Find a Family Law Lawyer

Family law encompasses the role of the family and the various relationships therein. Originally, the family was a private institution, into which state and federal governments did not interfere. However, in modern times, the legal issues touching families changed as family structures began splintering or dissolving through divorce or growing through adopting children, remarrying, and caring for elderly relatives.

The availability of technology to bring DNA evidence to bear has also had an impact on family law. It plays a role in domestic violence and has also caused an increase in paternity suits, which impact child support and custody decisions. Even disagreement on whether to have children has become a matter for the courts now; in some states, it is grounds for an annulment of a marriage.

Coupled with dramatic changes to family-structures is the increase in abuse and domestic violence. The result of these developments has complicated the rights and liabilities of individual family members, which caused state and federal governments to step in with laws to govern the challenges.

Areas covered by Family Law

Family law, whether within the jurisdiction of state or federal courts, now covers a wide range of legal topics including children's rights and custody, divorce, adoption, paternity proceedings, elder law, name changes, domestic violence and issues surrounding unmarried couples living together.

Family law also extends into other areas insurance, employment, education and elder law, for example. In the area of employment the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), for example, was instituted to permit employees up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave during the period of one year in order to attend to family matters (such as the birth of a child). Currently the only family matter not heavily regulated is parent-child discipline.

Legal Agreements

Family law has also incorporated such practices as using legal documents to place binding (upheld in court) parameters on a marriage arrangement. Co-habitation agreements, stating mutually agreed-upon conditions for unmarried couples living together, are used to determine rights to property, child support and alimony if the couple decides to separate. Pre-nuptial agreements are also common legal instruments.

Selecting a Family Law Attorney

Lawyers specializing in family law are often in small law firms or may be sole practitioners. This is not a cause for concern; family law is an area that does not necessitate the lawyer calling upon other resources and expertise. Two guidelines are best to keep in mind when making a decision about retaining a family law attorney: (1) the lawsuit is bound to be fraught with emotional issues, so it's best to choose a lawyer with whom you can feel comfortable at such times. If you know of friends or relatives who can give you a referral of just the right lawyer for your circumstances, this is a good starting point. (2) Be aware that family law sometimes has touchy-feely aspects, and there are no guarantees about how a judge will rule in a particular case. Therefore, be wary of a lawyer who promises certain outcomes in a case.

By Kathleen Goolsby           

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