Family law governs legal issues associated with familial relationships. While divorce, child custody, and child support are the most well-known subjects of family law, several other issues are governed by family law. Paternity, adoption, and emancipation are also heard in family court.
Some attorneys who practice family law also specialize in a specific issue or subcategory of family law. An example of this would be how one attorney may focus on marriage law cases, while another may focus specifically on child support issues. However, most family law attorneys practice the spectrum of legal matters associated with family relationships.
Following marriage, some couples seek a legal separation which does not terminate the marriage. Rather, legal separation defines the legal rights and obligations of each person. Another issue associated with marriages would be an annulment, which is a legal decree that treats the marriage as though it never existed by declaring the marriage null and void. The grounds for annulment are limited, and include:
- Intoxication during the onset of marriage;
- Legal age issues; and
- Issues associated with force, fraud, physical, and/or mental incapacity.
Divorce is the legal termination of a marriage. When a child is involved, courts will always put the child’s best interest before anything else. It is important to note that a divorce may not be necessary when people are in a domestic partnership, as this is not considered to be a legal marriage. Matters addressed by a divorce when a child is involved include:
What Is Child Custody?
Child custody laws vary from state to state, and may also vary by jurisdiction. Determining custody rights over a child or children must be done carefully, as such decisions have a profound and lasting consequence.
When determining child custody rights, child custody law places the child’s interests and background above any of the parent’s personal preferences. This is known as the child’s best interest standard, which is the main standard used to determine child custody cases.
What this means is that courts will only make child custody decisions if they benefit the child; if a parent is considering how to get custody of a child, or how to become a custodial parent, they must prioritize the child’s best interests as this is what the courts will do during the custody hearings.
When determining child custody, courts will consider a wide range of factors that might affect the child’s well being. These factors of course will be balanced against the child’s best interest standard, in order to ensure that the custody decisions do not harm or negatively affect the child or children in any way.
- Each parent’s relationship and history of interactions with the child;
- Whether one parent has been the primary caretaker of the child;
- The child’s background and adjustment to their home, school, and neighborhood;
- The mental and physical health of the child, as well as the parents;
- Whether the child has any health, medical, or psychological and emotional needs;
- The wishes of the parents, meaning that if both parents agree to a particular custody arrangement, the court will generally choose that arrangement;
- The child’s wishes; and
- The overall preferences of the child, especially if they are above a certain age, which may vary by state.
An example of this would be how if the child has special medical needs, the court will factor this into their determination when assigning custody rights. One parent might be more familiar with the child’s special needs than the other, especially if they were the child’s primary caretaker, and as such may be granted more custody rights than the other parent.
What Is The Full Faith And Credit Clause?
Article IV, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution is known as the “Full Faith and Credit Clause.” In short, it requires that states honor the court judgements of other states. An example of this would be if a defendant runs a red light and hits your car as you are crossing an intersection in New Jersey, and a New Jersey judge awards you $50,000 in damages. However, the defendant lives in Texas, and refuses to pay you what you are owed. Pursuant to the Full Faith and Credit clause, the state of Texas will help enforce the judgment and collect your awarded damages.
Generally speaking, the legal concept of Full Faith and Credit is used to enforce the following matters:
- Marriage and divorce certificates, which are the legal documentation proving the validity of a marriage or divorce;
- Child custody rulings;
- Restraining orders;
- Money judgments; and
- Criminal convictions.
The purpose of the Full Faith and Credit Clause is to apply a consistent standard equally among all fifty states. However, if the Full Faith and Credit Clause opposes the public policy of the state, it may not be enforced. An example of this would be how California permits transgender people to change the gender on their birth certificate and state ID cards in order to reflect their current gender. This is because California recognizes this right for the transgender community to be good for the public as a whole.
Conversely, New Mexico does not allow this same change, and does not recognize the benefit to the public. As such, the full faith and credit clause would not apply in terms of requiring New Mexico to allow transgender people to change their gender identifier on birth certificates and state identification cards.
What Is The Full Faith And Credit Clause For Child Custody?
During child custody proceedings, the court will arrive at a formal child custody agreement which outlines various guidelines for the custody arrangement, including:
- Which parent has primary custody;
- Whether any visitation is involved; and
- Other matters, such as custody arrangements during school holidays.
As was previously mentioned, if the parents can create an agreement on their own, the courts will generally honor this arrangement as long as it is in the child’s best interests. If they cannot create one on their own, the court may need to intervene to help the parties arrive at a suitable arrangement.
Custody agreements are imperative to the safety and well-being of the child. An example of this would be how if there is no custody agreement in place yet, and one parent took the child without the other parent’s knowing or without their permission, it can be difficult to determine whether any violations have actually occurred.
The Full Faith and Credit law requires every state to enforce child custody or visitation determinations that are made by the court of another state. An example of this would be how the authorities in Maine are required to enforce and abide by custody orders which are made in Oregon. This applies to both permanent and temporary orders, as well as modifications that are made on court orders in the home state; or, the state where the judgment is originally made.
Full Faith and Credit affects child custody in that it allows child custody orders to be carried out equally among all fifty states, as well as the District of Columbia. Pursuant to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”), states are required to enforce child custody judgments from other states.
Do I Need A Child Custody Lawyer?
If you are trying to enforce or modify custody of your child made by the home state, you should consult with a child custody lawyer. Your attorney can help you understand your legal rights and options according to your state’s specific laws, as well as the laws of any other state involved in the matter. Additionally, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.