Family courts address disputes and issues arising within families, such as divorce and child custody. The primary aim of the courts is to resolve legal issues that impact families.
What Is Family Court?
What Types of Claims are Processed in Family Court?
Family courts handle a variety of claims, including:
Marriages and Civil Unions
Couples must complete an application for a marriage license and participate in a civil or religious ceremony to obtain a legally valid marriage.
In recent years, same-sex marriage has become recognized across the United States. The federal legalization of same-sex marriage came in 2015, following the landmark Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.
Legalizing same-sex marriage on a federal level means all states must recognize and perform marriages between same-sex couples. This federal recognition ensures that same-sex couples enjoy the same legal rights and benefits as heterosexual couples. These rights include but are not limited to tax benefits, inheritance rights, access to healthcare, and parental rights.
As a result of this federal recognition, the process of getting married is now identical for both same-sex and heterosexual couples. Couples must first apply for a marriage license from their local county clerk or registrar’s office, regardless of their sexual orientation. The application process typically requires the couple to present identification, pay a fee, and sometimes attend a short waiting period before the license is issued.
Once the marriage license has been obtained, couples can choose to have their marriage ceremony performed by a religious or civil officiant. Religious officiants, such as ministers, priests, or rabbis, may perform marriages in accordance with their faith’s teachings and guidelines. Civil officiants, including judges, justices of the peace, or court clerks, can also perform marriage ceremonies.
After the ceremony, the officiant is responsible for signing and returning the marriage license to the county clerk or registrar’s office, where the marriage will be recorded and become part of the public record. The couple will then receive a marriage certificate, serving as legal proof of their union.
Divorce/Dissolution of Marriage
When couples cannot agree on the terms to end their marriage, a court may intervene to resolve the matter. Issues such as custody, property division, and finances are often addressed during these proceedings, which can take months or even years to resolve.
Alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation or arbitration, can often provide a more efficient and less adversarial way to resolve these issues.
In mediation, a neutral third party helps the parties to negotiate a settlement that works for both sides.
In arbitration, the parties present their case to a neutral third party, who then makes a binding decision.
Legal and physical custody are two aspects of child custody. Legal custody grants a parent the authority to make crucial decisions for the child, such as choices regarding healthcare, education, and religious upbringing. Physical custody determines the amount of time each parent spends with the child.
Judges base their custody decisions on the child’s best interests. Some common considerations include:
- The child’s age, gender, and overall health and well-being
- Each parent’s physical and mental health and stability
- Each parent’s ability to provide a stable and nurturing home environment
- The child’s relationship with each parent and other significant family members
- The child’s preferences (depending on their age and maturity)
- Each parent’s ability to provide for the child’s needs, including their education, healthcare, and emotional well-being
- The child’s educational and social needs
- Each parent’s history of domestic violence, substance abuse, or criminal behavior
- Each parent’s willingness to support and encourage the child’s relationship with the other parent
- Any other relevant factors that may impact the child’s best interests.
Child support is determined by two main factors: physical custody and the parent’s income. Child support is generally calculated as a percentage of the noncustodial parent’s income if one parent has sole physical custody. Both parents must disclose their financial information, allowing the judge to calculate appropriate monthly child support payments. Most states require child support until the child reaches 18 years of age. Calculation methods for child support vary among states.
Alimony is a financial obligation that one spouse owes to the other after the end of their marriage. Alimony only applies to legally married couples and can be paid as a lump sum or on a temporary or permanent basis. Alimony is not automatically granted, and several factors are considered when awarding it, such as the length of the marriage, the ability to pay, and the parties’ conduct.
There are three primary types of adoption: Public Agency Adoption, Private Agency Adoption, and Independent Adoption. In each case, natural parents can object to the adoption, and courts conduct investigations to determine the child’s best interests.
Name change petitions typically require a notice of publication, and if the petitioner is a minor, additional requirements for consent apply. The court schedules a hearing to ask questions and confirm the name change process.
What Types of Services are Available at Family Court?
Family courts offer these services to help people navigate family law issues during emotional and stressful times:
- Court Clerks: Court clerks can provide information about court records and daily court calendars and schedules.
- Self-Help Centers: These centers offer resources for people representing themselves in court, providing educational materials, training on court procedures, and assistance with legal forms. However, they do not provide legal advice.
- Mediation Services: Mediation can help parents and children resolve custody and visitation disputes by meeting with a neutral mediator to create a private and confidential agreement.
- Domestic Violence Protection Orders: Offices across the nation assist with filing applications for protection orders to ensure the safety of those affected by domestic violence promptly.
- Court Interpreters: Family courts can arrange interpreters for non-English speakers to address language barriers in family law matters.
While most family courts have court clerks, self-help centers, and court interpreters, they may not directly provide assistance with domestic violence protection orders or mediation services. These services might be located in a different area or department.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Family Law Court?
Family law matters can be complicated and challenging. To get the best guidance and support, talk with a family lawyer who can clarify any questions or concerns you may have. A family lawyer can help guide you through the legal process.
How Can LegalMatch Help?
LegalMatch is a service that connects people with experienced and qualified family law attorneys in their area. If you are facing divorce, child custody, or adoption, LegalMatch can help you find a lawyer who can provide the support you need.
By using LegalMatch, you can quickly and easily submit your case details and receive responses from multiple attorneys who are interested in representing you. You can compare attorney profiles, fees, and services to find the best match for your needs.
LegalMatch also offers a satisfaction guarantee, so you can feel confident that you will be satisfied with your chosen attorney. Additionally, LegalMatch provides resources and information on family law topics to help you better understand the legal process and make informed decisions.
Use LegalMatch to find the right legal representation and improve your chances of a positive outcome.
Need a Family Law Lawyer in your Area?
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia