Family Law—An Overview
Family law is the term applied to the laws and rules developed regarding family relationships. Family law rules define not only the relationships between members of a family but also between a family and society as a whole. More than any other area of the law, family law reflects the values society shares regarding how people who are related should treat each other. When you are faced with an important life decision regarding a key family relationship, the advice and assistance of a family law attorney often proves crucial to your understanding of the issues involved and your satisfaction with the ultimate outcome of your family law matter.
Typically, family law attorneys assist people in making and breaking family relationships. Specific areas of representation include marriage and relationship planning, divorce, paternity, child custody, and child support. Some family law attorneys also provide assistance in the area of adoption.
Marriage is a legal and business union as much as it is a romantic one. Because marriage is a legal and business arrangement, it may be wise to consult with an attorney about the advantages of premarital or prenuptial agreements. Many couples find it helpful to work through financial issues and the potential disagreements such issues can create before entering into a marriage.
Divorce is a method of terminating a marriage contract between two individuals. From a legal standpoint, divorce restores an individual’s right to marry someone else. The process also legally divides marital assets and debts and determines the care and custody of the children. Each state addresses these issues differently. However, most states follow the same basic principles and use relatively uniform standards.
In some states you need to prove fault, commonly referred to as grounds, to obtain a divorce. However, the majority of states allow at least one form of no-fault divorce in which the spouses are not required to prove that the other caused the breakdown of the marriage. If no-fault grounds for divorce are available in your state, either you or your spouse may obtain a divorce, even if one of you does not consent to the divorce. In some states both fault and no-fault divorce are available.
In most divorces, the primary issues to be decided are alimony or spousal support, property division, and, if there are children, child custody, visitation, and child support. When spouses agree on how to resolve these issues, they can usually obtain a divorce quickly. However, in many cases, divorcing spouses have disputes regarding their post-marriage financial arrangements and the care and custody of their children. Property division and alimony are often hotly contested issues in divorce proceedings, but the early advice of a family law attorney may be able to impact the ultimate result favorably.
Child Custody and Visitation
The care and upbringing of children following divorce is often an ongoing source of conflict for divorcing parents. Custody must address both physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody typically involves allocating parental rights and responsibilities regarding the day-to-day care and activities of the children. Legal custody typically involves allocating the legal rights and responsibilities associated with the child’s upbringing.
Sometimes the parents agree to an arrangement; sometimes the court determines one for them. In the past, courts routinely gave mothers physical custody and gave fathers visitation rights. Today, the courts have begun to realize that sometimes it is in the best interests of the children to reside with the father and reverse the roles of the parents. In general, the courts favor joint ongoing child rearing responsibilities with the children residing where it is most practical and where they will flourish. The advice and assistance of a family law attorney can help parents to establish child custody and visitation agreements that focus on the interests of the children.
Parents must financially support their children. That obligation usually lasts until the child reaches the age of majority (usually 18 or 21 years old depending on state law) or becomes self-supporting. An order for child support may be entered during or after a divorce, and either parent may be ordered to pay support depending upon how custody is arranged. In most states, an unmarried mother may also file a petition for child support in family court, and an order for support will be entered once paternity has been established.
A parent who fails to remain current on his or her child support obligations faces significant penalties. Every state has a child support enforcement office that works with the family court to suspend professional or business licenses, take away driver and recreational licenses, require payment of future owed sums in advance, or place non-paying parents in jail when child support obligations are overdue. Because of the state specific requirements involved in child support, parents can benefit from the advice and involvement of a family law attorney at our firm when child support issues arise.
Every adoption, whether foreign or domestic, requires the action and approval of a court to become final, and each state has its own adoption policies and procedures. Most states have measures in place to assess the fitness of the adopting parents. Adopted children generally receive all the benefits afforded to natural children, and parents owe adopted children the same legal duties of care and support owed to a natural or birth child of the marriage.
Each state has its own policies and procedures controlling child adoption. Most states have measures in place to assess the fitness of the adopting parents. Upon adoption, adopted children generally receive all the benefits afforded to natural children and parents owe adopted children all the legal duties of care and support owed to a natural or birth child of the marriage. A family law attorney at our firm who offers adoption-related services can help both adoptive and birth parents throughout all phases of the adoption process.
Family relations create a host of legal consequences. Whether you are contemplating marriage or divorce or are considering adoption, a family law attorney at our firm can explain the laws that apply to your particular situation and help you to make the best choices for you and your family.
DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.