What is Family Law?

What is Family Law?

The area of legal practice that deals with family issues is referred to as family law. Issues under this area includes marriage, adoption, divorce, child custody, and similar matters. An attorney that practices family law can represent clients in family court proceedings or in related negotiations. The attorney can also draft important legal documents such as court petitions or property agreements.

As the matter of family encompasses so many aspects of life, some attorneys have narrowed down their practice to adoption, paternity, emancipation, or other matters not usually related to divorce. Lawyers in the field, therefore, help all kinds of people facing all kinds of sensitive issues that many people wouldn’t immediately assume go under the family law umbrella.

Useful Terms

  • Emancipation: A court process through which a minor becomes self-supporting, assumes adult responsibility for their personal welfare, and is no longer under the care of their parents.
  • Marital Property: The legal term that refers to property acquired during the course of a marriage. This is subject to division during a divorce.
  • Alimony: The legal obligation on a person to provide financial support to their spouse before or after marital separation or divorce.
  • Paternity:  In the legal context, it is the state of being someone’s father (to establish paternity is to confirm the identity of a child’s biological father).
  • Prenuptial Agreement: Commonly referred to as a prenup, is a written contract entered into by a couple prior to marriage or a civil union that enables them to select and control many of the legal rights they acquire upon marrying, and what happens when their marriage eventually ends by death or divorce.

Why Hire a Family Law Attorney

Most family lawyers represent clients in divorce proceedings and other matters related to divorce. But family law is a relatively broad practice area, including such issues as foster care and reproductive rights. Since family law matters hit so close to home, having a trusted legal professional by your side can help you ensure your loved ones are properly represented and protected during any legal process.

The most common reasons to hire a family law attorney include:

  • Divorce: Each partner hires their own attorney, who will help devise a settlement plan in order to avoid a trial. Divorce attorneys typically are skilled at dividing marital property, calculating spousal support, and proposing a plan for child custody, visitation, and support (if applicable).
  • Child Custody / Child Support: Court orders and settlement agreements involving both custody and support usually are included in the larger divorce case, but may be revisited as conditions change. For instance, child support may be altered after the non-custodial parent’s financial situation changes.
  • Paternity: In most cases, paternity cases are filed by the mother in an effort to secure child support payments from an absent father. But sometimes biological fathers file for paternity in order to have a relationship with their child. Paternity typically is determined through DNA testing.
  • Adoption / Foster Care: Adoption is a complex process that differs according to the type of adoption, where the child is from, variances in state laws, and other factors. Therefore, it’s important to consult with a family law attorney. Foster parents sometimes adopt their foster children, but the foster process does not necessarily require legal representation.

Related Practice Areas

Other areas of law practice closely related to family law includes Estate Planning and Immigration and Naturalization Law.