you a free lawyer.

If you can't get a lawyer before your court date, GO TO COURT ON THE DATE YOU WERE TOLD TO APPEAR. Tell the judge that you would like an "adjournment" (which means that the case will be scheduled for a later date) so that you can find a lawyer. Be prepared to tell the judge what you have done so far to try to find a lawyer.

You know your case better than anyone else, and it is up to you to teach your lawyer about your case. Tell him or her all the facts of your case. Your lawyer has a very short time to learn about your case, and needs to know what you know. Don't leave anything out, even if you are embarrassed or think certain facts might hurt your case. Things that you think are harmful may not be so bad, and your lawyer can help you only if s/he knows all the facts.


When you are speaking with your lawyer, anything that you tell him or her is confidential; s/he cannot repeat it to anyone. Do not worry that others will find out the information you tell your lawyer. Your lawyer must follow rules which forbid him or her from sharing information which is told in privacy. It will be most helpful to you if you tell your lawyer everything.


You may want to take notes during your meeting, and write down what the lawyer tells you. You should bring any court papers you have received. If you have been involved in previous Family Court cases, bring those papers too.

Ask your lawyer to explain the charges against you, and make sure you understand them. Your lawyer should explain any legal language to you. ACS must put the charges in writing, so ask your lawyer for a copy. You should provide your lawyer with as much information as you can about your case; include as many details as you can remember. Once again, it is important that you tell your lawyer everything about your situation even if you think some facts may hurt your case. Your lawyer is the best person to decide what is helpful to your case and what is not.

Discuss with your lawyer what defenses you may have in your case. Ask your lawyer what information you need to give to show the charges are not true, or to explain what happened. Be sure to tell your lawyer about any other people -- such as friends, family doctors, teachers -- who can help your case, and give your lawyer their names and phone numbers.

If you have any questions, ask your lawyer; s/he works for you, even if you are not paying him or her.


  • What is your telephone number and address? (Get the lawyer's business card.)
  • When is the best time to reach you?
  • Who is the lawyer for my child?
  • What day do I come back to court?
  • Should my child come to court next time?
  • What information do you need from me to help me get my child back?
  • How do you plan to disprove each of the charges against me?


Every time that your case is in court you must be there also. If you don't go, the judge, the ACS lawyer and the law guardian will notice you're not there and think that you don't care about your case or your kids. Sometimes a judge will take an action against you, just based on the fact that you didn't come to court.

Before going to court call your lawyer and ask your lawyer to explain what will happen.


  • What the judge is concerned about
  • What the ACS lawyer wants
  • What the lawyer for your kids wants

You may want to take notes because this information can help you prepare for your next day in court. USE THE TIME RIGHT AFTER YOU LEAVE THE COURTROOM: GRAB YOUR LAWYER. This may be your only chance to talk to him or her before the next court date.

Talk to your lawyer about what happened. Ask him or her to explain anything that the judge may have decided, including what you need to do now.

  • Does your lawyer have suggestions?
  • Does your lawyer's advice seem realistic, or do you see problems?
  • Do you have ideas?

Discuss all the suggestions and ideas now, if you can.


Ask your lawyer to explain the judge's decision. If you lose your case, you have the right to appeal the judge's decision. That means your case will go to an appeals court, and that court will review the decision to see if there are any mistakes. Ask your lawyer if it is a good idea to appeal your case. Did the judge make any mistakes? If so, what were they?

To appeal, your lawyer must file a Notice of Appeal within 30 days of the judge's decision. Tell the lawyer that Family Court Act section 1121 requires him or her to file a notice of appeal, even if the lawyer will not be representing you in the appeal. If s/he isn't, the lawyer must ask the appeals court to appoint an(other) attorney to represent you for this part of your case.

copyright September, 2002
all rights reserved

National Coalition for Child Protection Reform
53 Skyhill Drive
Alexandria, Va. 22314

Made Possible Through A Grant From the ADCO Foundation

Last Review and Update: Jun 20, 2003