Family law refers to issues related to family matters, including marriage and divorce, treatment of children and other domestic relations.
Family law matters can be particularly difficult and emotional for everyone involved. Our compassionate and dedicated team of attorneys and professional staff are experienced in handling a wide variety of family law matters. We can assist you with your marital dissolution (divorce), child custody, child visitation, child support, paternity, legal separation, prenuptial agreements, postnuptial agreements,annulments, paternity, spousal support (alimony), or registered domestic partnership agreements.
A Divorce (Dissolution of Marriage) ends the marital relationship between a husband and wife.
Divorce is difficult. Not only must you deal with the emotions and pain of losing your marriage, but you are bombarded with opinions of family and friends about what you should or should not do. In addition,the procedures for divorce can be complicated.
We are here to help you through it. We seek to resolve your divorce issues in an efficient and economic manner. Our goal is to protect your rights, provide a healthy environment for your children and enable you to move forward in a positive way. Our attorneys and professional staff have extensive experience with representing our clients’ interests in divorce, legal separation and dissolution of marriage. Our highest priority is the protection of your rights and the betterment of your future.
The necessary steps in obtaining a divorce will depend on the particular situation of the parties getting the divorce.
The first step in the divorce process is filing a petition. The person filing for the divorce will be named the “petitioner” by the courts while the other party to the divorce is referred to as the “respondent” or, in some states, the “defendant.” The petition will state the grounds for the divorce. In the US, acceptable grounds for terminating a marriage differ from state to state. Mainly, the grounds fall into two categories – fault and no-fault. Fault grounds include such deliberate acts as adultery, abandonment and cruelty. No-fault grounds include incompatibility and separation. Your lawyer can tell you whether fault grounds are available in your state, and if so, whether or not it makes sense to file for divorce on fault grounds.
The court can issue temporary orders that outline specific actions that must take place immediately and last until the final divorce hearing. Examples of things covered in temporary orders are child support, spousal support and child custody. These orders are legally binding and not following them will mean finding yourself in contempt of court. If found in contempt, you can be jailed or fined according to the discretion of the judge.
Once you file the complaint, your spouse has to be notified, or served. You (or your lawyer) must submit to the court proof that your spouse has been formally notified. Usually, the spouse can simply sign what is sometimes called a Voluntary Appearance document. If your spouse signs a Voluntary Appearance document, then he or she simply agrees to everything in the complaint and does not have to respond. Otherwise, he or she must formally respond, or file an answer, within a specific period of time -- usually 20 to 30 days. And, once he or she responds, there is another waiting period before a hearing can be set.
If your spouse is served and does not answer, then the judge can grant you everything requested in the complaint.
If your spouse cannot be located, then usually a "service by publication" can be filed. In this case, notice about the divorce appears in a newspaper serving the county where your spouse last lived. This method for service usually allows a longer response period.
The party who receives service of process will then need to file a response to the petition. If a divorce was sought on fault grounds and the responding party wants to dispute those grounds, he or she will need to address it in the response. The responding party may choose to dispute the facts that are alleged to be the grounds for divorce or he or she may choose to assert a defense to the grounds. If there is disagreement as to property division, support, custody, or any other issue, this should be set out in the response.
If the parties don't agree on all the issues, they will need to try to negotiate their differences. The court may schedule settlement conferences that attempt to move the parties toward a final resolution of the issues. If the parties disagree on child custody and visitation, the court may also order mediation, evaluation of the children and parents by a social worker or other court employee and that a lawyer or guardian ad litem be appointed to represent the children. Other issues that may need to be negotiated are the property division and any spousal support.
Any issues the parties absolutely cannot resolve between themselves will have to be decided at a trial.However, going to trial will take longer, cost more money, and have less predictable results so it is probably best to avoid going to trial if possible.
The order of dissolution ends the marriage and spells out how the property and debts are to be divided, custody, support and any other issues. When the parties negotiate their own resolution to all of the issues, they will draft the order of dissolution and submit it to the court. If the order of dissolution complies with legal requirements and both parties entered into it knowingly and willingly, then the judge will approve it. Otherwise the court will issue an Order of Dissolution at the end of the trial.
When a married couple gets a divorce, the court may award "alimony" or spousal support to one of the former spouses, based either on an agreement between the couple or a decision by the court itself.
Our attorneys are very familiar with the spousal support statutes. We can help you determine whether or not spousal support is appropriate and, if so, how much and for how long.
The following is a discussion of the basics of alimony and spousal support.
The purpose of alimony is to limit any unfair economic effects of a divorc by providing a continuing income to a non-wage-earning or lower-wage-earning spouse. Part of the justification is that one spouse may have chosen to forego a career to support the family, and needs time to develop job skills to support his or herself. Another purpose may be to help a spouse continue the standard of living they had during marriage.
Unlike child support, which in most states is mandated according to very specific monetary guidelines,courts have broad discretion in determining whether to award alimony and, if so, how much and for how long. The Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act, on which many states' spousal support statutes are based, recommends that courts consider the following factors in making decisions about alimony awards:
Although awards may be hard to estimate, whether the payer spouse will comply with a support order is even harder to gauge. Alimony enforcement is not like child-support enforcement, which has the "teeth" of wage garnishment, liens, and other enforcement mechanisms. The recipient could, however, return to court in a contempt proceeding to force payment. Because alimony can be awarded with a court order, the mechanisms available for enforcing any court order are available to a former spouse who is owed alimony.
Alimony is often deemed "rehabilitative," that is, it is ordered for only so long as is necessary for the recipient spouse to receive training and become self-supporting. If the divorce decree does not specify a spousal support termination date, the payments must continue until the court orders otherwise. Most awards end if the recipient remarries. Termination upon the payer's death is not necessarily automatic; in cases in which the recipient spouse is unlikely to obtain gainful employment, due perhaps to age or health considerations, the court may order that further support be provided from the payer's estate or life insurance proceeds.
The issue of alimony will come up in many divorces, whether it's through out-of-court settlements, or a divorce trial. Because it's often difficult to establish yourself financially after a divorce, alimony can play an important role in helping to adjust to life after marriage. In order to understand your options, and whether you could owe or receive alimony, it's important to speak with an experienced divorce law attorney
No area of family law brings more tension, anxiety, volatility and raw emotion than child custody. Child custody refers to the collection of responsibilities and rights that parents have regarding their children’s general welfare, authority, religion, education and health care.
Custody decisions will continue to affect your family life long after the divorce, so it is in yours and your child’s best interests to understand your legal rights and obligations.
Our attorneys are experienced in child custody matters. We will work with you to develop a legal strategy that will achieve your needs and the needs of your children, through negotiation, mediation or,if needed, by litigation.
To fully understand the types of child custody and visitation available to you, you'll need to become familiar with the terminology used by legal experts. In particular, you need to understand the distinction between legal custody and physical custody.
Legal custody refers to the legal authority to make major decisions on behalf of your child. Examples of major decisions include where your child will go to school, what type of religious upbringing he or she will have (if any), and non-emergency medical decisions. Legal custody options include:
Physical custody refers to where the children live the majority of the time. This is sometimes referred to as "residential custody." Types of physical custody include:
Parent-child visitation allows parents who do not have physical custody to see their children on a regular basis. Types of visitation include:
Our experienced Family Law attorneys can assist in developing and negotiating comprehensive custody settlement agreements, providing references to mediation expertise, and formalizing agreements reached as a result of mediation or litigation.
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