Whether you are wanting a divorce, dissolving a civil union, or seeking benefits in a domestic partnership, choose a lawyer who is an expert in family law.
A family law attorney can act as a mediator, fighting for custody of your children, getting you back-owed child support, and negotiating for you on cases of alimony. Select your state or city to find an attorney near you.
What does a family law attorney do?
Family law attorneys deal with issues related to family life and domestic relationships, including spousal relationships and parent-child relationships.
Marriage and divorce
Marriage and divorce come with a host of potential issues. The following are some of the most common issues to arise between spouses:
Prenuptial agreements: If you or your future spouse owns real estate, has significant income, or owns a business, drafting a prenuptial agreement can be beneficial. Although couples can put together the framework of an agreement on their own, they typically need separate lawyers to finalize a prenuptial agreement in court.
Annulment: An annulment legally dissolves a marriage by treating the arrangement as though it never existed. Annulment isn't possible in all cases, but a couple can pursue one in the case of misrepresentation, incest, bigamy, underage, or force. Annulments typically take place a short time into the marriage, and a state government or a church can grant an annulment.
Divorce: A divorce dissolves a marriage in one of 2 ways. All states allow for no-fault divorces, in which one spouse files for divorce by stating a general reason, such as the inability to get along in the relationship. Most states also allow for fault divorces, in which one spouse faults the other for desertion, adultery, cruelty, or another established reason.
Alimony: Also known as spousal support, alimony refers to the payments that one spouse provides for another after a divorce is finalized. Not all divorces include alimony, but this situation is common when one spouse earns a higher salary than the other.
Child support and child custody
When spouses divorce, questions of child custody and child support arise. Common family law issues include:
Child custody: One or both parents may be granted physical custody to determine whether the children will live with one or both parents and whether one parent will have visitation rights. One or both parents will also have legal custody, or the ability to make major decisions about the children's health care, education, and religion.
Child support: By law, noncustodial parents must contribute a monthly amount to help provide for the children's expenses. A family court will determine the payment amount.
Paternity: A paternity test determines the identity of a child's father and can factor into child custody and child support cases.
Depending on the type of adoption you choose, you may need to contact extensive legal help. The following are the most common types of adoption:
Agency adoptions. These include arrangements between the adoptive parents and an agency, which can be either public or private.
Private adoptions. These include straightforward arrangements between the birth mother and the adoptive parents.
Identified adoptions. These include adoptions in which the birth mother and the adoptive parents become acquainted independently and seek the help of an adoption agency to finalize the process.
International adoptions. These include adoptions in which the parents bring a child from another country into the family. This process includes securing an immigrant visa.
It's important to consult with a family law attorney as soon as possible in the middle of a domestic abuse situation. In addition to the police, an attorney can help you get full custody or file an order of protection to keep your family safe.
How are family law attorneys paid?
Family law professionals offer a number of payment arrangements to suit the financial needs of their clients. Common fee structures include:
An hourly rate. You pay for every hour your lawyer works on your case. This is the most common arrangement but it can vary by practice area.
A flat fee. You pay a fixed payment amount. This is usually only offered if a case is very simple, such as an uncontested divorce.
In addition, you may need to pay the following fees:
Retainer fees. This is an upfront cost to secure the lawyer's services. The cost of services is usually deducted from the retainer.
Consultation fees. Payable for the first meeting, whether you hire the lawyer or not. Many lawyers offer free consultations, so check this prior to booking an appointment.
Contingency fees. Payable if your case is won. These are not typically applied to family law cases, but they may be in rare circumstances.
Your legal fees will depend on the following:
Your lawyer's reputation, experience, and abilities.
The amount of time your lawyer spends on your case.
Your case's complexity.
The costs involved in your case, including your lawyer's overheads.
The results of your case.
Top 5 questions to ask a family law attorney
You should always have an initial consultation before hiring a family lawyer. Prepare a list of questions to ask your potential family law attorney when you meet them for the first time. Their answers can help you decide if you would like to continue working with them.
How long have you practiced family law?
How regularly do you deal with many cases like mine?
Will you be handling my case, or will I be dealing with someone else in your office?
What are your payment options?
What special expertise can you bring to my case?
Qualities to look for in a family law attorney
As your potential family law attorney is answering your questions, you should assess their answers and behavior to decide whether they are the best lawyer for you. The following qualities may indicate that this attorney is a good match:
Has experience dealing with cases similar to yours.
Listens to the answers to your questions and attends to your needs.
Puts you at ease and makes you feel comfortable expressing yourself.
Has a practical and logical plan for your case.
Interviewing multiple lawyers will help you find the best match for your unique case. To get started, search for experienced family lawyers near your city in our lawyer directory.