Family Law Overview
Family law encompasses various areas, including, but not limited to marriage, divorce, child custody, child support, adoption, domestic partnerships, paternity, domestic violence, guardianship, and child abuse.
Divorce law is a major area of family law. A divorce, also known as dissolution of marriage in some states, “is a decree by a court that a valid marriage no longer exists.” Once a divorce has occurred, both parties to the former marriage now have the right to remarry. Many issues have to be considered when a divorce takes place, such as how to split one’s property and how to determine child custody. Most divorces are not contested, so the parties are usually able to develop a satisfactory solution. Divorces can come in the form of fault or no-fault. A no-fault divorce is when neither the husband nor wife blames each other for the dissolution of the marriage. Some of the common bases for a no-fault divorce are “irreconcilable differences” or “incompatibility.” No-fault divorces are the most common divorces today. Some of the bases for a fault divorce are adultery and mental cruelty.
Another particularly important area of family law is child custody law. An issue that often arises when married couples divorce is child custody. There are different types of custody that exist, including physical custody, legal custody, joint custody, and split custody. Generally, when a parent has been awarded physical custody, this means that the child will live with him or her the majority of the time, and this parent is called the custodial parent. Many times, even though one parent may have physical custody of a child, the other parent, the non-custodial parent, may still have legal custody, which means that he or she can make decisions about the child’s major concerns, such as education, religion, and health. In a joint custody situation, the child or children stay with both parents for approximately an equal amount of time. Finally, when there is split custody, one person has custody of one or more of the children while the other parent has custody of one or more of the other children. When considering custody matters, the court uses the standard of “the best interests of the child.” In using this standard, the court can consider many factors, including the “wishes of the child (if old enough to capably express a reasonable preference); mental and physical health of the parents; religion and/or cultural considerations; need for continuation of stable home environment; support and opportunity for interaction with members of extended family of either parent; interaction and interrelationship with other members of household; adjustment to school and community; age and sex of child; parental use of excessive discipline or emotional abuse; and evidence of parental drug, alcohol or sex abuse.” This list is not exhaustive. Also, in some special cases, people other than the parents of the children can petition for custody. This can include relatives such as grandparents, step-parents, aunts, uncles, close family friends, and others. Some states call this guardianship.