What Is Family Law?

The practice of family law concerns all aspects of the law that govern domestic relationships. A family law attorney prepares and files petitions with the court and provides representation for the client in the courtroom as well. Some jurisdictions have specially designated family law courts where all of these matters are adjudicated. In other areas, the family law matters are held in municipal, district or circuit courts. Below are some descriptions of matters that come under the umbrella of family law.

Pre-Nuptial Agreements

Many couples planning their wedding have an attorney draw up a binding legal contract informally known as a pre-nup. This document details the disposition of current and future assets in the event of a divorce or upon the death of a spouse. The attorney then files the document with the clerk of court’s office. Pre-nups are especially useful for couples who may be entering into a second or subsequent marriage and have children or grandchildren from previous relationships. Others cases where pre-nups are common is when one spouse has considerably more assets or resources or makes a great deal more money than the other.

There are also documents called post-nuptial agreements that can be signed by couples who are already married. Sometimes a well-worded post-nup can be filed in lieu of a divorce to clearly state the disposition of marital property if one spouse has been financially irresponsible or unfaithful in the past.


Most couples who split up require professional legal assistance to disentangle themselves legally from their former spouse. In cases of domestic violence, a family law attorney can ask the court for a temporary restraining order to keep abusers from harming their spouses or disposing of marital property until the community property settlement is signed by the judge.


Whether you are a birth mother seeking to make your child’s father legally and financially responsible for your baby or a man wishing to establish paternity for a child, you may need a family law attorney to help you navigate the legal channels. Once a child’s paternity is established, he or she can then inherit from both parents and have access to veterans’ and social security benefits. Establishing paternity also allows a child to have access to his or her father’s genetic and medical background as well as developing a relationship with him.

Child Support, Custody and Visitation

Once paternity is established, the non-custodial parent can be legally required to pay a specific amount of money each month for the support of their children. This amount will be based on the parent’s income and follow the child support guidelines formula of the parent’s particular state of residence.

In cases of divorce or when relationships that have produced children break up, it may become necessary to formally draw up a custody agreement that delineates with which parent the child will live most of the time. This can be important when determining which school system the child will attend and in other matters as well. Sometimes, if the split is amicable, the parents can reach accord on their own, but frequently one or both parties will need to retain counsel to represent them in court to fight for their custodial rights.

Visitation is another matter that can land parents in family court. Depending on how acrimonious a divorce or break-up was, shuttling the children from one parent’s home to the other’s can require a degree of finesse that is best settled by legal professionals. A family law attorney can vigorously dispute one parent’s assertion that his or her client requires supervised visitation with the child. Conversely, in cases where a parent has demonstrated irresponsibility or struggles with sobriety, these attorneys can provide the court with a strong argument backed by documentation that supervised visitation is necessary to protect the child’s safety. Holiday schedules that were once battlegrounds can all be addressed with a well-crafted visitation schedule to eliminate negative emotions during what are supposed to be happy holiday moments.

Domestic Partnerships

One of the newest aspects of family law concerns domestic partnerships. Because this is an evolving legal issue, with more states approving same sex marriages all the time, it can be difficult for a lay person to stay abreast of the laws in one's state that govern these unions. A family law attorney can be vital to protect the interests of both parties.

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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