Family law is a broad phrase describing several areas of the law pertaining to matters of any family in order to retain peace and civility with respect to domestic relations, especially in matters involving minor children. Within our firm, that means not only issues involving marriage, divorce, separation, and marital dissolution, but also matters involving guardianships, conservatorships, wills and trusts. Family law matters can involve addressing spousal abuse, paternity, adoption, child protection, and child abuse.
It can also deal with custody jurisdiction (known as the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, or “UCCJEA”; this is the body of law that addresses which court should have jurisdiction over matters pertaining to a child’s custody). The most common areas that are associated with the term “family law” include divorce, annulment, property settlements, alimony/spousal maintenance, premarital agreements (also known as antenuptial or prenuptial agreements) mediation, arbitration, nonmarital claims, pre-marital claims, early neutral evaluation, collaborative law, and other alternative dispute resolution methods.
Divorce (also known as a marital dissolution) involves the process of terminating a marital union, which determines the legal duties and responsibilities of the parties and dissolves the bonds of matrimony. The legal process of divorce may also include issues of custody of minor children, alimony, spousal maintenance, spousal support, child support, marital property, marital debt, visitation, and parenting time.
Divorce law matters also involve post-divorce issues such as modification of custody, modification of alimony, spousal maintenance or spousal support, and modification of child support. Representation can also include premarital agreements (also known as antenuptial and prenuptial agreements) mediation, arbitration, non-marital claims, pre-marital claims, early neutral evaluation, collaborative law, and other alternative dispute resolution methods.
Custody involves the legal and practical relationship between a parent and his or her child. Normally there are issues involving physical custody (meaning which of the parents would primarily care for a child on a day-to-day basis), as well as legal custody (meaning decision-making involving a child, including religious, educational, and medical issues). If the parents are unmarried, the father may need to establish his paternity before asserting his parental rights. Often divorce and custody law are interchangeable with the phrase “family law.”
In adoption, one person is given the legal standing as the parent of another person, usually a child. The adoptive parent takes on the legal responsibilities as though he or she were the biological parent of the child, including the right to inherit, responsibility for the child’s acts, as well as financial responsibility. The adoptive parent also takes on the rights of a biological parent including that of spending time with the child and being entitled to information regarding the child, such as school information and medical information.
The adoptive child takes on the rights as though they were the biological child of the adoptive parent. Not only does the child become a member of that parent’s family, they also have a right to inherit, a right to receive any social security benefits that a child may receive, and a right to financial support from the parent.
An order for adoption is an order granted by a court of competent jurisdiction to do so. An adoption usually requires a home study, criminal background checks, and the involvement of social services both before and after the adoption.
Prior to an adoption, the rights of the biological parent must be terminated if there are already two parents for the adoptive child. In a stepparent adoption, the procedures are less involved but the parental rights of one parent must be terminated in order for the stepparent to become the adoptive parent.
Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in which a neutral party, the mediator, works with two or more parties to help the parties come to an agreement on the matter in dispute. Mediation is confidential and a mediated agreement can include terms which a court would not order, but which will satisfy the parties and resolve the dispute.
The greatest benefits in resolving disputes through mediation are that the parties control the outcome, they can eliminate the need for a judicial decision or trial, and it is completely confidential.
A mediated agreement can be entered as a court order in a pending case, or it can be a contract between the parties, binding them to the agreement.