Family law encompasses the most intimate and important relationships, those with our partners, children and parents. Although these relationships are common throughout the world, this area of law is complex because no two families or relationships are alike.
Legal proceedings that are common in family law practice include:
- Post-marital agreements
- Property distribution
- Establishing parental rights
- Terminating parental rights
- Surrogacy agreements
- Power of attorney agreements
- Domestic violence protection
- Preventing parental kidnapping
- Preventing elder abuse
- Agreements between unmarried couples
- Spousal support or alimony
- Survivor benefits
There are many legal consequences and obligations that automatically arise with parentage and marriage. Child support obligations, for example, are substantial, and do not disappear just because they are unenforced for a period of time. In many jurisdictions, all property acquired during a marriage is property belonging to the marital estate, to which each spouse has a present one-half interest. Spouses have fiduciary duties to each other, and parents have an obligation to care for their children that has legal priority over many others.
Spouses are able to change many of the default legal rules governing the marital contract by agreement. Similarly, unmarried couples may enter agreements that provide the same benefits that arise in marriage – such as shared property rights.
Family relationships are universal, but the laws governing these relationships vary. It can be a complicated process to determine which law applies, when a family has lived in many different places and acquired property in different countries, states and territories. When modifying child custody, or enforcing child support orders, courts in various jurisdictions cooperate, but the precise legal framework depends on which states, territories, or countries are involved.
Family law is an ever-changing practice. The practice of family law has changed drastically in recent history. No longer does marriage mean the end of a woman’s legal existence. No longer are children the property of their parents. No longer is the right to marry restricted by the spouses’ race or gender. The legal system is constantly evolving to keep pace with the progression of human rights.
Family law often intersects with other areas of law. For example, family law proceedings often have tax and immigration consequences, and govern the distribution of property upon death or the dissolution of a marriage or partnership. Rights to family relationships, such as marriage and the right to parent are recognized as U.S. constitutional rights.
Family law has an important role in protecting fundamental rights in difficult situations. While family law can encompass the most joyful parts of life, it also has an important role in the most difficult times: when loved ones die, when partners and parents split up, or when there is violence or abuse in the family unit. In these cases, strong advocacy and compassionate legal representation are especially critical.
Our firms strive to provide thorough and individualized advice and representation tailored to each family’s unique situation, to help our clients navigate difficult situations and meet their goals of healthy and secure relationships.