Many people are familiar with the term “family law” but may not have heard of “domestic relations law.” The two terms are interchangeable, as both refer to the field of law that addresses legal issues or disputes that affect relationships among family members. Relationships between spouses, domestic partnerships, civil unions, parents and children, and legal guardians and wards all fall within the scope of domestic relations law.
So, when might you seek the services of a lawyer handling domestic relations cases? The following are descriptions of the types of cases a domestic relations attorney covers:
Getting married is usually one of the most exciting times of your life. It’s also a significant life change involving many moving parts, especially if you have been married. Combining assets and finances, ensuring your children are provided for, and protecting your business might not be the most romantic things to think about, but you’ll be glad you did if things ever change in the future. Drafting prenuptial agreements is not just for celebrities and the rich. It’s a good idea for everyone planning to get married.
Postnuptial agreements can come into play if your finances change dramatically after you’re already married. For instance, if you inherit money from a relative and want to ensure it passes to your children from a previous marriage, or if you’re starting a business and want to protect your spouse from the financial risks involved, a postnuptial agreement would help.
Divorce is often stressful for everyone involved. Sometimes the parties involved can resolve issues of spousal support or alimony, child custody and visitation, and division of marital property and assets amicably on their own (especially if a prenuptial agreement is in place). Sometimes they can’t. In either case, working with a domestic relations attorney during a divorce can speed up and smooth out the process, easing some of the stress during a highly emotional time.
Some couples choose legal separation rather than divorce. The reasons for choosing this route can vary from religious or traditional values to maintaining insurance coverage or tax benefits. Whatever the reason, legal separation is as legally binding as divorce.
Domestic relations attorneys can guide you and your partner through the process of developing a separation agreement that clearly outlines each person’s responsibilities regarding assets, debts, child custody and visitation, living expenses, and more.
After a divorce, many couples face difficult financial decisions, especially if one spouse earns significantly more income than the other. The court might order temporary or permanent spousal support, also known as alimony, where one party pays a certain amount monthly to ensure their former spouse can maintain their lifestyle.
In addition, you might be eligible to receive palimony, which is similar to alimony, even if you were not legally married. Domestic relations attorneys are familiar with each state’s regulations and will know how best to present your case.
If you do not have a prenuptial agreement, dividing up property and assets can be overwhelming, especially if the divorce is contentious. A domestic relations attorney can help establish an arrangement that satisfies both sides and stands up in court. Regulations regarding the division of the marital estate vary from state to state, so it’s essential to consult with an attorney who is up-to-date on the laws in your state.
Regardless of whether you and your partner were married, if you share children with them, it’s crucial to establish clear guidelines for co-parenting if you decide to end your relationship. When determining custody, you will need to consider each of the following types:
- Physical custody – how much time each parent gets to spend with the child
- Legal custody – which parent is responsible for dealing with issues of schooling, health care, etc.
- Sole custody – one parent maintains primary physical and legal custody. The other parent might or might not be granted visitation rights
- Joint custody – physical and legal custody is split between the parents. Often, joint custody is not a completely even split, especially if it interferes with schooling
Child custody arrangements and visitation rights are extremely important and sensitive issues. Unfortunately, many parents cannot agree, so involving a domestic relations attorney is often in the child’s best interests to smooth out the process.
Similar to spousal support, domestic relations attorneys can work to establish a child support agreement that takes custody issues and income into consideration. Since every state is different, working with an expert is vital to protect your child’s future. A domestic relations attorney can also ensure you get court-ordered child support if your former spouse refuses to pay it.
In some cases, a former partner might deny paternity in order to evade child support. On the other hand, a former partner might claim paternity to gain child custody or visitation rights. Either case is extraordinarily delicate, highly fraught, and emotional. Seeking outside help from a domestic relations attorney will help protect you and your child and give you peace of mind.
Sadly, there are situations in which domestic violence, stalking, or physical threats might affect your family relationships. In these cases, a domestic relations attorney can obtain orders or protection for you.
The laws surrounding adoption can be complicated. If you are fostering a child and want to take the next step and legally adopt them, or if you are a stepparent hoping to adopt your stepchild legally, you should seek the expertise of a domestic relations attorney who can better facilitate the process.
In legal terms, guardianship means you are allowed to make decisions on behalf of another person to help protect or care for them. You might request guardianship of a child as a step toward legal adoption, or you might need to become the legal guardian of an adult who cannot care for themselves. A domestic relations attorney can walk you through the process in court.
In certain situations, a minor might want the ability to make legal decisions for themselves. Legally, this situation is referred to as emancipation. The minor requests release in court from the custody of a parent or guardian and becomes responsible for themselves.
Are you facing any of the issues outlined above? We can help! The domestic relations attorneys at Warren Allen have been helping families just like yours in the Pacific Northwest for over fifty years. We provide legal advice, support, and representation for all your family law needs.