Frequently Asked Questions

Disclaimer: This website provides general information about legal rights.  While this website may be helpful in educating you about your rights, you should always consult with a licensed attorney. Only an attorney can give you legal advice about your specific issue.

I need help with…

(Click on the topic below relevant to your issue)

Divorce

Q: I was just served with a summons for divorce. What should I do?

A: First, you need to file a document called a Notice of Appearance within twenty days of when you received the Summons. You should do this even if you plan on hiring a lawyer in the future or if the twenty days have passed. You can get a copy of a Notice of Appearance from the Supreme Court Office of the Self-Represented or from the court website at www.courts.state.ny.us/litigants/divorce.

Fill out the form and make three copies.

- Send one copy to the opposing party (your spouse) and his attorney, by certified mail, return receipt requested.

- Take two other copies to the County Clerk in the Supreme Court where the divorce was filed. Take the Summons with you as well. Give the clerk one copy of the Notice of Appearance and the slips showing that you sent a copy to the opposing party and attorney. The Clerk will file the Notice of Appearance. Ask the Clerk to date stamp your other copy and keep it for your records. You can then wait for the opposing party to serve you with additional documents.

Q: My husband and I would like a divorce but don’t have money to pay an attorney to do it for us. What should we do?

A: 1) If you and your spouse agree on the terms of your divorce:

The Supreme Court is the only court in the State which can grant a divorce. You may file for divorce by filing the uncontested divorce package that is available in the Supreme Court of each borough for free as well as online at www.courts.state.ny.us/litigants/divorce. The package comes with a booklet which explains each form in detail, how to fill them out and how to file them with the court. If the income of the spouse who files for divorce is low, he/she may ask the judge to waive the court fees, which total $285.00. To do so, ask the clerk for an Affidavit of Poor Person’s Status and fill it out.

2) If you and your spouse do not agree on the issues arising out of the divorce (such as custody of the children, an order of protection and splitting the assets) and no one has filed for divorce yet:

An attorney is often necessary if you and your spouse cannot agree on these issues; then your divorce is contested. You should call your local Bar Association for an attorney referral.

If you cannot afford an attorney, the Supreme Court may appoint one for you but only on the issues of custody/visitation of the children and domestic violence. You are not entitled to a court appointed attorney to handle the money or property issues such assets or debts.
Another option if you cannot afford to hire an attorney might be to resolve such issues as custody/visitation of the children, domestic violence, or child or spousal support in the Family Court located in your borough and file a petition for that relief for free. The Family Court may also appoint an attorney for you on custody/visitation of the children or an order of protection. However, only the Supreme Court can dissolve the marriage, distribute the assets and debt and award occupancy of the marital residence.

You are not entitled to a court appointed attorney in child or spousal support cases regardless of whether they are being heard in Family or Supreme Court.

Child Support

Q: I need child support, but I am not married to the father of my child. What should I do?

A: You must be able to present proof that the man you are claiming to be your child’s father is in fact the father. One way to prove this is by presenting a signed acknowledgment of paternity to the court. An acknowledgement of paternity is typically done in the hospital right after the birth of your child. The father signs the document in front of two witnesses. If there is no acknowledgement of paternity, then you need to file a petition to establish paternity before you file for child support. The judge may order DNA testing before issuing the order of filiation, which establishes paternity.

You have the right to file a petition for child support in the Family Court in the borough where you live. You can also ask for medical insurance, unreimbursed medical expenses and child care expenses, in addition to basic child support.

Q: I recently found out that I owe a lot of money in child support and my bank account was frozen and/or my driver’s license is being suspended. What should I do?

A: Go to Support Collection Unit (SCU) Customer Service at 151 West Broadway (off Thomas Street) in Manhattan. Explain your financial situation and try to make an arrangement about how to pay the money you owe. If you believe SCU made a mistake in calculating the arrears, you need to file a petition for adjustment of arrears with the Family Court that ordered the child support.

Q: I just lost my job and can no longer pay the child support ordered by the court. What should I do?

A: Go to the Family Court where the support was ordered and file a petition for a downward modification of the order. If you do not obtain a change in the order, then the arrears (amount overdue) will continue to accrue regardless of your ability to pay.

You are not entitled to a court appointed attorney in support cases.

For more information about child support or to obtain court forms please go to
www.courts.state.ny.us/courts/nyc/family/faqs_support.shtml OR https://www.childsupport.ny.gov/dcse/home.html

Domestic Violence

Q: How can I obtain an Order of Protection?

A: If you are related to the abuser by blood or marriage, or have had an intimate relationship with him/her, you can go to the Family Court in the borough in which you or the abuser live, or in the borough where the abuse occurred. Go to the Petition Room and tell the clerk you need to file for an order of protection. Describe the first incident of abuse, the most serious incident and the most recent incidents in the form the clerk gives you. Include any injuries you suffered and whether you received medical treatment. If you need help filling out the petition or need help obtaining other services, like shelter, go to the Safe Horizon office located in the Family Court. You can also call the domestic violence hotline at 800.621.4673; TDD 866.604.5350.

Fair Hearings

Q: What is a fair hearing?

A: A fair hearing is a formal chance for you to challenge a decision made by the City about your welfare, food stamp or Medicaid benefits.

Q: How do I request a fair hearing?

A: If your benefits are being reduced or terminated, you should act quickly to keep your benefits from being reduced or terminated while you wait for the fair hearing to be scheduled and a decision to made on your case after the hearing. Asking for a fair hearing within 10 days of the date of a notice about a change to your benefits, or at least prior to the effective date of the notice, should in most cases keep your benefits the same during these waiting periods. In any event, if you received a written notice of intent involving your public assistance or Medicaid case, you have 60 days to request a hearing; if the notice involves food stamps, you have 90 days. If your benefits changed without notice, these time limits might not apply, but again, it is always best to request a fair hearing as soon as possible. To ask for a hearing, you may:

1. Call: 518.474.8781 or toll free 800.342.3334

2. Fax: 518.473.6735

3. Write:
New York State OTDA Office of Administrative Hearings
P.O. Box 1930
Albany, New York 12201

4. Online “E” Request: http://www.otda.state.ny.us/oah/forms.asp

5. Go in person: 14 Boerum Place, 1st Floor, Brooklyn (corner of Boerum and Livingston Streets)

Always keep a copy of your request, or ask for a fair hearing number.

For more information about fair hearings, visit www.projectfair.org

Food Stamps

Q: How do I apply for Food Stamps?

A: If you are only applying for Food Stamps (and not public assistance as well), you can go to any of the Non Public Assistance (NPA) Centers in New York City listed below and submit an application. The centers are open weekdays from 8:30am to 5pm unless otherwise noted below. A few centers have extended hours (until 6pm on weekdays) and are open on Saturdays (from 9am -5pm). Please note that the NPA Centers frequently change addresses so call to confirm location and hours before heading to a specific center. If you are not able to leave your home or complete an application on your own for medical reasons, you should contact your local center to request an application and assistance in the application process. The centers are obligated to assist and set up home visits where necessary.

You may also request that an application be mailed to you by calling 311. You may submit your application in person, by mail, or by fax to your local food stamp center. If you submit your application by mail, it is a good idea (but not necessary) to send it certified mail with return receipt, if possible. The center will then set up eligibility reviews and interviews in order to make a determination on your application.

(Please note that you can apply for Food Stamps, Medicaid, and Pubic Assistance all at once at your local Job Center. See the Public Assistance section for more information on Job Centers.)

Food Stamp Offices
Bronx
Concourse (F45)
1375 Jerome Avenue
2nd Floor
Bronx, NY 10452
(718) 637-2401
(718) 590-7235
Monday through Friday: 8:30am to 6:00pm
Saturday: 9:00am to 5:00pm

Crotona (F46)
1910 Monterey Avenue
5th Floor
Bronx, NY 10457
(718) 901-0287
(718) 901-5459

Melrose (F40)
260 East 161 Street
4th Floor
Bronx, NY 10451
(718) 664-1607
(718) 664-2175

Brooklyn

Coney Island Food Stamp Center (F22)
2865 West 8th Street, 1st Floor
Brooklyn, New York 11224
(718) 265-5612

Fort Greene Food Stamp Center (F20)
275 Bergen Street, 1st Floor
Brooklyn, NY 11217
(718) 694-8196
(718) 473-8510
Monday through Friday: 8:30am to 6:00pm
Saturday: 9:00am to 5:00pm

North Brooklyn Food Stamp Center (F26)
500 Dekalb Avenue, 5th Floor
Brooklyn, NY 11205
(718) 398-5057
(718) 636-7046

Williamsburg Food Stamp Center (F21)
30 Thornton Street, 4th Floor
Brooklyn NY 11206
(718) 963-5140/2

East New York (F28)
404 Pine Street, 1st Floor
Brooklyn, NY 11208
(718) 827-3961
(718) 827-3444

Manhattan

East End Food Stamp Center (F02)
2322 Third Avenue, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10035
(212) 860-5159
(212) 860-5147

St. Nicholas Food Stamp Center (F14)
132 West 125th Street, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10027
(212) 666-1434
(212) 666-8788

Washington Heights Food Stamp Center (F13)
4055 10th Avenue, Lower Level
New York, NY 10034
(212) 569-9829
(212) 569-9835

Waverly (F19)
12 West 14th Street, 4th Floor
New York, NY 10011
(212) 352-2519
(212) 352-2524
Monday through Friday: 8:30am to 6:00pm
Saturday: 9:00am to 5:00pm

Queens

Jamaica (F54)
165-08 88th Avenue, 3rd Floor
Jamaica, NY 11432
(718) 883-8356
(718) 883-8344
Monday through Friday: 8:30am. to 6:00pm
Saturdays: 9:00am to 5:00pm

Queens (F53)
32-20 Northern Boulevard, 2nd Floor
(Entrance on Honeywell Street)
Long Island City, NY 11101
(718) 784-6123
(718) 784-6315

Rockaway Food Stamp Center (F79)
219 Beach 59th Street, 1st Floor
Rockaway, NY 11692
(718) 637-2754
(718) 637-2750

Staten Island

Richmond (F99)
201 Bay Street, 2nd Floor
Staten Island, NY 10301
(718) 390-6827
(718) 390-6994

Q: If I am eligible, when can I expect to receive Food Stamps?

A: You should receive food stamps within thirty days of the date of application. Some needy individuals and households may be eligible for “expedited food stamps,” which should be provided within five days of the application date.

Q: What can I do if my application for Food Stamps is denied?

A: You can request a fair hearing by fax to (518) 473-6735, by mailing a request letter to the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, P.O. Box 1930, Albany, New York 12201-1930, by completing an online request form available on the State’s website at http://otda.ny.gov/oah, by calling (800) 342-3334, or by visiting the hearing office at 14 Boerum Place, 1st Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201. We recommend requesting a hearing by fax, online, or in person at Boerum Place. Phone requests are great but it is often difficult to get through over the phone. If you fax the request, keep the confirmation receipt. If you mail it, it is always a good idea (but not necessary) to mail it by certified mail with return receipt. You have to request a hearing within 90 days of the date of any determination on your food stamps case. The letter request should include your full name, social security number, contact information and the reason you are requesting a hearing. You should also consider reapplying for food stamps in the meantime because it can take a while to get a hearing scheduled and you may not win the hearing. Please see the “Fair Hearings” section for more information.

Public Assistance (Welfare)

Q: How do I apply for public assistance (welfare)?

A: Apply for public assistance at Job Centers. Call 311 to find out which Job Center covers your zip code. You can find a list of Job Centers on the City’s website at http://nyc.gov/html/hra/html/directory/job_centers.shtml.
Go to the Center and ask the reception desk for an application. If you do not have any income, you can ask for emergency assistance when you apply. Emergency assistance can consist of a small cash grant or package for health and safety needs of your household. You can also ask about your eligibility for help with utility arrears, rent arrears, and moving expenses when you apply.
You can apply for public assistance, food stamps, and Medicaid all at once at your local Job Center.

Q: If I am eligible, how long after I apply will it take for me to get public assistance?

A: The process has a number of steps, but you should receive a decision in writing 30-45 days after you have completed the application process. If you have children in your household, you should receive benefits no more than 30 days from the date you applied, but if you do not have children, it will take 45 days before you would start to receive benefits if you are eligible.

Q: What can I do if my application for public assistance is denied?

A: If you are denied, or your application has not been processed within 30 or 45 days, you have a right to a fair hearing. You must request the fair hearing within 60 days of the determination about your public assistance. Please see the “Fair Hearings” section for more information. You can also reapply at anytime to get the clock started on your new application.

Social Security Disability (SSD)/Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Q: I was denied SSI and/or SSD benefits. How do I file an appeal?

A: You have approximately two months (or 65 days) from the date on a “Notice of Disapproved Claim” to file an appeal called a “Request for Hearing by Administrative Law Judge”. You file this appeal at your local Social Security office. If you do not know the address of your local Social Security office, you can call 1-800-772-1213 or go to Social Security’s website: www.ssa.gov. You should file the Request for Hearing in person at the local Social Security office and obtain a computer-generated receipt or a date-stamped copy as proof of your appeal.

Q: Does NYLAG represent clients in SSI and SSD cases?

A: In general, NYLAG represents clients in SSI and SSD cases who receive Public Assistance and/or Medicaid benefits. However, we first investigate cases for a representation decision and therefore do not assist everyone who calls our office. For more information, you can call our office during the intake hours of 9am to 3pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. You should call right after you file your Request for Hearing.

Q: Does NYLAG represent clients in SSD and SSI overpayment cases?

A: In general, NYLAG does not represent clients in SSD and SSI cases. However, if it is still within 65 days from the date of your Notice of Overpayment, you can file a Request for Reconsideration to appeal the overpayment amount. You can file the appeal at your local Social Security office and request a formal conference on the appeal form. In addition, you can file for a “Waiver of Overpayment” at any time. To be eligible for a waiver, you must prove that the overpayment was not your fault and that it would be a hardship for you to repay the money. The ‘at fault’ component is complicated but can mean that you followed all the rules or reported all changes in income and resources to Social Security. To show the overpayment is a hardship, you must show that you cannot pay your monthly food and shelter expenses if you have to repay the overpayment.

Medicare/Medicaid Part D

Q: When can I sign up for a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan?

A: You may enroll in a plan during the annual open enrollment period which happens every year in the late Fall. Because the dates for open enrollment may vary from year to year, call the government’s Medicare Help line at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) to determine the next enrollment period. You must, in any case, enroll before December 31 of any year. Your prescription drug coverage will begin on the first day of the new year.

If you have both Medicare AND Medicaid you will be automatically enrolled in a Medicare prescription drug plan.

Q: How do I enroll in a Medicare prescription drug plan?

A: Once you decide which plan is best for you, there are several ways you may be able to apply. (1) You may contact the company offering the plan and request a paper application. Mail or fax the completed application back to the company. (2) If the company offering the plan permits online applications, you may apply through the company’s website. (3) You may join a plan through Medicare’s online enrollment center at www.medicare.gov. (4) You may join a plan by calling 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). If you are a TTY user, call 1-877-486-2048.

Q: If I am on both Medicare and Medicaid, can I keep my Medicaid prescription drug coverage?

A: No. You will no longer receive prescription drug coverage through Medicaid. You will be automatically enrolled in a Medicare prescription drug plan instead.

Q: Can I switch plans?

A: If you decide you want to switch plans, you must wait for the next annual enrollment period.

If you are on both Medicaid and Medicare, or if you are in a Medicare Savings Program, you may switch plans as often as once per month.

Q: Can I get help paying for my Medicare prescription drug plan costs?

A: If you have limited income and limited resources, you may qualify for extra help paying for your prescription drug plan costs.

Q: How do I apply for extra help?

A: If you are on Medicaid, SSI, or in a Medicare Savings Program, you will automatically receive extra help paying for your plan. You do not need to apply.

Others must apply for extra help. You may apply online through the Social Security Administration website at www.socialsecurity.gov/prescriptionhelp or you may request a paper application by calling 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).

Q: What if my request for extra help is denied?

A: If the Social Security Administration denies you extra help, you may appeal that decision. You have 60 days from the date you received SSA’s initial determination to request an appeal. Information on how to file an appeal should be included with the initial determination. If you did not receive a form to fill out to request an appeal, call SSA 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) to request one.

Unemployment Benefits

Q: How do I apply for Unemployment Insurance benefits?

A: To apply, you can call 1.888.209.8124 or file electronically by going to www.labor.state.ny.us and clicking on “Unemployment insurance” for online applications. There are applications in Spanish and English.

Q: If I am eligible, when can I expect to receive my first unemployment insurance check?

A: It should take approximately 3 to 4 weeks after you apply to receive your first check. Remember you need to certify for benefits each week by either going online or calling the claims line listed above, and if you fail to certify after the first week that you receive benefits, your check may be delayed.

Q: What can I do if my unemployment insurance claim is denied?

A: You can request a fair hearing so long as you do so within 30 days of the date of the decision denying your benefits. You can mail in your letter request to:

NY State Department of Labor
P.O. Box 15131
Albany, New York 12212-5131

Make sure to include your Social Security number, and simply state the reason why you are challenging the decision. You will get an acknowledgment notice indicating that the Department of Labor has received your request for a hearing and then an additional follow-up notice with a time and date for your hearing. Unemployment Insurance hearings in NYC are held at:

9 Bond St. 4th Floor Brooklyn, NY 11201

Or:

59 Maiden Lane 31st Fl.
New York, NY 10038

Employment

Q: What is the minimum wage in New York City?

A: As of January 1, 2007, the minimum wage in New York City is $7.15.

Q: I work more than 40 hours in a single week. Am I entitled to overtime compensation?

A: Generally, employees whose primary duties involve managing other employees or managing general business operations, or who are professionals whose work requires an advanced degree, are not eligible for overtime. Most other employees are entitled to be paid an overtime rate of time and a half their regular rate of pay for each hour worked over 40. Even if you receive a set salary or are paid a daily or weekly wage, you may be entitled to extra overtime compensation.

Q: I am an undocumented worker. Am I still entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay? Am I protected from discrimination?

A: Yes. Even undocumented workers have the right to be paid and to be free from discrimination and harassment. Even if you are an undocumented worker, if you complain about wages, discrimination or other some other labor law violations, it is illegal for your employer to retaliate against you.

Q: My employer owes me wages. What can I do?

A: If you think that your employer owes you wages, you can file a claim with the United States Department of Labor or the New York State Department of Labor. Contact:

U.S. Department of Labor
Wage & Hour Division
26 Federal Plaza, Rm. 3838
New York, NY 10278
(212) 264-8185

N.Y. State Department of Labor
Wage & Hour Division
345 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014
(212) 352-6700

If your claim is for less than $5000, you can also file a claim in Small Claims Court. Small claims courts are located in every borough.

Contact:

Manhattan (New York County)
111 Centre Street
New York, NY 10013
(212) 347-5779

Brooklyn (Kings County)
141 Livingston St.
Brooklyn, NY 11201
(718) 643-5069

Staten Island (Richmond County)
927 Castleton Ave.
Staten Island, NY 10310
(718) 290-5416

Bronx (Bronx County)
851 Grand Concourse
Bronx, NY 10451
(718) 590-3000

Queens (Queens County)
120-55 Queens Blvd.
Kew Gardens, NY 11424
(718) 520-4741

We recommend consulting with an attorney or NYLAG’s Justice at Work Project prior to deciding whether and where to file.

Q: What is sexual harassment?

A: Sexual harassment is a form of employment discrimination. Sexual harassment may involve requests for sexual favors, repeated sexual comments, exposure to sexual photographs, or other conditions that create an environment that is hostile or threatening based on your sex.

Q: What should I do if I believe that I have been sexually harassed?

A: First, consider complaining to someone with power to make the harassment stop. If your office has a harassment policy, you usually must follow that complaint procedure. If you do not follow your company’s policy, you may not be able to sue for harassment later. If complaining does not fix the problem, you should consider filing a complaint with an administrative agency or with the courts. See information below concerning discrimination issues.

Q: What are my rights if I am, or become, disabled?

A: Under federal law, a “disability” is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities such as walking, breathing, seeing, or learning. Under state law, less serious conditions qualify as disabilities. Conditions such as alcoholism, HIV status, and past drug addiction may qualify as disabilities.

If you are disabled, employers generally must reasonably accommodate your disability by, for example, changing your work environment, providing equipment that can help you perform your job, or providing a different work schedule. However, if an accommodation would place an undue burden on the employer, they do not need to make that accommodation. If you can perform your job, but need some accommodation for your disability, you must ask your employer for a reasonable accommodation. If your employer is not aware of your disability, or if you have not requested an accommodation, it is much harder to prove disability discrimination.

Q: What rights must my employer give me to practice my religion?

A: Employers must provide reasonable accommodations to accommodate religious beliefs unless it would cause undue hardship. An example of such an accommodation is allowing an employee to not work on the Sabbath or any holy day.

Q: Can an employer discriminate against me because of my criminal history?

A: In New York, most employers are not allowed to ask job applicants about arrests if those arrests did not result in convictions. In addition, most employers may not refuse to hire someone, or discriminate against someone, because of their criminal history unless the past conviction is directly related to the job applied for. For example, an employer might consider whether an applicant to be a taxi driver was previously convicted of driving while intoxicated, but probably may not consider if the applicant was once convicted of tax evasion. However, if you lie about your criminal record, your employer can use that as a reason not to hire you.

Q: If I complain about discrimination, am I protected from retaliation?

A: Yes. You have the right to complain about discrimination. Even if the employer believes that your complaint lacks merit, it is against the law for an employer to take negative action against you because you complained.

Q: Can my employer require me to speak only English on the job?

A: It depends. An employer can usually only prohibit employees from speaking other languages if the employer can show that the rule is necessary to the business. Your employer must advise you when you can speak only English (for example, whenever customers are present) and the consequences of breaking the rule.

Q: What can I do if I believe that I have been discriminated against?

A: If you believe that your employer has discriminated against you, you can file a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the New York City Commission on Human Rights, or the New York State Division of Human Rights. For more information contact:

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
33 Whitehall Street
New York, NY 10004
(212) 336-3620

New York City Commission on Human Rights
40 Rector St., 10th Fl.
New York, NY 10006
(212) 306-7450

New York State Division of Human Rights
20 Exchange Pl.
New York, NY 10005
(212) 480-2522

We recommend consulting with an attorney or NYLAG’s Justice at Work Project prior to deciding whether and where to file. Also, be sure to file any complaint soon after you believe you have been discriminated against. To complain to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, you must complain with 180 days, or else you may not be able to win on your claim of discrimination.

Disclaimer: This website provides general information about employment rights. While this website may be helpful in educating you about your employment rights, individuals should always seek the advice of a licensed attorney. Only an attorney can give you legal advice about your specific issue.

Consumer Debt

Q: I was sued by a creditor saying that I did not pay back money that I allegedly owed to the creditor. What should I do?

A: Do not ignore it! Go to the court and file an answer. Generally you have 20 to 30 days to file an answer so it is important that you go as soon as possible to file your answer. The New York City Civil Court has court forms available for people who do not have attorneys to help them in their case. You can access the self-represented answer form (and many other forms for self-represented individuals) online at http://www.nycourts.gov/courts/nyc/civil/forms.shtml, or just ask the clerk at the clerk’s office to assist you.
The entrances to the courthouses are open to the public between the hours of 8:30 AM to 3:45 PM:

BRONX COUNTY CIVIL
851 Grand Concourse
Bronx, N.Y. 10451

KINGS COUNTY
141 Livingston Street
Brooklyn, N.Y. 11201

NEW YORK COUNTY
111 Centre Street
New York, N.Y. 10013

QUEENS COUNTY
89-17 Sutphin Boulevard
Jamaica, N.Y. 11435

RICHMOND COUNTY
927 Castleton Avenue
Staten Island, N.Y. 10310

Q: I know I owe some of the money that the creditor is alleging I owe. Does that mean I do not have any defenses?

A: No, you have defenses and you should assert them in your answer! Even if you think you owe some of the money you still have defenses you can raise. You need to raise actual legal defenses. Saying that you want a payment plan or that you are experiencing financial hardship is not a legal defense. Here are some defenses that you may consider:

  • You were not served with the Court papers, or were served incorrectly according to law. Generally, good service means either: 1) You were handed papers personally; or 2) Someone 15 years or older at your home or place of business was given papers AND another copy of the papers were mailed to you within 20 days after this; or 3) The papers were taped to your door AND another copy mailed to your home within 20 days after this.
  • You have never heard of the company suing you or never had a business relationship with them. (This is when a debt collector is suing you, not the original creditor). This is also called “lack of standing.”
  • You are a victim of I.D. Fraud or mistaken identity. This often happens when someone steals your information and opens a credit card under your name (identity theft) or if they have confused you with someone with the same name who actually does owe the debt.
  • You paid all or part of this debt but it was not credited to your account.
  • You just do not think that what the creditor is saying you owe is correct because it is too high or the fees and interest do not seem correct.
  • The Plaintiff waited too long to sue you (also called Statute of Limitations). Usually, this means more than 3 to 6 years from the date you made your last payment on the account.

Q: Should I Settle My Debt?

A: Never settle for more than you can afford. If you want to make an offer, choose an amount you feel comfortable with. Remember: You do have bargaining power, and if you want more evidence of the claim – ask for it. It is your right to see proof of exactly what you owe before you consider settling.

Foreclosure

Q: What is a loan modification?

A: A loan modification changes the terms of your original obligation to your lender to allow you to keep your home and make affordable payments.

Q: Do I need to be in foreclosure or behind on my mortgage payments in order to modify my loan?

A: No. As soon as you believe there is the possibility that you could fall behind on your mortgage payments, you should contact your lender or a loss mitigation professional for assistance.

Q: If I receive a foreclosure notice or legal document from the court, can I ignore it if I am already working with my lender on modifying my loan?

A: No. It is imperative that you respond to all court notices and attend all court appearances even if your lender states it is not necessary.

Q: Will the court forgive or cancel my mortgage if I go to court?

A: No. The court will assist you and your lender in trying to resolve the matter by agreeing to an affordable loan modification or other loss mitigation alternative.

Q. Must I pay someone to defend me in a foreclosure action or to assist me in modifying my loan?

A: No. There are not-for-profit legal service providers and housing counselors who may be able to assist you at no cost to you. You should be very suspicious of companies who ask for upfront payments to obtain a loan modification for you as many are not legitimate.

Q: If I am served a foreclosure notice, will I have to leave my home immediately?

A: No. Normally, the foreclosure process takes several months to conclude. As long as you comply with the court’s requirements, you will have an opportunity to try and save your home.

Asylum

Q: I was granted an asylee status. How can I bring my husband and child to the United States?

A: If you are an alien and granted an asylee status in the United States, you may apply for derivative asylee benefits for your spouse and/or unmarried children under 21 years of age, whether they are in or outside the United States, within two years of the date in which you were granted asylum status. The relationship between an asylee and his or her relative must have existed on the date an alien was granted asylum in the United States and must continue to exist when an asylee files Form I-730 (Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition) and when his or her child or spouse is admitted to the United States. Therefore, you should file a separate derivative asylum application for your husband and your child with the Nebraska Service Center or the Texas Service Center (depending on your state of residence) within two years of the date of your asylum grant.

Citizenship/Naturalization

Q: I entered the United States as a refugee and then adjusted my status to that of a lawful permanent resident. When can I apply for naturalization?

A: As a general rule, an alien can file an application for naturalization if he or she has been lawfully admitted for permanent residence and has resided continuously as a lawful permanent resident in the U.S. for at least five years (minus 90 days) prior to filing with no single absence from the United States of more than one year. As a refugee, you are considered a lawful permanent resident on the date of entry into the United States, so the five year period starts running from the date of entry into the United States.

Q: One of the requirements for naturalization involves understanding the meaning of the Oath of Allegiance. Is it possible for someone who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or Dementia, and is unable to understand the meaning of the Oath, to become a U.S. citizen?

A: Yes. On November 6, 2000, Public Law 106-448 was enacted. This law authorizes the Attorney General to waive the oath requirement for any individual who has a developmental or physical disability or mental impairment that makes him or her unable to understand, or communicate the understanding of the meaning of the oath. The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has determined that in certain situations it is appropriate to permit a designated representative to complete the naturalization examination on behalf of a qualified applicant, attesting orally and through affidavits to the disabled applicant’s qualifications for naturalization. Such modified procedure allows USCIS to obtain the most accurate information available regarding the applicant’s eligibility from those individuals who are most familiar with the applicant’s life history and current impairment. The designated representative may be either a legal guardian appointed by the court or, in the absence of a legal guardian, a spouse, parent, adult son or daughter, or adult brother or sister, who is a U.S. citizen. If the designated representative is not the legal guardian, he or she must have knowledge of the facts surrounding the applicant’s eligibility for naturalization. It is important to understand that the oath waiver is designed for those applicants who are so severely disabled that they cannot, by any means, either demonstrate the understanding of the oath or communicate that understanding to the USCIS officer.

Green Cards

Q: How do I renew my green card?

A: If your green card has expired or will expire soon, you can renew it by submitting Form I-90 with a filing fee of $365 and a fingerprint fee of $85 to the following address (if you are using US Postal Service):

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service
P.O. Box 21262
Phoenix, AZ 85036

Q: How do I replace a green card that has incorrect information on it?

A: If your green card was issued with incorrect information because of a USCIS error, mail an I-90 Form and supporting documentation to the same Service Center or National Benefits Center that processed his green card application. You will not have to pay any fees. In addition, you have to submit the original I-551 card containing incorrect information and documentation that supports the requested correction

Relative Petitions

Q: I am a lawful permanent resident. Can I file a relative petitions on behalf of my parents to come to the United States?

A: No. If you are a lawful permanent resident, you are not qualified to petition to bring your parents to live and work permanently in the United States. Only United States citizens are qualified to petition to bring their parents to live and work permanently in the United States. For more information: http://www.uscis.gov/USCIS/Resources/A1en.pdf

VAWA Petitions (Abusive Partners)

Q: I came to the United States and married a U.S. citizen, though my husband never filed any immigration papers to legalize my status. Eventually, my husband became very abusive, and I filed for a divorce. Two months ago, our marriage was terminated. I heard that I can file a self-petition under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Does the fact that our marriage had been terminated affect my ability to file?

A: No. A self-petition may be filed if the marriage was terminated by the abusive spouse’s death within two years prior to filing. A self-petition may also be filed if the marriage to the abusive spouse was terminated, within two years prior to filing, by divorce.

Holocaust Compensation

Q: What is the purpose of the Holocaust Compensation Project’s hotline?

A: Survivors and their advocates have many questions regarding the numerous compensation programs, each of which has its own eligibility criteria, deadline and application. The trained individuals answering the hotline provide callers with needed information.

Q: What is the hotline number and when can someone be reached?

A: The hotline number is (212) 688-0710 and a call can be placed at any time. If no one is available to immediately answer the telephone, the caller can leave a message and we will return the call by the next day.

Q: What type of assistance is currently offered?

A: We help survivors apply for compensation from such programs as the Article 2 Fund and the Hardship Fund, and for pensions from Germany for work that was done in ghettos. In addition, we appeal ghetto pension denials as well as denials that survivors have received from, among other programs, the Swiss Banks Fund and ICHEIC (insurance claims).

Medical Advance Directives
Living Wills
Healthcare Proxy

Q: What is a Healthcare Advance Directive?

A: A healthcare Advance Directive is a legal document that allows a person to make their health care choices known in advance of an incapacitating illness or injury. Although laws vary from state to state in the US, there are three main types of directives:

  • A Living Will is a legal document in which you state the kind of health care you want or don’t want in the event you become very ill and there is no reasonable chance of recovery.
  • A Health Care Proxy is a legal document in which you name someone you trust to make decisions about your health care in the event you cannot communicate your own decisions.
  • A DNR or Do Not Resuscitate Order is a legal document in which you refuse cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in the event you suffer from cardiac arrest.

Q: Why do I need a Healthcare Advance Directive?

A: Healthcare Advance Directives give you a voice in decisions about your medical care when you are unconscious or too ill to communicate. As long as you are able to express your own decisions, your Advance Directive will not be used and you can accept or refuse any medical treatment. But if you are unconscious or become seriously ill, you may lose the ability to participate in decisions about your own treatment and that is when your Healthcare Advance Directives are important. If you do not appoint a health care agent, New York State law provides that a spouse/domestic partner, adult child, parent, sibling or close friend can act as your decision-maker, however, you should not forfeit your opportunity to document your choice of agent and provide him or her with the information needed to make decisions according to your wishes. To ensure your instructions are followed, you should choose an agent by completing your Healthcare Advance Directives and inform your agent about your wishes.

Q: Should an individual have both a Health Care Proxy and a Living Will?

A: Not necessarily. You can have a Health Care Proxy that names a health care agent and a Living Will to help guide the agent in making decisions consistent with your wishes. We recommend that all individuals over the age of 18 complete a Health Care Proxy and discuss their medical wishes with their agent. Individuals who do not have anyone to name as their agent should complete a Living Will and be as specific as possible about their medical preferences. Whatever you decide, your Advance Directive(s) should be easily accessible. That’s why we recommend registering your documents with the U.S. Living Will Registry®, so that they are included in a secure online database, readily accessible when needed.

Q: When does a Healthcare Advance Directive become effective?

A: A Living Will and Health Care Proxy will become effective only when you are incapacitated and unable to make or communicate your wishes regarding your care.

Q: How do I register my advance directive with the U.S. Living Will Registry®?

A: To submit Advance Directives for registration, you or your social service provider may send the documents along with the U.S. Living Will Registry® Registration Agreement to TLC by any of the following methods:

  1. Fax to: 212.714.7402 to the attention of “Total Life Choices”
  2. Email to: tlc@nylag.org
  3. Mail to:

New York Legal Assistance Group
Attn.: Total Life Choices
7 Hanover Square, 18th Floor
New York, New York 10004

Additional Advance Directive forms and registration materials can be obtained by visiting www.totallifechoices.org, calling 212.371.6873, or e-mailing tlc@nylag.org.

Q: How does TLC’s Healthcare Advance Directives Program work?

A: A TLC staff member will first review your documents to ensure they are legally sufficient. Your Advance Directive(s) are then scanned into the U.S. Living Will Registry® so that an exact image of your document is stored. Once registered, you will be sent a confirmation letter, stating that you are registered, and a wallet sized card listing your registration number.

Health care providers can contact the U.S. Living Will Registry® on the telephone or via a secure Internet web site, and request a copy of your Advance Directive(s). The Registry sends a copy to the provider, and it is kept as part of your confidential medical record. If you do not have your card, the health care provider can still access your document using your social security number (health care providers almost always have your social security number because they use it for billing purposes). Your document is stored and transmitted in the safest way possible to ensure your privacy. You will have peace of mind knowing that your Advance Directive is safe, secure and available to your family and doctors whenever and wherever it is needed. Because health care providers can contact the Registry to see if any patient has an Advance Directive, they can retrieve your document even if they don’t have your card.

Q: How much does it cost to register with the U.S. Living Will Registry®?

A: Registration is completely free. Through the generosity of TLC’s funders, we are able to provide this service free of charge so that everyone can participate.

Q: What if I change my mind?

A: You can revoke your Health Care Proxy and/or Living Will at any time while you are competent by informing your agent or physician that you have changed your mind. You must notify the U.S. Living Will Registry® in writing if you change or revoke your Advance Directive in which case your old directive will be destroyed and your new document will be registered. Moreover, the U.S. Living Will Registry® automatically sends annual reminder letters to confirm that your information is up-to-date.

To change your Advance Directive(s): Simply fill out a new Health Care Proxy and/or a new Living Will form and mail everything to TLC. We will ensure that your documents are replaced or deleted in the U.S. Living Will Registry® database.

All documents should be mailed to:

Total Life Choices
New York Legal Assistance Group
7 Hanover Square, 18th Floor
New York, NY 10004

Q: Will my Healthcare Advance Directive be honored if I become ill in another state?

A: All 50 states and the District of Columbia have laws recognizing the use of Advance Directives (i.e., Living Wills, Health Care Proxies, Medical Powers of Attorney). The majority of states will recognize a New York State Health Care Proxy and Living Will and most states also have reciprocity provisions. However, if you spend a great deal of time in more than one state you might want to consider executing an Advance Directive specifically worded to meet each state’s requirements to best protect your interests.

Q: I am worried about my Advance Directives not remaining confidential. What safeguards are in place to protect my privacy?

A: Your Advance Directive is a legal document and its privacy and confidentiality must be protected. In the Registration Agreement, it is clearly stated that the “Registry is not authorized to share my personal information with parties other than health care providers.” Health care providers (as defined by federal regulations on Advance Directives) are hospitals, doctors, skilled nursing facilities, home health agencies, providers of home health care, ambulatory surgery facilities, and hospices. Once transmitted to a provider, your Advance Directive becomes part of your medical record and the law protects the privacy of medical records. The Registry does not share or sell your personal information.

Q: What if I already have an Advance Directive? Do I have to complete a new one to participate in TLC’s Health Care Advance Directives Program?

A: No. TLC attorneys will review your existing Healthcare Advance Directives for legal sufficiency. If they are properly completed, you just need to complete the U.S. Living Will Registry® Registration Agreement form and TLC will register your documents.

Q: How do I access my Advance Directives once they are stored in the U.S. Living Will Registry®?

A: You can visit the website at www.uslwr.com and access the documents by entering the “Source” and the “Registration Number,” both of which are listed on the Registry ID card you receive in the mail. If you do not have the card with you and a hospital/medical facility needs to access the documents, they can do so by calling 1.800.LIV.WILL (1.800.548.9455).

Q: I don’t have a U.S. Social Security Number (SSN). Can I still participate in the Registry service?

A: Yes. Individuals without a SSN can either leave this section of their Registration form blank or write that they do not have a SSN. An account number will be generated randomly and assigned to the individual

Q: I do not want to provide my Social Security Number (SSN). Can I still participate in the Registry service?

A: Yes. If you do not wish to provide you SSN, you may leave that section of your Registration form blank and an account number will be generated randomly and assigned to you.

Q: Can registered individuals have their Advance Directives accessed if they are admitted to a hospital outside of the U.S.?

A: Individuals without internet access can still make full use of this service. All Advance Directives can be mailed or faxed to you so there is no need for the internet. Doctors, health care facilities and anybody else with whom you share your registration number can download your documents from the internet, or have your document faxed or mailed to them.

Q: What if I do not have access to a computer or am not comfortable using the internet, should I still store my Advance Directives electronically?

A: Individuals without internet access can still make full use of this service. All Advance Directives can be mailed or faxed to you so there is no need for the internet. Doctors, health care facilities and anybody else with whom you share your registration number can download your documents from the internet, or have your document faxed or mailed to them.

Q: What is capacity?

A: Under New York law, a person must have the capacity to execute certain legal documents to make them valid. Generally speaking, this means the person must understand what he/she is doing. Certain legal documents have more specific requirements.

Q: What is the difference between a Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy and Guardianship?

A: These are three separate items and are not substitutes for one another. A Power of Attorney allows an individual (the principal) to choose a trusted person (the agent) who will be given the legal authority to act on the principal’s behalf for specific financial and property transactions of the principal’s choosing. The Power of Attorney is effective during the principal’s life only. A Power of Attorney can only be created by a principal if he or she is competent, but remains in effect if the principal later becomes incapacitated.

A Health Care Proxy allows an individual to choose a trusted person (the agent) to make medical decisions for the individual only when that individual cannot communicate his or her own decisions. As long as the individual is competent and can communicate, the Health Care Proxy does not come into effect.

Guardianship is a court process by which a person (the guardian) is chosen to legally make decisions for a person (the ward) who is not able to make his or her own decisions. There are several types of guardianship proceedings. The guardian handles personal, financial, property and any other responsibilities for the ward that are necessary and that are granted by the court. If the ward had executed a Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy prior to becoming incapacitated, guardianship would most likely not be necessary.

With a Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy, the individual chooses his or her agent through use of a legal document while the individual is still competent. With Guardianship, the court chooses the agent/guardian on behalf of the individual through a court proceeding that occurs after the individual becomes incompetent.