Family law is a set of case precedents and statutes that concern and outline the legal responsibilities of individuals sharing a domestic connection. These individuals can be linked by blood or marriage. However, the extent of family law implementation is not only restricted to married couples or blood-tied relatives, but it also affects people who are in a casual or a more distant relationship. In most cases, the first course of action to solve a dispute is discussion. However, when people fail to find common ground, family law comes into the picture, and courts get involved. Moreover, disputes among individuals or families can often be highly emotional and can cloud objective judgment in people. Hence, entering a legal battle against a domestic connection with a family law attorney is highly advisable.
Family law broadly encompasses the following laws for various situations that may arise in a domestic relationship:
To file for a divorce, a couple needs to meet the mandatory residency requirements of the state they live in. In addition, some states allow couples to file for a divorce on grounds as simple as irreconcilable differences, while others do not. In such states, spouses need to provide and prove the other party’s fault for getting a divorce. Common fault grounds for divorce accepted universally are cruelty, adultery, and desertion.
A divorce case can be of two types – contested or uncontested. An uncontested divorce case would mean that both the spouses agree on the major terms and conditions of the divorce. They then submit the agreement to the judge, who is most likely to approve the decision and pass the agreement as the final judgment in the divorce case. In case of a contested divorce case, spouses do not agree on the major terms and conditions of the divorce, and the case is then contested. These cases are time-consuming and expensive and may end up with the spouses filing litigations to battle their issues in court. Read more about the intricacies of divorce laws here.
The issue of child custody arises when a couple separates. Both married and unmarried couples are affected by the law. Typically, there are two types of child custody – physical and legal. Physical custody decides where the child would live and with whom they will spend most of their time. On the other hand, legal custody gives the parent a chance to make all the decisions that impact the child’s upbringing. These decisions include deciding the school their child goes to, their religion, and the extracurricular activities the child takes up. The custody can be given solely to one parent, or both the parents can share the custody of their children. This decision depends on numerous factors, and the judge or jury involved in the case delivers the judgment while keeping the children's best interests in mind. Additionally, the custody status of the child may change over time depending on the circumstances. In this situation, a parent has the right to go back to the court and seek significant changes in the child custody order.
Both parents are obligated to provide for their child until the child becomes an adult. This obligation to support a child can further extend if the child does not graduate high school or has special needs. A general rule of thumb followed in these cases is that the parent spending less time with the child pays child support to the parent who spends more time with the child. Almost every state across the United States has clear guidelines for child support. But judges have the authority to deviate from the guidelines at times when unusual situations arise. Like child custody, the child support order can also be modified based on circumstances. For instance, a parent would be required to pay extra support if the child develops a medical condition that requires expensive treatment. Similarly, the support to be paid could be reduced if the parent loses their job.
Although less common today, spousal support orders may be delivered by a court when the situation of divorce arises. The objective of the law is to ensure the spouse with low income earning potential is cared for. Typically, the issue of alimony is raised if the partners have been in a long marriage and there is a remarkable difference in their earning potential. The nature of spousal support is not punitive but is meant to provide a basic standard of living they became accustomed to while living with their partner.
Alimony can be terminated if the partner receiving the support remarries or cohabits with a different partner. The support can also be terminated if the spouse becomes self-supporting or fails to make efforts to make themselves self-supporting. On the other hand, support can be reduced or terminated if the partner's financial situation paying the support declines.
Another issue that arises during divorce is property division. The law determines how marital property will be divided between parting couples. The process begins with the identification of the marital property, which includes only properties acquired during a marriage and excludes inheritances and gifts that a spouse may receive. In case a couple acquired intangible assets such as intellectual or creative property, accountants and appraisers must estimate the value for the division. In all the other cases, the division of property approach depends on the state the couple resides in. Most states use the community approach and equally divide the marital assets between the partners. This is implemented by selling a property and dividing the proceeds between the spouses or giving an asset in entirety to a single spouse and compensating the other. Other states follow an equitable approach and divide assets while considering the financial situation of the spouses. This means the distribution may not necessarily be even.
A couple or an individual can legally take the responsibility of raising their non-biological child through adoption. Adoption allows the adopting parent to assume legal custody and rights of a parent towards a child. There are various ways in which parents can adopt children. International adoption, foster care system, agency adoption, stepchildren adoption are some ways parents can adopt their children. Each procedure requires parents to follow a set series of legal procedures and pass a sequence of tests.
Hiring a family law attorney helps in the following ways:
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