New York – Obtaining Child Custody

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DIFFICULTY: Legal assistance Recommended

Initial Filing Fee: $0 to $20

In New York, a child custody proceeding can happen in the New York Surrogates Court, or the New York Family Court. Both courts have the power to grant custody or visitation rights, and will look to the child’s best interests in making the determination. That said, there may be procedural advantages in choosing one court over another. You should consult an attorney or a clerk of each court to determine which is best for you.

Step 1: Form Completion

File a Form-17 (custody or visitation) in Family Court. The Surrogate’s Court Guardianship Department can also provide an application for custody of a child, as well as assistance with filling it out.

 • Form-17 (custody or visitation)

Step 2: Filing of the Form in Surrogates Court or Family Court

You will need to file Form-17 (custody or visitation). There is no fee for filing in Family Court, but sometimes child custody or visitation proceedings can also be filed in Surrogates Court, where there is a fee of $20. Your attorney can assist you in determining which forum is most appropriate for your particular set of circumstances, based upon court backlogs and the facts of your case. Upon filing in either court, an investigation usually follows. This may include a home visit from a social worker to ensure that your place of residence is suitable for the child. Be mindful of the terms of any separation agreement already in place; if custody provisions exist, an attorney should be consulted.

Step 3: Attend Court Hearing

Attend the court hearing with any documentation you may need, accompanied by your attorney, including any evidence you may have indicating your ability to care for the child for whom you are seeking custody or visitation. Though it is recommend that you consult an attorney experienced in this area of the law prior to the institution of proceedings, it is important to note that much of this process is common sense; simply putting yourself in the judge’s shoes, and thinking about what sort of evidence you would like to see from a parent requesting custody, will be very useful.

Additional Resources

New York Surrogate’s Court Forms
New York Family Court Forms