When most people hear the term “family law,” they immediately think of divorce. However, family law involves all matters pertaining to the family and encompasses a wide range of matters including, but not limited to, adoption, paternity and legitimation, gestational surrogacy agreements, domestic partnerships, and pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements. The most common areas of family law are divorce, child custody and visitation, child support, and alimony.
Divorce is a legal proceeding that allows a married couple to dissolve their marriage and move forward with their lives as though they had never been married. There are two types of divorce: 1) contested and 2) uncontested.
A contested divorce is a one in which the parties have not resolved all of their issues. In a contested divorce, the couple may be required to attend mediation in an effort to resolve their issues with the assistance of a trained mediator. If the mediation is unsuccessful, ultimately, a judge or jury will decide the final outcome of the divorce.
An uncontested divorce is one in which the parties have resolved all of their issues. At the time they file the complaint for divorce, they must also file a settlement agreement which sets forth their resolution of the issues including child custody, child support, and visitation.
Although timelines vary from state to state, uncontested divorces generally take significantly less time than contested divorces. Uncontested divorces are also much less expensive.
Child Custody and Visitation
Issues of child custody and visitation are frequently a part of divorce proceedings. However, these issues may also arise in connection with paternity and legitimation cases.
In most jurisdictions, courts apply the “best interests of the child” standard in resolving child custody and visitation issues. The best interests of the child standard requires judges to consider all the circumstances of the parties including, but not limited to, living conditions, employment and income, physical and mental health, and their respective relationship with the child to determine what is in the child’s best interest. The court may also consider the age of the child, the child’s health, and any special needs that the child may have, as well as each parent’s ability to meet those needs in deciding what is in the child’s best interests.
Child support issues most often arise in connection with actions for divorce, paternity, and legitimation. Every state has laws mandating the payment of child support by the non-custodial parent (the parent who does not have physical custody of the child). Each state has guidelines governing how much child support must be paid.
In some cases of divorce, one spouse may seek alimony, also known as spousal support, from the other spouse. Although the laws governing the award of alimony vary from state to state, generally courts will consider the length of the marriage, the education and earning power of each spouse, each spouse’s financial and non-financial contribution to the marriage, and the health of each spouse.
In some cases, a court may order a spouse to pay alimony for a limited amount of time. This is known as temporary alimony. In other instances, a party may be ordered to pay permanent alimony. Permanent alimony is typically awarded in cases where the parties have been married for many years and the parties have substantially unequal income and earning capacity. The payment of alimony usually ends upon remarriage of the recipient spouse or the death of the spouse ordered to pay alimony.
Why Hire a Family Law Attorney
Family law attorneys may handle a wide variety of family law matters or may specialize in certain niche areas of family law, such as adoption, gestational surrogacy, domestic partnerships, or parental kidnapping. Family law matters can be very complex. For this reason, it is important to hire a qualified family law attorney.