Family law encompasses a very wide range of legal issues such as marriage and alternatives to marriage, divorce, child custody and support, elder law, and more. While most family law matters are civil matters, a few criminal issues, such as domestic violence and child abuse, fall under family law as well. Depending on the nature of your legal issue, you may be dealing with various government agencies such as your county’s version of Health and Human Services. Depending on the nature and complexity of your legal issue, you may only need to fill out forms. An experienced, local family law attorney can help you determine what you need to do and understand your rights.
Some of the issues handled by family law attorneys include:
- Marriage and alternatives to marriage
- Divorce and dissolution
- Spousal support
- Child custody
- Child abduction
- Child support
- Foster care
- Fertility services, surrogacy, and artificial conception
- Reproductive rights including family planning, contraception, abortion, and sex education
- Parental rights and responsibilities, including liability for the actions of minor children
- Emancipation of minors
- Education law
- Juvenile law
- Domestic violence
- Child abuse
- Crimes against children
- Elder law
Forming and Dissolving Marriages and Similar Relationships
Marriage has never been simple, but today’s laws are constantly changing, differ in each state, and can be confusing for everyone involved. Although most couples have personal, often religious, reasons for choosing marriage, those purposes can be served without government recognition of the marriage. Couples specifically seek government-recognized marriage because of the significant legal rights it affords them.
Alternatives to marriage which can give you some of the legal benefits and protections of marriage include common law marriage, domestic partnerships, civil unions, and cohabitation agreements. Common law marriage is only available in some states, but once it is established it is generally recognized in other states. Domestic partnerships and civil unions do not offer all of the rights which come with marriage. A cohabitation agreement is a contract between an unmarried couple.
To end a marriage you must engage in divorce proceedings, sometimes called dissolution of marriage. Even though marriage alternatives do not offer all of the legal advantages of marriage, they typically create the same level of legal entanglement. In most cases, you are required to dissolve the relationship through the same procedure required to dissolve a marriage in your state. There are some exceptions, so you should consult a local family law attorney to find out what will be required of you and your partner.