What Does a Family Attorney Do?
The term family law encompasses a broad spectrum of legal issues. It can feel vague for those seeking help with personal matters. Here, we cover what a family law attorney does – and the various specialties that fall under the umbrella of family law.
As the name suggests, family attorneys specifically help with family-related legal issues. These include but are not limited to divorce, child custody and child support, pre- and post-nuptial agreements, and contempt issues.
Dissolving a marriage is far more complex than simply ending the relationship. Your state considers a marriage to be a type of legal contract. Ending this contract takes time, paperwork, and in some cases, negotiations with the other party. Depending on the circumstances of a divorce, a family law attorney will:
- Guide you through the appropriate legal steps, informing you of what you can and cannot do.
- Ensure all paperwork is filed correctly according to your state’s guidelines.
- Negotiate with the other party or their attorney.
- Divide assets and/or protect your assets, such as inheritances and retirement funds, within the limits of the law.
- Distribute property.
- Determine and apply for alimony, if applicable.
- Determine child support and child custody payments according to your state’s laws and the facts of the divorce.
If both parties are ending the marriage on amicable terms, a family attorney should guide you through the court system and inform you of your rights and responsibilities. If the divorce is contentious, a family law attorney will need to fight for your interests.
Alimony, also referred to as spousal support, is regulated by state laws. Some of the factors that may aid in determining alimony payments include:
- Income of the paying party
- Ability of either party to work
- Debts accumulated
- Number of years the couple was married, and the circumstances of the relationship (i.e., one spouse was a homemaker while the other worked)
- In some cases, the conduct of each spouse may be considered
Your lawyer should work towards the best outcome for you, whether that is getting you the spousal support you are legally entitled to or protecting you from the other party’s overreach.
Pre- and Post-Nuptial Agreements
Pre-nuptial agreements, also referred to as prenups, are created prior to marriage. They outline all property and assets of both parties and establish what happens to them in the event of divorce. These must be done according to state laws. For example, in Maryland, including child custody or child support payments within a pre-nuptial agreement is not permitted. When crafted a certain way, prenups can be more or less enforceable. A similar document can be created after marriage, called a post-nuptial agreement.
Child Custody and Child Support
A family law attorney is always necessary to help you determine child custody and support payments.
In cases where an agreement cannot be reached, the court will use its state’s specific formula to calculate the appropriate custody or child support.
Family attorneys collect information on income reporting, health care and living expenses of the children, allowable deductions, and, in contentious cases, if the other party is hiding resources or is intentionally unemployed or underemployed.
In situations where child custody arrangements and court-ordered child support have been violated, a family law attorney gathers important facts and information and presents it to the court, including various paperwork to compel the other party to follow the plan. When a parenting plan created outside of the court doesn’t work according to plan, a family attorney will begin the necessary steps to create a court-recognized custody agreement. This includes legal paperwork to ensure the safety of a child.
Factors of child custody and support payments is highly dependent upon local laws. A family attorney can inform you of what to expect and may be able to provide insight into how your particular court typically functions. If you’re curious about the factors in Maryland that determine child support, please refer to our blog post here.
Abuse and Neglect
In cases where a family member or concerned citizen suspect that a child is not being properly cared for, they may choose to report abuse or neglect. Reports of abuse or neglect can create a custody case while relevant protective bodies (CPS or DCFS) investigate the claims. A family attorney can help sift through the facts and negotiate emotionally charged and complicated custody cases.
Family attorneys can represent the child, reporting party, or accused party. They may represent parents who have complied with the court requirements and are ready to for the child to be returned to their home.
Family attorneys are dedicated to relieving the emotional burden of family legal matters.
Because the practice area of family law is broad, some family attorneys choose to specialize mostly in one particular area, such as divorce or adoption law. However, family lawyers must have a broad set of legal skills to competently represent the interests of their clients. Family legal matters are often intensely emotional, and it’s difficult to wade through the legal system when cases are emotionally charged. A good family law attorney can help ease the stress a little by guiding you through incredibly sensitive cases.