Family courts are designed to deal with disputes arising in family matters such as divorce or child custody. One of the main goals of family court is to settle legal problems that can occur in families. Each state varies in how the family court operates. Therefore, it is best to look up your local family court in the area to learn more about how it functions.
Each court will vary depending on the state it represents. Most family courts will handle these types of claims:
- Marriages and Civil Unions: eligibility to marry differs in each state. To be a legally valid marriage in the state an application for a marriage license must be completed and officiated through a civil or religious ceremony. Same-sex marriage is legalized through federal law, so the process for same-sex marriage is identical to heterosexual marriage.
- Divorce/ Dissolution of Marriage: involves the court ruling on the case for couples that cannot come to terms to end their marriage. This is different from dissolution of marriage because the couple can make a decision about their end of marriage without the court’s intervention.
- Issues regarding custody, division of property and financiances are often decided during these proceedings. Keep in mind this can be a long and lengthy process which could end in several months or even years.
- Child Custody/Visitation: handled in two ways one refers to “legal custody” and the other refers to “physical custody”. Legal custody is the power or authority to make important decisions affecting the child such as healthcare, schooling, or religious training.
- Physical custody is the amount of time spent with the child by each parent. Most judges rule on custody issues based on the “best interests of the child” including various other factors that differ by each state.
- Child Support: determined by two factors: physical custody and the parent’s income. If one parent has the sole physical custody, then child support is set as a percentage of a noncustodial parent’s income.
- Both parents are required to disclose financial statements in order for the judge to make appropriate calculations about the monthly child support. Typically, most states require child support till the child turns 18.
- There are several variations among states in calculating child support. Most states use the income shares model, which bases the calculation on the parent’s total income. For example, the custodial parent is about 44.4% and the noncustodial parent is 55.6%.
- Spousal Support/Alimony: is the financial obligation owed to one spouse owes to the other after marriage. Alimony is only a viable option for couples who are legally married in the state. Alimony can either be paid in one lump sum or on a temporary or permanent basis. However, alimony is not automatic and several factors are considered like the duration of marriage, ability to pay, and conduct of the parities. For example, the longer the marriage the more likely there will be some form of alimony.
- In awarding the financial assistance, courts tend to examine several factors that include the duration of the marriage, the spouse’s earning capacity, their contribution to the household or career, and the physical health of the spouse for receiving spousal support.
- For Putative spouses, a court may recognize property, maintenance and support rights to serve the interests of justice in those circumstances.
- Adoption: there are three types of adoptions to consider:
- Public Agency Adoption which is generally filed by the local department of social services in the state once the parental rights have been terminated.
- Private Agency Adoption which is organized by a private agency who determines the children that are available for adoption and seeks out families that are interested in adopting the child.
- Independent Adoption which is usually filed by a stepparent or a co-parents who want to adopt their partner’s child.
- Natural parents, if found, can object to the adoption and courts will perform investigations to determine the “best interests of the child” for the adoption.
- Name Changes: most petitions require a notice of publication and if the petitioner is a minor there are additional requirements for consent. Thereafter, the court will schedule a hearing for the name change and ask questions to confirm the process.
Each state family court has services available for individuals dealing with family law issues. It can be an emotional and stressful time for the families.
- Court Clerks: they can be useful resources to learn more about the court records and how they are maintained. They can further guide on the daily court calendars and schedules.
- Self-Help Centers: they provide resources for the self-representing individuals. They assist with education materials, training on court procedure and completing legal forms. However, they do not provide legal advice. Their purpose is to increase informed access to the family law legal system for the communities.
- Mediation Services: they can ease the process of parents and children in resolving custody and visitation issues. They are provided the option to meet with a non biased mediator to formulate an agreement which is both private and confidential.
- Domestic Violence Protection Orders: these offices can be found throughout the nation provide awareness for community safety regarding domestic violence issues. They can help with filing of the applications for protection orders to ensure the safety of the individuals in a timely manner.
- Court Interpreters: language barriers can be an issue when it comes to dealing with family law matters. Therefore, family courts want to ease the process and arrange an interpreter for the non-English speaker. Each state has guidelines on the timeline to apply and receive this assistance.
However, keep in mind that not every court will have all of the above. Many family courts will have court clerks, self-help centers, and court interpreters, but not all of them can offer direct help with domestic violence protection orders or mediation services. They may be located in a different area.
If you are dealing with family issues concerning divorce, child custody or spousal support family courts will be able to assist in those matters. Family law issues can be complex and difficult to navigate. Therefore, for further assistance with any claim, it is recommended to reach out to a family lawyer in the field to help clarify any questions or concerns.