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Starting a family can be one of the most exciting events of your life. But sometimes even the happiest events need the court's help to be made official. Family law is a broad practice area that covers domestic relations, including such matters as divorce and property division; child custody and support; alimony; and adoption. Whether you are looking to protect yourself in case of divorce by setting up a prenuptial or post-nuptial agreement, escape an abusive relationship or try to start a new chapter in your love life, LawInfo's family law section includes information to help guide you in your journey.
Many of these matters can become emotional, contentious, and complicated. If you are facing a family law issue, it may be helpful or even critical to consult with and hire a family law attorney.
Divorce, Annulments, and Legal Separation
Every state allows divorces to proceed under no-fault grounds, instead of requiring spouses to provide a reason for the divorce. In a no-fault divorce, one spouse simply says that the marriage has broken down and cannot be preserved and the court then enters a divorce decree ending the marriage. While some contentious divorces may go to trial, most divorces are resolved through some form of settlement or mediation proceedings.
If the marriage itself was legally invalid, spouses may get an annulment. In the case of annulments, the law treats the marriage as if it never existed. Examples of invalid marriages may include bigamy (marriage to more than one person), 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. In addition to paving the way for child custody arrangements, a legal separation 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
Legal custody determines which parent will make the important decisions concerning their child, while physical custody refers to the parent with whom the child primarily lives. There are 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, normally paid by one parent to the parent holding primary physical custody, is intended to provide children with a standard of living that is similar to what they would have enjoyed if their parents remained together. 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 may be ordered for a short time, indefinitely, or not at all, depending on a number of factors.
Sometimes a couple will enter into a prenuptial agreement 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 for child custody or child support.
A major part of divorce cases is the determination 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 (but not necessarily equal) division. For example, the judge might decide that it's fair for the custodial parent to keep ownership of the house until the youngest child graduates high school, at which point the house will be sold, as opposed to forcing a sale and equal distribution as part of the divorce proceedings.
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.
Whether you are looking to add to your family by adopting a child or you want to make your stepchild equal to your biological child in the eyes of the law, adoption law governs the legal process you must go through. The adoption process differs depending on the type of adoption you choose and where the adoption is taking place. An adoption lawyer can help guide you through this potentially complex process.
Need Help? Get a Free Case Evaluation from a Family Law Attorney
No matter what stage you are at, making changes to your family can be an emotional roller coaster. A family lawyer can help guide you through these changes by explaining the process and your options. Whether you are planning to get married, adding to your family, or "consciously uncoupling," if you need skilled legal assistance, get a free evaluation of the facts of your situation from an experienced family law attorney.