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Family Law Overview

Family law embraces the branch of civil law that includes the legal relationships among family members, including husbands, wives, parents, children, and domestic partners. A family law attorney or a family law lawyer specializes in the family law relationships that encompass adoption, child custody, visitation rights, guardianship of minors, domestic violence, marriage, annulment, divorce, legal separation, juvenile dependency and delinquency, marital property rights, support obligations, termination of parental rights, emancipation of minors, and paternity. Because these personal relationships are governed by state law, what constitutes "family law" may vary from state to state. Increasingly, family law is becoming subject to uniform acts. 

Types of Firms Practicing Family Law
Many lawyers practice some family law. While most practice family law as solos, some practice in 2-5 person boutiques. A few practice in departments of full-service larger firms (20+ persons). A significant number of civil generalists handle a small amount of family law.
Large law firms may maintain family law departments in order to serve their business clients with premarital agreements or during a divorce. They want to retain their clients, and marital dissolutions typically impact a business in the same manner as a partner or shareholder dispute. However, conflicts of interest generally disqualify the firm from representing either side if they have obtained information while representing both. Also, property disposition, employee benefits, and living (revocable) trusts all create major family law/estate planning crossovers. Estate planning attorneys often require assistance regarding family law issues such as fiduciary duty, transmutation and tracing.
Typical Tasks Performed by Family Law Attorneys
Attorneys practicing family law generally handle the following types of tasks:
  • Representing the client in a dissolution/divorce proceeding (80%):
    • Providing an overview of the proceeding to the client;
    • Explaining the issues and the possible outcomes;
    • Gathering all personal data;
    • Gathering all asset and debt-related facts;
    • Determining the client’s objectives;
    • Initiating the proceeding with a court filing that establishes the boundaries of just what is at stake in the proceeding;
    • Seeking temporary orders pending trial as necessary;
    • Drafting temporary will;
    • Conducting appropriate discovery;
    • Conducting legal research on disputed issues;
    • Preparing for settlement/trial;
    • Participating in settlement conference/conduct trial;
    • Preparing/approving documentation resolving all legal issues;
    • Preparing documentation to protect client’s rights against third parties with notice of entry of judgment, abstract of judgment, deeds, orders regarding pension plans, notices to insurance companies, insurance assignments, rollover of IRA and 401(k) interests.
  • Enforcing provisions of a dissolution/divorce judgment:
    • Collecting of support (spousal; public agencies do child support);
    • Forcing sale of asset, payment of debt or transfer of interest in pension.
  • Modifying support provisions in dissolution/divorce judgment.
  • Handling juvenile court matter (mostly court-appointed public counsel).
  • Handling Parentage action (increasing Alternative Reproductive Technology).
  • Handling Adoption.