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Family Law

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What Is Family Law?

Family law covers a broad variety of legal issues concerning families, relationships, and children. Typically, these issues are dealt with in specialized family law courts. (However, family laws vary from state-to-state.) Learn more about common family law issues below.

Marriage and Relationships

Many legal issues arise out of marital and other committed relationships. A family law attorney can help you understand your legal rights. Common issues dealing with marriage and relationships include:

Divorce, Child Support, and Custody

Most family law disputes involve the breakup of marriages and other relationships. When a relationship ends, the couple must divide their property, resolve child custody issues, and determine whether child support or alimony payments are necessary.

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Adoption, Guardianship, and Parenting Issues

Sometimes, biological parents cannot care for a child. In these circumstances, adoption or legal guardianship may be appropriate. (While adoption is a permanent solution, legal guardianship can be temporary.) Since courts must take a child’s best interests into account in all of these matters, a guardian ad litem is frequently appointed to advocate for the child.

Domestic Violence and Abusive Relationships

If you are a victim of domestic violence, you have significant legal rights. Contact both law enforcement officials and a family law attorney for help. While law enforcement will investigate the situation and possible criminal charges, a family law attorney can help you obtain protective orders and other relief.

What Is the Family Law Process?

Each state has its own laws regulating family law. Family law issues are usually resolved through stipulation, mediation, or trial.

  • Stipulation: When the parties agree on an issue, they can put the agreement, called a "stipulation," into writing and submit it to the court for approval. If the court approves the agreement, it will become an enforceable court order.
  • Mediation: Usually the parties disagree about some of the issues in a family law matter. When there is disagreement, a court will often order the parties to go to “mediation.” At mediation, a neutral, third party, called a “mediator,” assists the parties in reaching an agreement. In child custody disputes, most states require that the parties go to mediation before the court will decide custody and visitation.
  • Trial: If the parties are unable to resolve their dispute through mediation, the case may go to trial. At trial, the parties present their evidence (such as testimony and documents) and legal arguments. In a family law trial, a judge (not a jury) will decide your case.

Should I Contact a Family Law Attorney?

Family law issues are emotionally charged and can have far-reaching consequences. A simple mistake can be costly—resulting in financial losses and reduced time with your children. A family lawyer can help you navigate the family law courts and protect your interests.

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Photo of page author Leigh Ebrom

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 09-04-2017 11:35 PM PDT

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