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Family Law – Understanding Your Legal Rights and Options
If you are looking for answers to legal questions related to divorce, child custody, paternity, spousal support, etc. this page is for you. It is intended to be a resource and provide answers to common questions associated with the broad field of family law.
What Exactly is Family Law?
The term “family law” covers a significant range of legal issues. For example, here is a just a sampling of some of the practices areas that would fall under the category of family law:
- Marriage (e.g., prenuptial agreements, postnuptial agreements)
- Divorce (e.g., division of property, spousal support)
- Child custody (e.g., full custody, partial custody, parenting arrangements)
Family Law Not Uniform
There is no uniform federal code that encompasses family law. Instead, family law varies from state to state. Nevertheless, there are certain bedrock principles that many states adhere to when it comes to family law issues.
Issues Typically Decided When a Couple Files for Divorce
Divorce, as a legal concept, is the formal dissolution of a marriage. As with other areas of family law, each state has a unique set of statutes and regulations governing the divorce process. Despite each state having its own divorce laws, there are certain concepts that have been embraced by a majority of states. For example, many states offer couples the option of filing for a “no-fault” divorce. This means that neither spouse needs to assert that the other caused or was “at fault” for the divorce through infidelity, abuse, desertion, etc. In contrast, if you file for a fault-based divorce, you are asserting that your spouse did something that triggered the decision to end the marriage.
When a couple files for divorce, the issues typically decided during the proceedings include the division of property, how custody of any children will be managed, whether you or your spouse is entitled to financial support, etc.
Division of Property in a Divorce
How property is divided when a couple files for divorce will depend primarily on whether they reside in a community property state or equitable division state.
If you reside in a community property state, then all property acquired during the course of your marriage will be divided evenly between you and your soon-to-be-ex-spouse.
If you reside in an equitable division state, then a judge will assess multiple factors to reach an equitable division of the property between the two of you. The key difference is that property is not always divided on a 50-50 basis when you reside in an equitable division state.
Filing for Divorce and Children
If you have children, then the divorce proceedings will need to address the following issues:
- Where the children are going reside;
- Visitation rights;
- Which parent will be empowered to make decisions about the children and their well-being;
- Which parent will provide healthcare coverage; and/or
- Educational decisions, including how any post-secondary schooling will be paid for
Issues Associated with Spousal Support
Spousal support (also known as “alimony”) is intended to help remediate the economic harm that could accompany a divorce by ordering one spouse to provide income to the other spouse when they do not have their own source of income.
The judge overseeing your divorce will have the discretionary authority over how much alimony, if any, will be awarded. However, there are certain guidelines that most judges will typically consider when deciding alimony:
- Standard of living while you were married
- How long you were married
- Relative health of you
- Relative health of your spouse
- The ability of the paying spouse to support both of you.
It is important to note that alimony is generally ordered just long enough for the receiving spouse to become self-supporting, and it usually ends when the receiving spouse remarries.
Issues Associated with Child Custody
Child custody addresses the legal rights and obligations that parents have regarding their children. Child custody questions and issues routinely arise during divorce proceedings. The types of custody include sole custody or joint custody. Let’s take a look at each:
- Sole custody – Sole custody is often referred to as “full custody” which is where only one parent is awarded both physical and legal custody of the children by a court. The other parent may still retain visitation rights, but they will not have the right to make decisions that will affect the child.
- Joint custody – When it comes to joint custody, there is joint legal custody and joint physical custody. Legal custody allows both parents to make decisions that will affect the children. Joint physical custody is when parents share physical custody of their children and the children will need to divide their time while living with both parents.
Issues Related to Adoption
Along with divorce, another area of family law includes adoption. If you are attempting to adopt a child, there is a legal process that must be followed in order to become the legal parent of a child.
Adoption can take many different forms. For example, it includes a stepparent adopting the biological child, or children, of their new spouse. It also includes new parents adopting a child from halfway across the world.
As with most areas of family law, the specific rules and regulations associated with adoption vary from state to state.
Issues Related to Paternity
Another area of family law includes challenges or assertions of paternity. It is important to note that a paternity case can be brought by either parent to formally establish the identity of a child’s father.
Paternity, generally, cannot be established through solely a DNA test or birth certificate. The law that governs paternity suits will vary from state to state. Nevertheless, most states adhere to the legal principle that paternity is assumed under the following circumstances:
- When the child is born to a married couple;
- When the parents marry and sign a legitimation form after the child is born; or
- The father holds the child out as his own.
Paternity determinations can have major legal consequences. For example, establishing paternity can provide a path for an unmarried father to file for custody and visitation with the child. On the flip side, it creates the obligation that the unmarried father pay for child support.
Do I Need a Lawyer for My Family Law Case?
The decision to retain an attorney can only be made by you. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that family law is quite complex and can be emotionally draining for the parties involved. The benefit of hiring an experienced family law attorney is that they can assist you in navigating the legal complexities inherent with most family law matters. In addition, an attorney will be able to anticipate potential problems with your case and advise you on how to approach them. They may even be able to help you avoid potential problems altogether. Your lawyer will also keep track of deadlines and file all the paperwork with the necessary courts and agencies, giving you one less thing to worry about.
Ready to Take Action?
If you or a loved one needs help with a legal issue related to divorce, child custody, spousal support, adoption, etc. then now is the time to take action by contacting NextLegal.com. We can assist you with your family law case by providing insight and advice on what steps need to be taken to address your family law issues. Complete the contact form to schedule a free, confidential consultation.