About Family Law

Family law focuses on issues that  involve family relationships such as marriage, adoption, divorce, and child custody.

Attorneys  in the practice of  family law can represent their clients in either family court proceedings or related negotiations.

Lawyers can also be responsible for drafting relevant legal documents such as court petitions or property agreements.

Family law attorneys also specialize in issues concerning adoption, paternity, emancipation, or other matters not always related to divorce.

Family law covers so many aspects of life and people’s relationships that lawyers who work in the field undertake to  help all kinds of people facing many  issues that many people wouldn’t automatically assume falls under the umbrella of  family law.

A family court specifically hears cases involving family law. For example, family courts typically hear cases involving divorce, child custody and domestic abuse. Family courts are governed by state and local law. Depending on the jurisdiction, these courts are also known as domestic courts.

In some jurisdictions (states), family courts also handle guardianship & incompetence hearings. Other jurisdictions leave these matters to probate courts.

Family issues, procedures and outcomes law do differ from state to state. The American Bar Association has provided this useful resource page entitled Family Law in the 50 States Tables 

Why People Hire Family Lawyers

Generally family lawyers represent clients in divorce proceedings and other matters related to divorce.

But, remember,  family law is a broad practice area and included important issues such as foster care and reproductive rights.

Here are the most common reasons to hire a family law attorney

  • In a divorce each partner will hire their own attorney, whose role it is to help devise a settlement plan in order to avoid going to court. Divorce attorneys are skilled at dividing marital property, calculating spousal support, and proposing a plan for child custody, visitation, and support (if applicable).
  • Child Custody & Child Support. Court orders and settlement agreements involving both custody and support are usually included in the larger divorce case, but these issues  may be revisited as conditions of the separation change. For example, child support may be altered after the non-custodial parent’s financial situation changes.
  • Adoption & Foster Care. Adoption is a complex process involving many different factors and negotiations that differ according to the type of adoption, where the child is from, variances in state laws, and other administrative factors. When going through the process of an adoption it is important to consult with a  experienced family law attorney.
  • Paternity . Generally paternity cases are filed by the mother in an effort to secure child support payments from an absent father. But sometimes biological fathers file for paternity in order to have a relationship with their child. Paternity typically is determined via DNA testing.

Family law also applies to issues such as  estate planning, immigration and mediation law.

Family Law Cases

Loving v. Virginia (1967)

In 1958, newlyweds Mildred and Richard Loving faced a choice: spend one year in jail, or face 25 years in exile from the state of Virginia. The couple married legally in Washington, D.C., but Judge Leone M. Bazile ruled their new marriage a crime against a Virginia state law that forbid miscegenation, or interracial marriage, because Mildred, then 17, was black and Native American, and Richard, 23, was white… Click to see more

Phillips v. Martin Marietta Corp. (1971)

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited employment discrimination by sex, but plenty of companies at the time loosely interpreted the law. Newspapers still listed separate want ads for men and women in 1970.

When Ida Phillips applied for a job as an aircraft assembler in 1966, the Martin Marietta Corp. said it would not consider her because she had preschool-age children. The Supreme Court ruled against Martin Marietta, but sent the case back for retrial to see if the company could find enough proof that women with young children were unable to perform in the position as well as men with young children.

In his decision, Justice Thurgood Marshall added, “I fear that in this case, where the issue is not squarely before us, the Court has fallen into the trap of assuming that the Act permits ancient canards about the proper role of women to be a basis for discrimination.”… Click to see more

Roe v. Wade (1973)

Jane Roe is a pseudonym for the woman who brought a class-action suit against Henry Wade, a district attorney in Texas in 1970. Roe was pregnant, unmarried and denied an abortion at the time. In 1973, the Supreme Court found that the right to privacy, as implied by the Bill of Rights, allowed a woman to legally seek an abortion without interference from the state. But the court gave states the right to regulate abortion after the first trimester, and the right to restrict abortions in some cases after viability, often deemed to be 20 to 23 weeks into the pregnancy… Click to see more

Georgia v. Randolph (2006)

The Fourth Amendment requires police to gain permission from a person before they search a home without a warrant. But in 2005 the Supreme Court faced the situation where one person at the home says yes, and another says no. Janet Randolph called police complaining that her estranged husband, Scott Randolph, had taken their son. After police arrived, Janet Randolph accused her husband of using cocaine and gave police permission to search their home. But Scott Randolph adamantly refused

The Supreme Court found in favor of Scott Randolph in 2006, ruling, “Thus a disputed invitation, without more, gives an officer no better claim to reasonableness in entering than the officer would have absent any consent.”… Click to see more

Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) : Same Sex Marriage

This recent case arose from multiple state laws banning same-sex marriage. Groups of same-sex couples sued state agencies in Kentucky, Michigan, Tennessee, and Ohio to challenge the state bans on gay marriage. In their arguments, the same-sex couples asserted the 14th Amendment, and the Equal Protection Clause, along with some claims under the Civil Rights Act. As a result, the U.S. Supreme Court held in favor of the same-sex couples. It ruled that same-sex couples are guaranteed the fundamental right to marry under the U.S. Constitution… Click to see more

Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965)

landmark decision of the US Supreme Court in which the Court ruled that the Constitution of the United States protects the liberty of married couples to buy and use contraceptives without government restriction. The case involved a Connecticut “Comstock law” that prohibited any person from using “any drug, medicinal article or instrument for the purpose of preventing conception”. The court held that the statute was unconstitutional, and that “the clear effect of [the Connecticut law …] is to deny disadvantaged citizens … access to medical assistance and up-to-date information in respect to proper methods of birth control.” By a vote of 7–2, the Supreme Court invalidated the law on the grounds that it violated the “right to marital privacy”, establishing the basis for the right to privacy with respect to intimate practices. This and other cases view the right to privacy as a right to “protect[ion] from governmental intrusion”… Click to see more

Family Law Case Summaries

Family Law Stories

Standby Guardianship

What happens when someone who is responsible for an incapacitated family member or a minor child becomes no longer able to do so?  For a

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