Family law disputes are often difficult and emotional for all parties involved. Types of issues that fall under the family law umbrella are numerous and relate to relationships between loved ones. Some of the most common concerns include marriage, divorce, child custody, child support, paternity, adoption and spousal maintenance. A family law attorney can provide you with additional information in any of these areas.
In most states, marriage is a contractual union between a man and a woman (husband and wife). The couple must apply for a marriage license, pay a fee and participate in a marriage ceremony, which may be religious or civil in nature. Generally, the legal effects of a marriage are the ability to file joint taxes, rights to survivorship (inherit from spouse) and other tax-related benefits.
Some states are evolving to include same-sex couples as persons able to legally marry. However, states that do not recognize same-sex marriages as legal may not acknowledge such marriages from other states, where they are legal. The definition of marriage is changing and becoming more inclusive of all people in society. As this belief grows in the public, the law may follow suit. Speak with an attorney in your area to learn more about the law in your state regarding persons able enter legally recognized marriages.
Marriage is a legal contract and like other contracts, it can be terminated. Divorce, or dissolution of marriage, is the process of ending a marital contract. In contractual terms, when a married couple is divorced they lose all the legal benefits that they enjoyed through marriage and gain the right to enter marital contracts with other people. However, marriage is much more than a legal contract. Parties must also deal with other financial and emotional aspects of divorce, such as property and asset division, child custody, monetary support of those children, visitation, spousal support and others.
Laws on divorce may vary from state to state. Traditionally, states had fault-based divorce or no-fault divorce. In a fault-based divorce, one party must have a legal basis against the other for some sort of wrong that makes continuing the marriage impossible or unreasonable. The wrongs may differ, but generally would include abuse, abandonment, mental illness, inability to consummate the marriage, alcoholism, drug addiction and adultery.
Alternatively, no-fault divorce does not require legal grounds of a wrong perpetrated by one of the parties. There does not need to be a reason for a no-fault divorce. One or both parties may choose to end the marriage and may file for divorce to terminate the marital contract. No-fault divorce is the most common kind of dissolution and the type available in most states.
States have specific guidelines that determine the amount of child support that must be paid. The guidelines and criteria used to make child-support determinations may differ from state to state. The court in each jurisdiction will order an amount of child support based upon the state guidelines and factors such as the parents’ ability to pay support and the needs of the child. Additionally, the court usually has the deference to depart from state guidelines in certain circumstances.
When determining child custody and visitation issues, the court applies the “best interests of the child” standard. To determine the child’s best interests, the court may consider many factors, such as the child’s wishes, the parent’s ability to care for his or her child, the health of the child and the parents, who has been the child’s primary caretaker and if there has been any history of abuse.
Spousal support may also be known as spousal maintenance or alimony in some states. It is monetary payments from one ex-spouse to the other after a divorce. The payment may be permanent or temporary. Often temporary alimony is known as rehabilitative and intended to help the ex-spouse to become self-supporting. The factors the court considers when awarding spousal support differs depending on the applicable state law. Some commonly considered factors are the duration of the marriage, ability to re-enter the work force, age, health and the parties’ standard of living during the marriage. Consult a family law attorney in your state to learn more about factors the court may consider when awarding spousal support.