What is Family Law?

The Thomas McDonald Law Firm, PL is a firm that specializes in the practice of family law. You may have heard the term “family law” from time to time, but what does family law really mean? Oftentimes clients ask us this question as the term “family law” is not as self-explanatory as it appears. This article goes through the specific practice areas of family law and will help you decide if you need a family law attorney to assist you with a legal problem.  

Family law is a legal practice area that focuses on issues involving family and marital relationships, such as dissolution of marriage (also known as “divorce”), timesharing (previously known as “custody” in the state of Florida), child support, paternity, adoption, and marital agreements.  Family law attorneys represent clients in court proceedings involving the aforementioned areas of law, and also draft important legal documents such as marital settlement agreements, parenting plans, prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, and court pleadings which arise in cases that are in active litigation.  Family law attorneys also assist their clients in non-adversarial activities such as mediation and negotiation of settlement agreements.  Keep reading for an in-depth description of the various areas of family law.

Dissolution of Marriage: In Florida, a divorce is called a “dissolution.” Florida requires a showing that the marriage is “irretrievably broken” to dissolve a marriage.  Usually, each party hires his or her own attorney, who will help devise a marital settlement agreement in order to avoid a trial. Dissolution of marriage cases involve the equitable distribution of marital property, calculating spousal support, and proposing a plan for timesharing, parental responsibility, and child support by way of a parenting plan (if the parties have children).

Timesharing and Child Support: These types of cases involve court orders, settlement agreements and/or parenting plans involving both timesharing and support.  The timesharing schedule and parental responsibility delineated in a parenting plan is mandated by Florida Statutes.  The court will consider various factors including the capacity and disposition of each parent to determine, consider, and always act in the best interests of the child. 

Paternity: In most cases, paternity cases are filed by the mother in an effort to secure child support payments from the father. Sometimes, biological fathers file a petition to establish paternity in order to have a relationship with their child or file a disestablishment of paternity if the father has evidence to indicate he is not the biological parent of the child. Paternity or lack thereof is typically determined through DNA testing.

Adoption: Adoption is a complex process that differs according to the type of adoption, where the child is from, who is adopting the child, and whether the adoption is contested or uncontested.  

Marital Agreements: A marital settlement agreement is a contract that sets forth the terms agreed upon by a couple as it relates to their rights and responsibilities after their marriage is dissolved.  Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements are contracts that set forth terms agreed upon by the parties either before (pre) marrying or after (post) marrying in the event the parties dissolve their marriage in the future.  It is important to hire a specialized attorney to draft these types of agreements as they are complicated and require knowledge of unique facets of the law.

As you can see, family law is much more than meets the eye. It is a term used to encompass multiple areas of law that at times overlap and connect.  In any event, if you find yourself needing legal assistance in one of the areas of family law, it is best to consult with a “family law attorney.”

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