Family Law

Guide to Parental Rights & Obligations




What is Family Law?

Family law consists of a body of statutes and case precedents that govern the legal responsibilities between individuals who share a domestic connection. These cases usually involve parties who are related by blood or marriage, but family law can affect those in more distant or casual relationships as well. Due to the emotionally-charged nature of most family law cases, litigants are strongly advised to retain legal counsel.

The vast majority of family law proceedings come about as a result of the termination of a marriage or romantic relationship. Family law attorneys help their clients file for separation or divorce, alimony, and child custody, visitation, and support. Spouses married a short time may seek an annulment, and special rights may exist between same-sex couples. The division of property at the end of a marriage is also a common issue in family law cases.

With respect to property division at the time of divorce, every state has a comprehensive set of laws in place to determine the rights of the parties. However, couples who do not agree with the default rules in their state can “opt-out” by hiring a lawyer to draft a prenuptial agreement. Absent fraud or duress, courts will enforce these premarital agreements upon divorce, and distribute property and financial support accordingly.

Family law also involves the prevention of physical and emotional abuse. The potential for domestic abuse is not limited to relationships between current or former spouses and their children. Judges will not hesitate to assert jurisdiction to protect an elderly family member, someone in a dating relationship, or even a roommate. When allegations of abuse are made, the court will typically issue a restraining order to prevent further contact.

In a contested family law case, most people understand that hiring a skilled attorney will provide an advantage. An attorney can find assets or income the other party is trying to hide, present arguments regarding child support and visitation, and even take the case to trial if settlement talks fail. Attorney representation is just as crucial in uncontested cases, however. Without it, a party is vulnerable and can unknowingly waive important legal rights.

Parental Rights & Obligations

The issue of child custody is the most common dispute in family court. As should be expected, parents are extremely concerned with the safety, education, and overall wellbeing of their children. Custody decisions become even more difficult following a divorce or breakup, as parents tend to be distrustful of each other at these times. Regardless of the state of affairs between the parents, judges will always decide custody based on “the best interests of the child.”

In an effort to do what is best for the child, the court can assign legal and physical custody to one parent, or these rights can be shared. A typical schedule would allow the child to spend weekends, summers, and alternating holidays with the non-custodial parent, with both parents having an equal say in major decisions affecting the child. When approving a custody schedule, the court will do what it can to avoid unnecessary disruptions to the child’s life.

All parents have a legal duty to provide financial support for their children. The amount of support ordered in a particular case will be calculated according to state statute. Most states publish a child support worksheet that simplifies the task. The calculation will take into account the respective incomes of the parents, the cost of health insurance for the child, support paid for other children by the non-custodial parent, and more.

Custody and support orders are subject to modification. In fact, family law attorneys spend much of their time representing clients in modification proceedings. To alter a visitation schedule or revise the amount of child support, the requesting party must demonstrate that circumstances have changed since the order was entered. Examples of changed circumstances include loss of employment, moving, a parent becoming disabled, etc.

Family law cases can involve a number of other issues. Establishing (or disproving) paternity is a common subject of litigation, although it is becoming less complicated with the ability of courts to order DNA testing. Other issues include the termination of parental rights, adoption, gay and LGBT relations, and grandparent rights. Family law in the 21st century is evolving quickly, making it more important than ever to seek advice from a qualified attorney.

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Know your Rights!

  • Creating a Prenuptial Agreement

    It is easy to become wrapped up in the excitement of love and a wedding and to forget about what exactly could be at stake should things go wrong. It may not be terribly romantic, but it could be very wise to think through both the good and the bad of a marriage.

  • How Does a Minor Get Emancipated from His or Her Parents?

    Emancipation allows a a minor to conduct business or hold a job on his or her own behalf, enter into contracts, and otherwise generally be treated as one who had reached the age of majority (i.e., an adult). Whether parental consent is required for emancipation can depend on the circumstances and the jurisdiction.

  • How to Get an Annulment

    In many ways, annulments are no different than divorces. Like a divorce, an annulment is a court order after a proceeding that essentially dissolves a marriage. But, unlike a divorce, an annulment has the legal effect of declaring that the marriage never existed in the first place.

  • Where is Same-Sex Marriage Legal in the United States?

    Same-sex marriage is now legally recognized in several states as well as the federal government for tax and immigration purposes.

Articles About Family Law

  • Finalizing a Divorce in Baltimore County
    One of the most frequent questions that divorcing couples ask is “how long will this take?”
  • New Maryland Divorce Law
    A new Maryland law will now make it easier for couples without minor children to divorce.
  • Frequently Asked Questions about Child Support in Utah
    For parents, child support in the event of a spousal separation or divorce is one of the most serious issues that they will have to face. If you are a parent and are concerned about your rights to child support, or your child support obligation, the following answers some of the most FAQs about child support in Utah.
  • What Is an Incorporated Settlement Agreement in Divorce?
    In divorce orders and separation agreements, there may be terms such as “merged,” “survived” or “incorporated” that individuals without a legal background may not understand. However, these terms have very specific meanings and can have a big impact on the divorce.
  • Do I Have a Right to a Family Business in Divorce?
    When contemplating divorce, spouses may think about the family home, real estate, financial accounts and maybe even retirement accounts. However, one important asset that should also be considered is whether a family business may be subject to marital distribution.
  • Special Considerations for Gray Divorces
    When a couple gets divorced later in life, this is dubbed a “gray divorce.” Older individuals often have different issues to deal with during the divorce process than individuals of other age brackets. These special considerations include:
  • Why Should I Go through Divorce Mediation?
    Divorce mediation is an alternative to litigating issues. In some jurisdictions, mediation is required in all family law cases. However, mediation can also be proposed by one of the parties even absent the court’s order to participate in it.
  • What Decisions Does the Judge Make in Divorce Cases?
    A family law judge has a tremendous amount of power in divorce cases. He or she may make a variety of decisions that can impact spouses for years to come.
  • What Is the Difference Between Fault and No-Fault Divorce?
    When a spouse petitions for divorce, he or she usually has two options. He or she can either ask for a divorce based on no-fault grounds or he or she can file based on fault-grounds. The option he or she chooses depends on the state laws where he or she lives and the particular circumstances of the case.
  • Basics of Pennsylvania Family Law Litigation
    What does “going to court” mean? That depends on whether you’re referring to the world of prime-time television (L.A. Law for my generation) or the real world of family law litigation. On prime-time television, it means filing an action and a short time later having a full hearing before a judge with everything wrapped up within an hour. The real world is much different.
  • All Family Law Articles

Family Law - US

  • ABA - Section of Family Law

    American Bar Association Section of Family Law's dedicated lawyers, associates and law students serve as leaders in the field of marital and family law. ABA Section of Family Law offers products and resources for lawyers, students and the public.

  • Administration for Children and Families (ACF)

    The purpose of Administration for Children and Families (ACF) is to ensure the welfare and well-being of the quality of life of children and families. Their programs are aimed at empowering and equipping individuals, families and communities by finding solutions to difficult situations, through assistance, support and caring.

  • Child Welfare Information Gateway

    Child Welfare Information Gateway contributes to protecting children by providing access to, online and offline, resources. The information covers topics related to the welfare of children.

  • Family Law

    Here legal aspects regarding Family Law are addressed. The material and topics include, but are not limited to: living together, marriage, divorce, adoption, child support and more.

  • Family Law - State Statutes

    Family Law legislation differs from State to State. Here the Statues, regarding Family Law across the country.

  • Family Law - Wikipedia

    Family Law is part of the law that deals with relations within the family and issues related thereto. Examples of family law are: the nature and issues arising from a marriage; civil unions and domestic partnerships; mental and physical abuse of the spouse and/or children; legitimacy, adoption, surrogacy and abduction of children; annulment, divorce, alimony and settlements; and custody, visitation and support pertaining to the child.

  • Family Law Organization - Family Law Code by State

    Family Law Organization offers resources to attorneys and parents. These resources include the Family Law Code, attorney database and discussion links.

  • Uniting American Families Act

    The Uniting American Families Act (formerly the Permanent Partners Immigration Act) amends the definition of “spouse” under the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act. This remedy allows U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents to sponsor their same-sex partners for family-based immigration.

  • US Department of Health and Human Services - Families

    This Department provides essential human services to protect the health of the people. The topics contain information on safety, health insurance and how to improve your own health and the health of your family.

Family Law - International

Organizations Regarding Family Law

Publications Regarding Family Law


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