Family law is a broad practice area that covers domestic relations, including divorce & property division, child custody and support, alimony, adoption, etc. There are many other types of family law matters, including prenuptial and post-nuptial agreements and legal issues that are particular to same-sex relationships. Domestic violence and legal separations are other issues that call for a family law attorney.
Many of these matters can be become emotional, contentious and complicated. For many facing a family law issue, consulting and hiring a family law attorney will be an absolute necessity.
Divorce, Annulments and Legal Separation
A divorce is the legal method by which a marriage is dissolved. Divorce is often the most common and difficult legal process for most people. It can trigger many other legal issues, depending on the details of a marriage.
Divorces may proceed under no-fault grounds or under fault grounds, depending upon the state in which the couple lives. Contentious divorces may go to trial, but many also go through some form of settlement or mediation proceedings to avoid a protracted legal battle. Since family law varies from state to state, consulting with a family law attorney will help you know how to should proceed.
An annulment is another legal method to end a marriage. In the case of annulments, the law treats the marriage as if it never existed. Annulments are only granted if the marriage itself was legally invalid. Examples of invalid marriages may include bigamy, misrepresentation, fraud, concealment, lack of consent and incest.
In some cases, a couple opts for legal separation rather than permanently ending their marriage. This is frequently done in cases where such things as the tax and health care benefits outweigh the desire for divorce. It may also be the choice of couples who want to live separately for a time to determine if they truly want to get divorced.
Child Custody and Support
Child custody and support are often an issue both within divorce cases as well as for unmarried parents. There are two main types of child custody: legal and physical.
Legal custody determines which parent will make the important decisions concerning their child, and physical custody refers to the parent with who the child primarily lives with. There is a variety of different custodial and visitation arrangements. In all cases, courts make child custody decisions based on what they determine to be in the best interests of the child.
Child support is intended to provide children with a standard of living that is similar to what they would have enjoyed if their parents remained together. It's normally paid from one parent to the parent holding primary physical custody. In many states, judges use child support guidelines to help them determine the monthly amount that will be ordered.
Alimony, or spousal support, is a monthly amount that is paid from a higher-earning spouse to their former spouse. It is not ordered in all cases. It may be ordered for a limited duration or indefinitely, depending on a number of factors. Unlike child support, alimony is not automatically ordered.
Prenuptial agreements are entered into by a couple before they marry. Normally, they are drafted by a lawyer. Common subjects addressed in prenuptial agreements include how property will be divided if a divorce occurs, waivers of future rights to alimony, the duties and responsibilities of each spouse and other assorted topics. The agreements may not include provisions providing for child custody or child support.
A major part of divorce cases is determining how the property will be divided. Some cases will be handled in community property states while others occur in equitable distribution states. In community property states, courts consider the marital assets to be jointly owned by both spouses and divide them equally. In equitable distribution states, judges divide the marital property according to what they consider to be a fair division. A family law attorney can assist to determine the value of any assets and help them understand which possessions are eligible to be divided and which ones are exempt.
The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.
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