Written by Avvo Staff

Do I need a family law attorney?

Find out what a lawyer can do for your case.

If you're going through a divorce, dealing with child custody issues or considering a prenuptial agreement, you may need a lawyer experienced in family law. But what does a family lawyer do? In this guide, learn more about attorney responsibilities and find out when you may need an attorney.

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 finalizea 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 astate 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 contributea 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 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. Theseinclude 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.

When do you need a family law attorney?

Domestic issues can quickly become tricky situations, so seekinglegal advice is understandable. When you're working through the following issues, you should understand what a family lawyer does and consult with that attorney right away:

  • Divorce. Many couples considering divorce temporarily separate before pursuing a divorce. If the couple wants to get a divorce once the separation period has ended, each person should contact a family law attorney. The rules and regulations related to filing for divorce change often, and a knowledgeable family law attorney can help both parties work through the divorce process, including any issues related to child custody and support.

  • Domestic violence. Whether spousal abuse or child abuse has occurred in the family, both issues can quickly lead to separations and divorce. Since abuse includes a host of safety-related issues on top of standard divorce issues, it's important to consult with a family law attorney as soon as possible in the middle of a domestic abuse situation.

If you're dealing with any of the above situations, seek the help of a family law attorney to ensure a quick and fair resolution.

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