Family law is a branch of the legal field that deals with issues relating to familial relationships. Divorce, child custody, and child support are the most well-known subjects of family law, though several other issues fall under the umbrella. Paternity, adoption, emancipation, and other matters are also heard in family court.
Some attorneys who practice family law also specialize in a particular issue. For instance, one attorney may focus on adoption cases, while another may have a practice that leans toward child support issues. However, most family law attorneys practice the spectrum of legal matters associated with family relationships.
Marriage can develop into a complicated situation for many individuals, even before it begins. A prenuptial agreement is a contract that is created before a couple is married, that typically lists each person’s assets, and the rights of each person in the event that the marriage fails. Often controversial, prenuptial agreements have pros and cons, and a family law attorney can provide guidance for a particular situation.
Following marriage, some couples seek legal separation. Legal separation does not terminate the marriage like divorce, but it does define the legal rights and obligations of each person. An annulment is a legal decree that treats the marriage as though it never occurred, by declaring the marriage null and void. The grounds for receiving an annulment are limited, and include bigamy, incest, intoxication during the onset of marriage, legal age issues, and issues relating to force, fraud, physical and/or mental incapacity.
Divorce is the termination of marriage. With some couples, divorce can be relatively friendly. In other situations, it can be contentious. Child custody, child support, and alimony matters can cause disagreements amongst divorcing couples. Regardless of the situation, courts will always put the child’s best interest before anything else.
Domestic violence is another serious issue that is frequently associated with family law cases. Though many marriages that end in divorce involved domestic violence, other relationships also experience acts of violence. Dating relationships, parent and child relationships, and elder abuse are among several types of relationships that can involve domestic violence.
When children are involved in the legal system, it can take a serious toll on all parties involved. Child custody and child support arrangements work best in situations where the adults are willing to cooperate and communicate, but these arrangements don’t always go according to plan. Skilled family law attorneys often have the ability to assist in negotiations between parents, and help bring a reasonable solution to the court.
In situations of adoption, and those that involve stepparents or individuals with no biological relation to a child, the legal process can be more complicated. The termination of a biological parent’s rights and adoption usually require an investigation, interviews with the child and family members, and several court hearings. Attempting to go through the legal process without an attorney is not advised.
Another legal issue involving children, is that of child abuse. Unfortunately, the occurrence of child abuse and neglect are far too common, and these crimes have widespread consequences. Not only does the abuse of children have implications in family law, but also in criminal law. The mistreatment or neglect of a child is serious, and all states have laws and agencies that seek to protect the welfare of children. Child protective services (CPS) agencies investigate cases of abuse and neglect, and they also place children in adoption or foster care programs.
Note that state laws may vary when it comes to family law terms and definitions. For instance, Montana family laws use the term “parenting” instead of “custody” or “visitation,” in order to highlight the idea that both parents should be involved in the child’s life.
Beyond the termination of marriage and child legal issues, other matters such as power of attorney and estate matters apply to family law, among other legal specialties. After seeking the advice of a lawyer, an individual may choose to assign a power of attorney directive to someone she trusts to make decisions on her behalf when she is unable to speak for herself. In fact, it is possible to assign one person to make medical decisions, and another to make financial decisions.
Inheritance laws regulate who is entitled to receive assets and property from a deceased relative. States vary greatly on how they treat inheritance, and in cases of divorce, it can become complicated. Prenuptial agreements, commingling inheritance, divorce, and contesting the presumption of shared funds are situations where an experienced family law attorney can prove to be invaluable.
Another common family law issue is that of changing a person’s name. A name change is usually a simple process that you can do on your own, and according to the laws in your state. A simple name change following marriage may not need a court order, but creating a new name or taking a less-traditional approach may require the individual to petition the court.
Changing government-issued identification documents, such as a passport or social security card will generally require a court order in cases not related to traditional marriage, including changing a minor’s name. In these instances, consulting an attorney is advised.
If you have encountered any issue related to family law, then you should contact a lawyer today. An experienced family lawyer can answer your questions, provide guidance on your case, and represent your best interests in court.