One of the primary focuses of Westover Law Group is family law. Like many law focus areas, family law is a large and complex field covering several issues, from divorce to alimony and child custody. If you ever need the services of a family lawyer, it might help to have some knowledge of the basics. The introductory guide that follows will provide you with a good foundation.

What is family law?

Family law focuses on all issues involving family relationships, such as adoption, divorce, child custody and more. Family law attorneys can represent clients in court or in related negotiations and mediations. They can also draft legal documents such as agreements and court petitions. Some family lawyers choose specific focus areas, such as adoption, paternity, or emancipation.

What is family law mediation?

Family law mediation is a process where disputing parties, having been unable to resolve a conflict, call upon a mediator to facilitate discussion between them with the intention of reaching an acceptable settlement. Mediation provides an environment in which couples, or people in other family relationships, can resolve their issues in a calm, respectable manner. Mediators approach the case from an objective angle, doing their best to keep emotions out of the matter and drive towards a mutual agreement.

Legal consequences of marriage

Marriage is more than just a personal commitment to a partner. It is a legal contract that comes with both rights and obligations for both parties. Once you’re married, you receive a number of benefits, including tax benefits, estate planning benefits, government benefits such as Social Security, employment benefits, decision-making benefits (such as the right to make medical decisions on your spouse’s behalf), financial support, and consumer benefits. Marriage also entails a number of financial responsibilities. These include financial support for children, liability for certain kinds of family expenses, sharing income and property acquired during the marriage, and financial responsibility for your spouse.

All of the legal matters tied in with marriage lead to other consequences in the case of divorce.

Family Law and the Parent/Child Relationship

Family Law deals with several matters in connection to the relationship between parents and children. These include adoption, child custody, emancipation and paternity.

Child custody is the most common matter disputed in family court. These cases are always difficult and emotionally fraught. There are often numerous obstacles blocking the way to a favorable settlement, as parents no longer trust each other and can become combative. Many other issues can arise in family law. Paternity is a common subject raised in family court. Family lawyers can also assist in cases where children choose to terminate their parents’ parental rights, i.e., emancipation. LGBT issues and their effect on family relationships have also become important in family law. The field has been evolving rapidly since the beginning of the 21st century and laws and regulations continuously shift, making it very important to seek the advice of an attorney.  

Legal Issues Surrounding Marriage: Prenuptial Agreements, Divorce, Alimony, and Domestic Violence

As mentioned above, marriage comes with several legal ramifications, which can lead to the need for legal advice later on. Many couples think ahead and make provisions for these matters by hiring a lawyer to draw up a special prenuptial agreement. State law defines the parameters, rights and responsibilities of marriage. If you decide to get married without a prenuptial agreement, you are accepting these definitions by default. A prenuptial agreement enables you to establish your own understanding of marital finances and assets. Before the wedding, you and your partner can consult with a family lawyer and discuss how you want these matters to be handled. The lawyer will then generate a prenuptial agreement that the two of you can sign before you get married. This agreement sets the legal terms for your marriage. Should the marriage end in divorce, the prenuptial agreement will dictate how finances and property are to be handled and divided.

Alimony is the legal obligation of a person to provide financial support to a spouse before or after a separation or divorce. The specifics of the obligation will depend on the state in which the marriage takes place or the stipulations of the prenuptial agreement if there is one in place. Alimony is not the same as child support, and the two are often confused with one another. Child support is the financial obligation that a parent bears towards his or her child, while alimony refers to the obligation which exists between spouses.

Aside from divorce and its attendant legalities, family law attorneys also have to deal with even more difficult questions that can adversely affect families and their members. One of these is domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is defined as the physical or emotional abuse of one family member by another. The perpetrator or the victim could be a spouse, ex-spouse, sibling, parent, child, significant other, or even another, non-related person living in the same household. It is often difficult for victims to seek assistance – whether legal or otherwise – in cases of domestic abuse. Our team knows the appropriate course of action and can offer both sensitive and effective legal counsel and representation.

Legal Issues Surrounding Children: Child Custody, Adoption, and Child Abuse

Some of the most sensitive and difficult cases in family law are those relating to children. These can range from child custody disputes to cases of child abuse. The attorneys at Westover Law Group have handled them all.

Child custody law has shifted considerably in outlook in the past fifty years or so. The tendency now is to look at the case from the child’s point of view, not the parents’. The term ‘custody’ is rapidly falling out of favor. We tend to use such terms as ‘parenting time,’ ‘decision-making’ and ‘visitation.’ Custody cases are efforts to reach workable judgments in these three areas.

Divorce and child custody are very emotionally charged, and parents sometimes use custody cases as weapons against each other. However, in most cases, parents realize that it is not a fight, but an effort to reach a mutual agreement about their children’s welfare.  

Family lawyers can also assist in adoption proceedings. California state law makes strict demands on would-be adoptive parents. Family lawyers can guide you through the various steps and stipulations. For example, parents must be at least ten years older than the children they plan to adopt and must also complete a home study and background check before being approved. Final approval is also subject to post-placement supervision. Family law attorneys can guide and assist you through these processes.

In California, Penal Code 273d stipulates the definitions and punishments for child abuse. Child abuse is defined as physical injury, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse. These cases can be prosecuted either as felonies or misdemeanors, depending on the specifics of the case.

Other Family Law Issues: Power of Attorney, Inheritance, and Changing Your Name

Several other, smaller issues are also handled under family law.

Power of attorney gives one person, be it a nominated person or next-of-kin, or an actual attorney, the ability to act on behalf of another person. The power granted can range from broad legal authority to limited authority over specific matters. It is often applied for in situations where a person is ill or otherwise incapacitated and unable to make decisions for themselves.

Family law attorneys also advise and assist in matters relating to inheritance and estate management. They can help you if you are the beneficiary in a will or a trust, if you are the heir to an individual who died without leaving a will, or if you are named the executor of a will or trustee of a living trust.

Another legal matter pertaining to family law is the decision to change your name. The state of California generally applies the ‘usage method,’ which enables people to change their names simply by using their new, chosen name in all areas of their lives. However, most government agencies require legal proof of a name change, which makes the acquisition of a court order a vital step. A court order is granted after the successful filing of a petition for a change of name. Some people choose to change their names for professional or personal reasons. Others may change their name after a marriage or divorce, or to conform to a new gender identity.

Do I Need a Lawyer for My Family Law Issue?

When you face any legal matter that affects your family, getting the advice of a good lawyer can make all the difference in your search for a favorable resolution. Family legal matters, from adoption to divorce, can be tricky, and it is best that you seek out a family law attorney to help you handle them. Family lawyers can ease the burden and use both their knowledge and their objectivity to navigate issues towards a successful conclusion.

Westover Law Group is a company of family law attorneys serving Southern California. Contact us to see how we can help you with your family law questions.