Family law encompasses all legal aspects pertaining to family, which includes marriages, civil unions, adoptions, divorces, child custody, prenuptial agreements, property settlements, and the like. While family courts in America hear family law cases associated with individuals of varied economic and social classes, they are usually overburdened with cases concerning disadvantaged people.
American family law borrows a lot from European feudalism. Marriage, as per law prior to the 20th century, helped the man become the legal heir of the property of his wife and also her legal guardian. This is despite property laws giving women additional rights with regard to property ownership. By 1900 (South Carolina being the exception), all states permitted judicial divorces to replace legislative divorces.
During the 1970s, the law underwent rapid redefining, since it had become an aspect of the larger national discussion regarding gender bias, family values, and morality. The aspects of family law to undergo multiple changes were child custody, child support, and divorce.
By 1987, all states took up no-fault divorces that made dissolving marriages fairly straightforward. This, however, irked people that advocated family values, as it appeared to give a free hand to couples to embrace divorces instead of sorting out the differences in the marriage internally.
Traditionally, child custody has been awarded to mothers. However, with the role of the father in the family evolving, laws have changed to allow children to accompany the father more. This has resulted in the creation of “joint custody.”
In joint custody, parents share childcare responsibilities. Since a court decision usually doesn’t always render both parents happy, one of the parents would often kidnap the kid and take custody of the child to get the court decision in his or her favor in another state.
UCCJA was then enacted in America to curb this practice, but it wasn’t truly effective. The Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act was then instituted in 1980, which has since helped enhance family law’s effectiveness. Currently, the federal government oversees parental kidnapping matters, with the convention allowing custodial rights protection even beyond national boundaries.
Role of a Family Law Attorney
A family law lawyer usually handles legal issues between individuals within a familial association. Individuals that these lawyers could represent include husbands, wives, grandparents, guardians, children, and domestic partners.
An attorney could handle a great variety of legal matters, such as premarital agreements, divorces, and post-marital agreements, as well as taking up cases that involve child support, child custody, and alimony. Other legal problems a family law lawyer could attend to may relate to juvenile delinquency, adoption, visitation rights, and paternity.
Legal separations and divorces are among the primary problems a family law lawyer is expected to take care of. On the client’s behalf, the lawyer could try dividing marital property, allocate the money that needs to be provided for alimony or child support, settle child custody matters, and establish visitation rights. The other parent could also have a lawyer working through the same problems. In cases where the problems can’t be settled, a courtroom judge may have to intervene. Typically, the judge delivers a final order determining the various aspects of the case.
Though most individuals go to a lawyer when a relationship goes bad, the attorney could also assist people when things are going good. For instance, if a couple is keen on adopting a child, a family law lawyer would help the couple throughout all steps necessary for making the adoption legal. Laws differ across jurisdictions and also differ with the child’s age. In certain locations, the genetic parents may do away with all their parental rights. However, in certain jurisdictions, a certain set of rights would be retained by the birth parents.
At times, a family law lawyer would prepare documents to mitigate foreseeable future problems. For instance, the lawyer could create a prenuptial accord that clearly establishes how assets will be demarcated in case a divorce happens. Many people choose to prepare a post-nuptial accord, stating not just how the assets would be classified, but also throwing light on visitation and child custody arrangements. Based on the lawyer’s level of expertise, he or she could also create a trust fund in the child or spouse’s name.
A family law lawyer may also have to attend to criminal problems in certain scenarios. These lawyers could specialize in particular areas, such as domestic violence and juvenile law.