The world of family law is very different than just about any other type of legal practice. One of the major differences is that unlike dealing with many of the business related areas in which lawyers practice – family law can get personal. These family attorneys regularly deal with issues such as divorce, child custody and support, unforeseen deaths, wills and successions. These are areas of our lives which invoke strong emotions and are not always easy to deal with.
The issues of child custody and guardianship are a factor of the high divorce rate in America compounded by the number of children born out of wedlock. Family law matters surrounding children involve designating custody, child and spousal support, parental rights, adoption as well as community property negotiation. And when there are kids involved, hopefully all parties can focus on the best interests of the entire family rather than strictly their own self interests.
When it comes to child custody – courts will generally choose one of the following types:
· Temporary custody – this is granted during the divorce or separation proceedings and is usually replaced with a more permanent solution.
· Exclusive custody – This is when one parent gets all of the custody rights to the child and the other parent is excluded.
· Joint custody – refers to when parents are granted some version of equal rights regarding the child’s upbringing. Joint custody is usually reserved for situations where both parents are competent and able to carry about parental duties.
· Third party custody – if both parents are either incapacitated or deemed unfit, the courts can award custody to a third party and may include family members such as uncles, aunts and grandparents.
Another issue facing parents is what to do if you do not have a trustworthy person to leave as a legal guardian or trustee for your children or heirs. When this scenario arises, guardianships can be used as a last resort.
A guardianship refers to a situation where a child or incapacitated adult needs someone to manage their assets. These are usually supervised and assigned through the court system and require extensive legal work to setup and manage, including annual accounting and restrictions as to how money can be used and spent.
Wills & Successions
Wills & successions are often thought of as “estate planning” instruments, but really they should be considered part of family law. Taking the time to plan for unforeseen events is a critical part of ensuring your family is protected and your wishes can be followed, especially if the unimaginable happens. If you want to know how important having even a simple will can be, simply ask anyone who has unexpectedly lost a family member who didn’t have one!