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Family Law

Family law is a branch of the legal field that deals with issues relating to familial relationships. Divorce, child custody, and child support are the most well-known subjects of family law, though several other issues fall under the umbrella of family law. Paternity, adoption, emancipation, and other matters are also heard in family court.

Family law encompasses the rules, regulations, and court procedures that involve the family unit. As such, it is not uncommon for cases that are heard in family court to be very personal and emotional. Family law attorneys help their clients file for divorce or separation, child custody and visitation, child support, and alimony. Professional lawyers also assist their clients in establishing paternity, obtaining domestic violence restraining orders, property division, debt allocation, and parenting plans.

Some attorneys who practice family law also specialize in a particular issue or subcategory of family law. For instance, one attorney may focus on marriage law cases, while another may have a practice that leans toward child support issues. However, most family law attorneys practice the spectrum of legal matters associated with family relationships.

Common Legal Issues Surrounding Marriage: Prenuptial Agreements, Divorce, Alimony, and Domestic Violence

Marriage can develop into a complicated situation for many individuals, even before it begins. A prenuptial agreement is a contract that is created before a couple is married, that typically lists each person's assets and the rights of each person in the event that the marriage fails. Often controversial, prenuptial agreements have pros and cons, and a family law attorney can provide guidance for a particular situation.

Following marriage, some couples seek a legal separation. Legal separation does not terminate the marriage like divorce, but it does define the legal rights and obligations of each person. An annulment is a legal decree that treats the marriage as though it never occurred, by declaring the marriage null and void. The grounds for receiving an annulment are limited, and include bigamy, incest, intoxication during the onset of marriage, legal age issues, and issues relating to force, fraud, physical and/or mental incapacity.

Divorce is the termination of a marriage, which includes gay marriage. With some couples, divorce can be relatively friendly. In other situations, it can be contentious. Regardless of the situation, 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 individuals are in a domestic partnership, which is not considered a legal marriage. Matters which may cause disagreements amongst divorcing couples include:

  • Child custody
  • Child support
  • Child visitation
  • Alimony matters

Domestic violence and spousal abuse are other serious issues that are frequently associated with family law cases. Though many marriages that end in divorce involve domestic violence, other relationships also experience acts of violence. Dating relationships, parent and child relationships, and elder abuse are among several types of relationships that can involve domestic violence.

Elder law addresses issues which are specific to individuals who are, in general, over the age of 65. These include issues such as:

  • Social security benefits
  • Retirement plans
  • Drafting wills and trusts
  • Age discrimination

Elder abuse laws are laws which are intended to prevent the abuse of elderly individuals, whether by professional caregivers or by private citizens. These laws also provide penalties for individuals who engage in elder abuse. In addition to federal laws, each state has laws regarding elder abuse.

Common Legal Issues Surrounding Children: Child Custody, Adoption, Child Abuse, and Guardianships

When children are involved in the legal system, it can take a serious toll on all parties involved. Child custody and child support arrangements work best in situations where the adults are willing to cooperate and communicate, but these arrangements don't always go according to plan. Skilled family law attorneys often have the ability to assist in negotiations between parents, and help bring a reasonable solution to the court.

In situations of adoption, and those that involve stepparents or individuals with no biological relation to a child, such as surrogates, the legal process can be more complicated. The termination of a biological parent's rights and adoption usually require an investigation, interviews with the child and family members, and several court hearings. Attempting to go through the legal process without an attorney is not advised.

Another legal issue involving children, is that of child abuse. Unfortunately, the occurrence of child abuse and neglect are far too common, and these crimes have widespread consequences. Not only does the abuse of children have implications in family law, but also in criminal law. The mistreatment or neglect of a child is serious, and all states have child protection laws and agencies that seek to protect the welfare of children. Child protective services (CPS) agencies investigate cases of abuse and neglect, and they also place children in adoption or foster care programs.

Note that state laws may vary when it comes to family law terms and definitions. For instance, Montana family laws use the term “parenting” instead of “custody” or “visitation,” in order to highlight the idea that both parents should be involved in the child's life.

In certain cases involving children, the court may order a guardianship, which is an important legal role. An individual may be appointed a legal guardian by a probate court, which allows them to make financial decisions on behalf of another individual, called a ward, who is usually a child or individual with severe mental or physical disabilities.

A court may assign a guardian for minor children in a number of situations, including:

  • When the parents have abandoned a minor,
  • When a minor's parents have died; or
  • When a minor's parents are incapable of providing proper care for the minor.

Other Common Family Law Issues: Power of Attorney, Inheritance, and Changing Your Name

Beyond the termination of marriage and child legal issues, other matters such as power of attorney and estate matters apply to family law, among other legal specialties. After seeking the advice of a lawyer, an individual may choose to assign a power of attorney directive to someone she trusts to make decisions on her behalf when she is unable to speak for herself. In fact, it is possible to assign one person to make medical decisions, and another to make financial decisions.

Inheritance laws regulate who is entitled to receive assets and property from a deceased relative. States vary greatly on how they treat inheritance, and in cases of divorce, it can become complicated. Prenuptial agreements, commingling inheritance, divorce, and contesting the presumption of shared funds are situations where an experienced family law attorney can prove to be invaluable.

Another common family law issue is that of changing a person's name. A name change is usually a simple process that you can do on your own, and according to the laws in your state. A simple name change following marriage may not need a court order, but creating a new name or taking a less traditional approach may require that the individual petition the court.

Changing government-issued identification documents, such as a passport or social security card will generally require a court order in cases not related to traditional marriage, including changing a minor's name. In these instances, consulting an attorney is advised.

In some cases, alternative dispute resolution methods may be ordered, such as mediation to assist the parties in reaching a resolution.

How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Family Lawyer?

Several factors determine the total cost of a divorce in the United States.

The essence of your relationship may specify the type of divorce and the cost of divorce.

In the U.S., divorce could either be contested or uncontested. In a contested divorce, both partners are in conflict about the divorce or the terms. In a contested divorce, you may be required to hire an attorney. In uncontested divorces, both spouses sign a separation agreement to resolve matters related to their divorce. In most cases, contested divorces are more expensive than uncontested divorces.

The average family lawyer cost is between $100 and $400 per hour. It is important to note, however, that some attorneys charge more per hour depending on region and other factors. Because of the variations in fees, it is imperative to discuss the hourly rate your attorney will charge before beginning the case.

What Makes a Good Family Lawyer?

Choosing a family law attorney can be a tough decision. The right lawyer can make a difference in the outcome of your divorce. Look for a lawyer who is serious about your case and listens to your needs. The right attorney will be able to move your case forward to a conclusion. Make sure you find a lawyer with expertise and experience in family law. 

Why Should I Hire a Family Lawyer?

Every individual dealing with family law problems without the help of an attorney is at a severe disadvantage. It is hard to see things objectively, make sound plans, and navigate the complexities of family law without an attorney. Hiring a family lawyer is an investment, but it could save you money. Hire a family lawyer to negotiate for you or represent you in court. Use a family lawyer to develop the best resolution for your case.

If you have encountered any issue related to family law, then you should contact a family lawyer today. An experienced family lawyer can answer your questions, provide guidance on your case, and represent your best interests in court.

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