Family law matters represent a sizable chunk of any jurisdiction's docket and can be among the most emotionally charged matters seen in court.
Family law deals with family related issues and domestic relations, including marriage, divorce, paternity, child and spousal support, child custody, adoption, long-term care for elderly parents, civil unions and other related matters.
Divorce and child custody cases make up the vast majority of family law cases. It requires that a divorce must be certified by the court system to become effective. The terms of the divorce are usually determined by a law court, and may take into account prenuptial agreements or postnuptial agreements. A contested divorce may be stressful to the spouses and lead to expensive litigation in family law courts regarding issues such as child custody, spousal and child support and property division. Less adversarial approaches to divorce settlements have recently emerged in the practice of family law, such as mediation and collaborative divorce, which use a cooperative process and sometimes a single attorney working for both parties to come to an agreement.
Adoption makes up a smaller, but significant area of family law. In adoption, some or all of the rights of the original parents are terminated, and the adopting family gains these rights in a law court. Attorneys in these cases handle negotiations with birth parents or the state, and finalize any agreements among the parties.
Paternity is yet another area of family law. Paternity cases determine the biological parents of a child and establish these parents' rights and responsibilities with regard to the child. As traditional marriage becomes less common, paternity suits and related child support and custody cases are on the rise.
Civil union litigation are an emerging area of family law, as traditional marriage has been joined by civil unions as a legal option. It is litigation that may arise related to civil unions include the dissolution of civil unions, adoption and child custody issues and property and legacy issues.
Our aging population is also giving rise to an increase in guardianship and power-of-attorney actions regarding elderly relatives no longer able to manage their affairs. Attorneys can help the adult children of elderly parents settle disputes and collaborate in the long-term care of their loved ones.
Family law is a dynamic and growing area of the law and parties involved would be well-advised to become as well-informed concerning the subject as possible to better be able to ask and answer questions of their attorney.