What is family law?
Family law primarily focuses on representing clients in issues relating to the family. From the creation of the family in the union such as prenuptial and postnuptial agreements for marriages, to paternity and adoption issues relating to children to the dissolution of marriages in divorce. Examples of extentions of these events also lead to the division of marital property, child custody and support, and alimony.
What does a family lawyer do?
Family law is a practice area that spans the legal issues that face families. Examples include:
- spousal support
- child support
- division of assets and liabilities due to divorce
- termination of parental rights
- dependency and child neglect
- protection from abuse
Divorce / Dissolution of Marriage & Property Division
Divorce is a major and sometimes quite a traumatic decision, especially when there are minor children involved. This can be minimized, through sensitivity and insightful legal guidance in the areas of time sharing with the children, alimony, child support and the division of property and debts. Clients facing divorce require experienced legal representation if they are to emerge from the process with the foundation to start a new and better life.
Child Custody / Time Sharing
The best interest of the child is always the primary consideration in determining the time sharing to be exercised by each parent. This is done without regard to the sex of the parent or child.
The law favors shared parental responsibility. Occasionally it is in the best interest of minor children that one parent make major decisions regarding the child. This involves the responsibility of each parent to make major decisions regarding their minor children.
Child Visitation / Time Sharing
The law favors meaningful time sharing with each parent. All children should want and deserve to have a meaningful and close relationship with each parent. Child Visitation, now called time sharing, is the most important way parents can have a quality relationship with their child. The children are not divorcing their parents. There are some instances when one parent's visitation or time sharing should be supervised, limited, or even temporarily suspended.
Setting the proper amount of child support, collecting child support, enforcing child support, and when necessary modifiying child support (either upwards or downwards) is of high priority. There are many factors that determine what the proper amount should be, including the income of each parent, the cost of health insurance, the cost of daycare to enable a parent to work while the child is being cared for, and the number of nights (overnights) that the child spends with each parent. Many times people can save themselves a lot of grief by having an attorney review the facts of their case, as each case is unique.
Alimony / Spousal Support
Alimony may be awarded to either spouse. It is also known as spousal support or spousal maintenance and may be awarded to provide for the needs of a spouse both while a divorce proceeding is pending (temporary) and after the dissolution of marriage. There are many factors which are considered by the court in determining the nature and amount of alimony, including the physical and emotional condition of each spouse, the income and the earning capacity of each spouse, the age of each spouse, the financial resources held by each spouse, the length of the marriage, liabilities or financial obligations of each spouse, the standard of living established during the marriage, and the time necessary for a spouse to receive education in order to find employment. There are certain actions such as marital misconduct which may prevent a party from receiving alimony or limit the amount of alimony.
In cases where the parents are not married and there is a controversy as to the nature of time sharing that each parent should have with the children and/or there is a controversy over the amount of child support or the securing of health insurance for the children, either party may file a petition for paternity with the court. If the father does not acknowledge that he is the father, a paternity test (DNA) may be ordered in order to establish whether the one claiming to be the father is in fact the biological father of a child. A paternity lawsuit is usually filed because the father (or the mother) is not being financially responsible (paying child support) or a parent is not being permitted to have reasonable time sharing with the children.
Domestic Violence - Injunctions
Occasionally a person is being threatened with bodily harm, has been struck or injured by the another person, or is being stalked or harrassed by another person and needs the protection of the courts. Such a person may file a petition for an injunction for protection against domestic violence with the court. If the court determines that the sworn petition for injunction satisfies the law, the court can enter an injunction for 15 days just on the strength of the sworn petition without any testimony. The injunction will order the offending person, on the penalty of arrest, to refrain from having any contact with the complaining person.
Sometimes called a "restraining order," an injunction prohibits the person to whom it is directed from continuing with any acts or threats of violence. The temporary injunction may also give the complaining person exclusive possession of the marital home and temporary custody of minor children until the first hearing, when each party can bring testimony before the court. At that hearing, the court will determine whether the restraining order or temporary injunction should be extended or even be made permanent. At this hearing, among other relief, the court may award child support, alimony or spousal support, and determine the nature of time sharing each parent should have with the children. The purpose of the injunction is to protect. Occasionally a person wrongfully files a petition for an injunction for ulterior motives. The person who is forced to defend himself or herself from such petition needs an attorney to protect his or her rights.