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What is family law?

Learn what issues fall under family law and what a lawyer can do for you.
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Family law handles domestic matters involving partners, spouses, and children. Review the major legal issues related to family law, and learn how a family law attorney can help.

Marriage

Each state has different legal requirements that you'll need to fulfill before you can marry. In addition to helping you with those preliminaries, a family attorney can help you update your estate planning papers, such as your will, to include your spouse to be and any children.

An attorney can also prepare a prenuptial agreement, which will ensure that your assets are divided in the way you and your spouse want. Otherwise, state law controls the division of your assets. Having an attorney draft this agreement ahead of time can make the divorce process far less contentious.

Divorce

You'll need to resolve several issues before you finalize your divorce, separation, or annulment. A family lawyer can help you navigate those issues, advocating, negotiating, and mediating as needed. Most of the issues your attorney will address are financial, such as the division of assets and support payments.

However, your attorney will also deal with the non-financial questions, such as who will get custody of the children and where you will live. If you and your spouse can agree on a settlement, you won't need to go to court. If you can't agree, your attorney will represent you in the divorce trial.

Alimony

Family lawyers often negotiate alimony for the dependent spouse, or the spouse who makes less money. Alimony may come in the form of a single, lump sum or regular payments for a limited period of time. An attorney can make sure the alimony payments arranged are fair.

Child support

Family law attorneys can help the custodial parent obtain a court order compelling the other parent to pay child support. The attorney can also help find non-custodial parents and ensure that they are disclosing all income and assets. Family lawyers also defend against child support claims.

Child custody

While child custody agreements are typically part of a divorce agreement, parents who have never married often also need them. A family lawyer will help you draft a custody agreement, also called a parenting agreement, to address:

  • Custody and living arrangements
  • Visiting rights
  • Financial obligations (support and expenses)
  • Schooling
  • Health care
  • Holidays
  • Religious involvement

Paternity

If you don't properly establish paternity of a child, you risk losing your legal right to that child. An attorney can tell you what you need to do to retain visitation and custodial rights to your child.

For example, in Illinois, if a father is not married to the mother of his child but wants to assert his rights, he can join the putative father registry. An attorney can show you how to complete the process.The attorney can also arrange acceptable DNA testing to verify paternity.

Adoption

Adoption is the process of formalizing your legal relationship with a child through the courts. An attorney will make sure you comply with all the adoption laws of your state, filing the appropriate paperwork with the court and attending hearings with you.

Domestic matters are some of the most life-changing in all areas of the law. With so much at stake in many family law matters, hiring a family attorney is almost always a smart decision.

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