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What Is Family Law?

Family law has grown far beyond the divorce lawyer of old. Today, family law cases cover everything from child custody cases to prenuptial agreements to domestic violence restraining orders. If your issue involves family relationships, you need a family attorney.

The practice of family law covers many subspecialties. Some family law attorneys focus exclusively on divorce and related issues. Adoption attorneys may work with government or private agencies during adoptions. This article reviews the areas of law within the family law umbrella and which is best for your legal issues.

Family Law Basics

If you have a family law issue, you need legal advice. Family law has two categories: before and during the marriage and law after the marriage. Whatever your problem is will determine the type of attorney you need.

Divorce and Separation

Divorce is the most common reason people consult a family law attorney. Unfortunately, statistics show that 40-50% of all marriages end in divorce. You will need an attorney for matters related to marital property division, alimony or spousal support, and other issues.

Each state has laws for divorce. Some states, such as California, have waiting periods for couples after filing a divorce. Others grant the divorce immediately. Your attorney can provide legal assistance for filing and completing documents.

Child Support, Custody, and Visitation

Child custody and child support may be part of the divorce process or separate legal proceedings. Often parents can agree on everything else but argue over child custody and visitation rights. Having an attorney you are comfortable talking to about parenting and custody arrangements makes the process much easier.

Paternity are often part of a child support case. A single mother can petition the court to order the father of her child to provide child support, but she must prove the alleged father's paternity. She would need an attorney or other legal services to help bring this case to court.

Adoption, Guardianship, and Foster Care

The adoption process is long and difficult. Many private adoption agencies have their own attorneys on retainer to ensure they have legal advice on standby. Adoptive parents should always consult an attorney before and during an adoption. Some adoptions, such as international adoptions, will require the services of specialized lawyers who know international law.

Guardianship, the legal process of caring for a child without adopting, is sometimes done by family members when the parents of a minor child are unavailable or unfit to care for the child. Guardianship is a complex legal matter that requires legal advice before the family member can proceed.

During foster placement, a minor child becomes a ward of the state because the child's environment is hazardous to the child's well-being. The parents may have an attorney appointed if there are criminal charges.

Other Family Law Areas

There are many other reasons to hire a family lawyer. Some topics may come up during your initial consultation. You should discuss all concerns with your attorney so they can give you referrals if necessary.

  • Prenuptial agreements define spouses' rights to marital property before marriage. Couples with existing businesses or real estate often want to protect their rights in the event of a divorce. State laws require both parties to have the agreements reviewed by their own attorneys. A postnuptial agreement gives the same protection after the wedding.
  • Restraining and protective orders may be part of divorce proceedings. If there are allegations of domestic violence, an attorney may include a request for a restraining order with the petition. Some people who don't want to involve the police may come to a family law office for help in getting a protective order from the court.
  • Estate planning may be part of family law for forward-thinking couples. Most couples don't think of wills and trusts because they're not old yet. Planning the disposition of property and guardianship of children in an emergency is essential.

Finding a Family Law Attorney

Unfortunately, a good family law attorney isn't one of your constitutional rights. Lawyers cannot take divorce cases on a contingency fee basis; the lawyer cannot handle the case for a portion of the award. Legal fees can be expensive in a long divorce case.

If you need help, nonprofit legal aid services or self-help clinics at courthouses can help fill out and file the paperwork, although most cannot give legal advice. Your state bar association can also give you referrals to low-cost legal aid.

If you need a divorce attorney, are starting an adoption, or want to modify a child support order, you need a family law attorney. There's one near you who can help with your legal needs.

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