It’s easy for the layperson to hear the job title “lawyer” and assume that the person in question knows everything about every facet of the law. Law students may study a cursory amount of all areas of legal import, but they specialize in one.
What lawyer types that the average person is most familiar with? Simple! Personal injury attorneys and family attorneys. Here, we’re going to focus on the family sector of the law.
What does a family attorney do? When might you need to hire one? How can you tell you have the best attorney for your family court case? Here’s what you need to know.
What Is a Family Attorney?
First things first, let’s define some terms. What is a family attorney? In simplest terms, a family attorney is a trained legal professional who specializes in family law. These attorneys get brought in to handle complex cases with difficult family dynamics in order to find a solution that’s in the best interests of both the children and the parents.
What Types of Cases Do Family Attorneys Handle?
As with any complex field, attorneys can have a vast amount of specializations. The field of family law may seem simple on the surface. However, it encompasses many different types of cases that require specialized skill sets, including:
When you mention needing the legal help of a family attorney, most people are going to assume that what you really need is a Divorce Lawyer like Scott Brown and Associates. Indeed, divorce is one of the most common types of legal cases that a family attorney can handle.
Most dedicated family law attorneys will help the divorcing parties handle their affairs out of court, where possible. However, in particularly acrimonious divorces, they may be forced to bring the case to trial. Some of the things that a family attorney handles during a divorce case include:
- Division of property
- Child custody arrangements
- Child support payments
- Division of financial assets
If you try to go it alone, without the aid of a family attorney, the divorce process becomes a lot messier, more tangled, and emotional.
Child Custody Disputes
Naturally, as part and parcel of a divorce or separation case, a family attorney also handles child custody disputes. When the spouses divorcing remain reasonable and amicable, custody arrangements can get hammered out smoothly. However, when tensions run high, the opposing party has lawyers of their own, or one parent is trying to isolate their child from the other, a lawyer needs to get involved.
Another case type that family lawyers handle on a regular basis is legal adoptions. Whether the couple in question is a gay couple eager to raise their own child, a family that struggles with infertility, or someone in the extended family legally severing the parental rights of the blood parents, the best family attorneys can handle it all.
If, as part of all of this, the adopted child wants to change their name (or the parent wishes to change it for them), then a family lawyer can handle that as well. (Fun fact: They can also handle voluntary name changes outside of adoptions and divorces.)
Setting Power of Attorney
As much as we would all like to think that we’ll retain our wits as we get older, for most of us, that simply won’t be the case. It’s never fun to consider. However, everyone needs a plan for who should be in charge of their affairs if something happens that renders them incapable of handling things by themselves.
Power of attorney kicks in when an elderly family member can no longer handle their own finances. Or, alternatively, when someone lays on life support in the hospital and cannot decide for themselves whether or not they should be allowed to die.
Handling Legal Guardianship
What happens when neither parent is capable of caring for their minor children, whether due to death or destitution? In such cases, a lawyer will need to sit down with the family and help them decide who should care for their children if they are incapable. Once a legal guardianship contract is drafted, it will remain in effect until the children turn eighteen and can make legal decisions for themselves.
Domestic Violence and Restraining Orders
You might think that, in circumstances of crimes like stalking and domestic violence, a criminal attorney would handle the legal case. However, handling situations involving domestic abuse and familial restraining orders falls under the purview of a family attorney, not a criminal one.
Family lawyers can help people extricate themselves and their children from abusive situations. They may also be able to guide them towards what criminal charges they can press against the former spouse.
Even in cases where criminal charges cannot be pressed, handling affairs through a family attorney can provide a much-needed buffer against a toxic and abusive person.
When Should You Hire a Family Attorney?
Now that you understand what a family attorney is and the various types of cases they can handle, let’s get down to business. When do you need to hire an attorney to handle your familial affairs?
In most cases, it’s recommended to handle familial disputes outside of court. Bringing a case to trial can get expensive, especially in cases of guardianship or conservatorship. However, certain situations require an attorney’s perspective and knowledge, including:
Contentious Family Matters
If the intra-family dispute is so strong that it threatens any semblance of peace in the home, it might be a good idea to bring in legal help. Sometimes, the presence of a legally certified outside observer can allow people to come to peaceable terms with one another.
It may also be a good idea to reach out to a family lawyer if you suspect that a matter like custody, a divorce, or some other issue will become contentious enough to need outside help. It’s better to have the information of a lawyer handy and not need it than to need it and not have it.
When a Marriage Is About to End
Naturally, when a marriage is coming to an end, it’s time to lawyer up. Even if you and your ex-spouse are on decent terms as far as dividing property and custody, you’ll still need an attorney to handle the paperwork side of things. And, of course, if the ending of the marriage is not so idyllic, a skilled family attorney can manage the personalities involved and try to bring everyone to a peaceable agreement with everyone’s best interests in mind.
When Children Are Involved
Everything becomes more complicated when children, especially minor children, are involved. Children require custodial guardians, proper guidance, food, shelter, and a psychologically safe space with their families. So, if you and your partner are getting divorced, want to bring children into your home, or are setting up arrangements for after you’re gone, you need the services of a trained family attorney.
When Planning Ahead for the Future
Do you know what will happen to your children, your assets, or yourself when you become incapable of looking after them? Do you have guardians set up should you pass before your children become eighteen? Have you sat down and drafted a will and testament or an estate plan?
If not, then you may need to hire a family attorney, especially if you feel like death could arrive for you sooner, rather than later. Hiring an attorney to draft out plans for your power of attorney, legal guardianship for your children, and of course, the allocation of your assets after you pass on will ensure that your last wishes are respected.
When You Can’t Negotiate With the Other Party
This goes hand in hand with the contentious family issues mentioned above. However, there’s a difference between contentious and acrimonious. Contentious means that it’s difficult to negotiate with the other family member. Acrimonious means that it’s impossible to discuss terms civilly or safely. This applies both to cases where a former spouse or guardian is being difficult and cases where domestic abuse and other forms of violence are involved.
The best attorneys will find a way to discuss favorable terms while keeping you safe from harm that the other party in the legal case may cause.
Looking for More Legal Tips and Tricks?
Hiring an attorney is never an easy decision to make. Figuring out when to hire a family attorney can be even harder, as you may not want to worsen existing family issues. However, if you found this article about when to hire a family lawyer helpful, and need more help understanding your legal options, check out our blog. We update each day with more helpful and informative articles like this one!