What Is Family Law?
Posted in Family Law Attorney on November 17, 2015
A friend of a friend was recently served with divorce papers, and our mutual friend offered to put her in touch with “some great family lawyers” he knew.
Perplexed, the woman looked at him and retorted,
“But I don’t need a family lawyer — my family is falling apart! I need a DIVORCE lawyer.”
This woman’s mistake is more common than you might think. Many people think family lawyers only handle family business. Some people know that family lawyers are also divorce lawyers, but are hard pressed to identify what else they do. This article explains the many things family lawyers do for their clients — and why it makes sense to hire a family lawyer who concentrates her practice in family law, rather than having a general practice.
What Family Law Encompasses
Essentially, any legal matter that has to do with family relationships might be handled by a family law attorney. This includes divorce and related matters such as child custody, child support, spousal support (alimony), and property division. But family law isn’t just relevant at the end of a marriage; it can help a family before a marriage even begins, and long after a marriage ends.
Family law attorneys also prepare and review prenuptial agreements for their clients. Far from being just a “plan for divorce,” these documents can actually strengthen a marriage. When done properly, they require couples to discuss, negotiate, and get on the same page about important issues in their marriage, particularly (but not exclusively) financial issues. Knowing that you understand and share goals is a much firmer foundation for a marriage than just hoping you’ll agree if an issue ever emerges.
Family law attorneys also help families to grow. Adoption, like the creation or dissolution of any family relationship, has complex legal requirements. Family law attorneys handle both agency and private (independent) adoptions, including stepparent adoptions and adoptions of a family member. They make sure all the details are attended to so that families can come together as quickly and easily as possible. Family law attorneys also help with guardianships, which often come into play when a parent becomes temporarily or permanently unable to care for a child. A legal guardianship often formalizes an existing relationship between a child and a caretaker.
And, of course, if a couple is facing divorce, family law attorneys may be able to help them do so in a less stressful way, using alternative dispute resolutions processes such as collaborative law or mediation. Both processes can also help families resolve disputes within a marriage or after divorce, as well as disputes between siblings or other family members.
Why Choose a Family Law Attorney?
Many lawyers in general practice handle divorce and some other family law matters. Why should you choose someone who practices primarily family law? First of all, family law matters are fundamentally different than other legal matters. When there’s a dispute, it’s not simply a business matter. Even fighting over things, as in property division in a divorce, is about so much more than the things themselves. Family law attorneys are focused on more than the letter of the law; they’re tuned in to the larger picture, which is about how to help their clients through difficult legal and personal transitions.
That’s not to say that the law is unimportant, however, which is another reason to take your family law matter to a family law attorney. They tend to be on top of developments in family law that general practitioners may not be aware of, and they are better equipped to handle family law matters that are not routine. Unfortunately, even a family law case that looks ordinary at the outset can suddenly erupt into something much more complex.