Family Law is a broad legal practice area that encompasses many different areas. It generally involves domestic relations, including divorce & property division, child custody and support, alimony, divorce, separation, adoption, etc. There are many other types of family law matters, including prenuptial and post-nuptial agreements, post-divorce decree modifications and domestic violence.
Since family law is such a broad practice area, many seeking a divorce need a lawyer. Many of these matters can become contentious and complicated. For many, seeking 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. Divorces may go to trial. But many divorces go through some form of settlement or mediation proceedings to avoid a protracted legal battle. Since family law varies from state to state, people will want to at least consult with a family law attorney to determine how they 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 in the case that the marriage itself was legally invalid. Examples may include bigamy, misrepresentation, fraud, concealment, lack of consent, impotence and incest, for instance.
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. The two main types of child custody are legal and physical custody.
Legal custody is the determination of which parent will make the important decisions concerning their child, and physical custody refers to the parent with whom the child primarily lives. 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 designed to provide children with a standard of living that is similar to what they would have enjoyed if their parents remained together. It is 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.
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 and Post-nuptial Agreements
Prenuptial agreements are entered into by a couple before they marry. Normally, they are drafted by a lawyer. Common subjects contained 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 will generally assist their client 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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