Qualifications, Practice Areas, and the Benefits of Hiring One
What is a family law attorney? Before we answer this question, let’s take a look at what we know about the concept of family.
The family is society’s most basic social unit – and for most of us, our most important relationships start and end with our families. People create family relationships through marriage or by having children. However, some people also end up breaking these relationships through divorce and the termination of parental rights. This is where family law comes in.
Family law addresses various issues and concerns arising from forming and breaking family relationships, including adoption, child custody, child support, and so on. And since family law is a practice that’s focused on relationships and children, it can be an emotionally charged practice area.
What Is a Family Law Attorney?
A family law attorney is a specialist lawyer who is well-versed in family law, also known as domestic law. Family law encompasses several practice areas, including divorce, alimony, property division, child custody, visitation rights, domestic violence, and more.
To be considered a certified family law attorney in California, a lawyer needs to meet rigorous standards set by The State Bar of California. These standards cover an attorney’s educational background, experience, and knowledge of family law. They must:
- Clearly demonstrate their family law practice (at least a quarter of the time) for the past five years
- Exhibit expertise in settlements, mediations, stipulations, hearings, and trials
- Finish 45 hours of family law coursework, which should include spousal support, property division, child support and custody, domestic violence, mediation, and so on
- Take a relevant examination that lasts about 8 hours and pass it
- Be able to present referrals from other family law practitioners and judges who can vouch for their knowledge, ability, temperament, and ethics
Family lawyers become involved in the most personal aspects of their clients’ lives. So, family law attorneys are an entirely different breed of lawyers. Despite knowing intimate details about their clients, they need to be able to objectively analyze and argue their cases.
What Does a Family Lawyer Do?
A lot of family law offices focus on divorce cases, including related issues that arise from these (e.g., child custody, alimony, etc.). However, there are also family law attorneys that accept all types of family law cases, as well as related legal practice areas like estate planning, mediation, and collaborative law, and immigration and naturalization law.
In general, family law attorneys handle the following tasks:
- Providing legal advice and answering client queries
- Preparing legal documents
- Negotiating the terms of an agreement
- Drafting prenuptial and post-nuptial agreements
- Filing petitions for a divorce, separation, or annulment
- Responding to a divorce petition
- Negotiations during a divorce or separation
- Offering alternative dispute resolution services, like arbitration and mediation
- Litigating a divorce trial
- Representing their clients in custody proceedings
- Attending child neglect hearings
The right family law attorney can serve as your advocate, defender, and trusted confidant. A highly competent, experienced, and knowledgeable family lawyer you can count on can make the most complicated or stressful cases more bearable.
Common Practice Areas
Family law attorneys certainly have their work cut out for them as there are many types of family relationship issues that can escalate into legal cases. The more common practice areas in family law include the following:
In the simplest of terms, divorce refers to the dissolution of a marriage contract. However, the process of divorce can be fraught with complications and a lot of emotional stress. Besides, divorce not only affects the couple divorcing but also their children, property, and their relationships with each other’s immediate families.
Divorce can take the form of a no-fault divorce or a fault divorce. In a fault divorce, bad behavior on the part of the defendant is cited as a cause for the divorce. However, California is a no-fault divorce state, and all the couple needs to do is say they cannot get along (“irreconcilable differences”).
In a no-fault divorce, neither spouse is required to prove that the other has committed any misconduct. The couple who wishes to split up does so on amicable terms and is willing to divide assets accordingly.
A no-fault divorce can be achieved through mediation where the concerned parties sit down with a family law attorney. Here, they can discuss the division of assets and property, as well as decide on child custody in a relatively peaceful or calm atmosphere.
In general, both no-fault and fault divorces can be uncontested or contested divorces.
- Uncontested divorce: When both parties are able to reach a simple, easy resolution to the division of their assets, it is considered uncontested. Additionally, the couple can also agree on parenting concerns and money matters. In certain cases, neither party may be required to file a response to court filing or need to have a court to hear their case. Everything can be handled through mail or a short appearance at court.
- Contested divorce: When either party is dissatisfied with the terms being offered in divorce (even a previously uncontested one), particularly the division of assets, it can turn into a contested divorce. A heavily contested divorce can be a very difficult kind of divorce as relations and disagreements can worsen – in turn, this can extend the duration of the divorce proceedings. Disagreements can involve child-rearing duties, the distribution of marital property, and so on.
Divorce can be difficult and emotionally harrowing. But if both parties can no longer function together as spouses, a divorce can give both parties the opportunity to lead happier, more fulfilling lives.
If you’re in the process of divorcing, a good family law attorney can assist you in navigating the complex court system and help ensure your rights and interests are protected.
Difference Between Divorce and Annulment
Annulments and divorces share a similarity in the sense that they can change a person’s marital status. The primary difference between the two is that divorce ends what was considered a valid, legal union or marriage. Annulment, on the other hand, is a declaration that what was once deemed a legal, legitimate marriage was null and void from the beginning. It’s as if the marriage never existed at all.
Pre and Post-nuptial Agreements
Pre and postnuptial agreements are documents specifying what each party gets during and after a divorce. A prenuptial agreement is drawn up prior to marriage. It details the property and assets of the concerned parties and what would happen to these if and when the couple divorces.
However, child custody and support are not allowed in a prenuptial agreement. When such a document is drawn up only after the couple is married, it’s called a postnuptial agreement.
Alimony or Spousal Support
Alimony or spousal support is another item that family law attorneys often contend with in relation to divorce cases to achieve the best outcome for their clients. Information concerning the income, length of the marriage, accumulated joint debt, ability to work of both parties, and other key factors are usually taken into consideration by the judge as a basis for their decision.
Therefore, it is the family law attorney’s job to ensure they present accurate information to help their clients achieve a favorable result.
Possibly one of the more painful aspects of a divorce and in disagreements between unmarried couples, child custody can become traumatic for everyone involved, especially the children.
As much as possible, child custody should be settled during mediation to avoid the need to go to court. However, if the parties cannot agree to a decision and the case is taken to court, the judge would need to make a decision based on several factors, such as which parent seems to have a stronger bond with the child/children, the stability of each party’s homes, any history of criminality, etc.
Child support is another contentious issue related to divorce and to relationship disagreements among unwed couples. Child support laws are designed to protect children and ensure they are given a fair amount of financial resources, which they would have enjoyed had their parents remained married or continued to live in the same home.
In such cases, it is the family lawyer’s job to provide accurate information about their client to the judge, as well as to protect them from the other parent in case the latter is misrepresenting their income or is intentionally unemployed or underemployed.
Child support modifications can also arise when either parent experiences a life change where they may not be able to provide the court-mandated child support amount.
Visitation rights depend on the child custody arrangements and entail the creation of a visitation schedule. This includes the parents’ and children’s schedules, holidays, birthdays, etc., and is meant to simplify visitation matters and set expectations.
Move Away Orders
There are times when one or both parents might need to move to another state due to getting a better job or a new marriage. Whatever the case, parents are required to give due notice and give the court ample time to consider if the move has merit.
Bad faith reasons, such as moving to keep the child away from the other parent, are usually denied by courts.
Couples or qualified single people can also use the help of a family lawyer in ensuring they get the required legal documentation done in the process of adoption.
Adoptions can be lengthy and complicated, with lots of red tape. But by enlisting the services of a family law attorney, it’ll be easier and faster to navigate.
Abuse and Neglect
When children are abused, hurt, or neglected at home, a family law attorney can represent the child (or children) or the parent accused of abuse or neglect. Whether a family lawyer is representing the children or the accused parent, the attorney can help ensure the case is presented strongly in court. By having a lawyer represent the children, the trauma of the experience of being discussed by others in court is substantially reduced for the children.
Grandparent Custody Rights
Under California law, the custody rights of grandparents are strongly considered. This means that grandparents can petition the court for partial custody or full custody of the children, plus visitation rights. Grandparents also have the legal right to make decisions for their grandchildren in terms of education, health care, and religion.
The Benefits of Hiring a Family Law Attorney
Hiring a family law attorney gives you a fair chance at protecting your rights and achieving your goals in family legal matters. The benefits of hiring one include the following:
- Professional representation in mediations, meetings, and court proceedings
- Access to exclusive resources and tools
- Legal objectivity in discussing family issues or concerns
- Reduction of legal red tape and assistance with complicated paperwork
- Legally acceptable, concrete methods of achieving case goals
- Exposure to negotiation options before going to court
If your case is complicated or there’s an aggressive ongoing child custody battle, and if there are high-value assets involved, having a competent family lawyer by your side can have a huge impact on the outcome of your case.
An experienced lawyer who is well-versed with family law can confidently help you protect your rights and interests, as well as those of your children. Also, knowing your case is in good hands can significantly reduce the stress of the entire legal process.
Work With Heath Baker Law
Family law attorneys have plenty of responsibilities toward the clients they are representing – whether it’s in a divorce or child custody case or some other legal family matters. However, great family lawyers give every case they handle their full attention and commitment – because family legal cases are difficult and can have long-term effects on the parties involved, especially the children.
If there comes a time when you need a family law attorney to help you, make sure you contact Heath Baker Law.
With Heath Baker Law, you won’t be fighting your battles alone. Besides, you need to have a knowledgeable and experienced family law attorney with an excellent track record to negotiate for you and fight for you if your case moves to court.
Get your best chance at winning your family legal case with Heath Baker Law.