A family law attorney is a lawyer who specializes in and practices family law. Family law itself varies in definition from state to state. However, most states agree that this area of law revolves around legal matters like:
- marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships
- divorce, separation, or annulment
- paternity testing
- paternity fraud
- child abuse
- child abduction
- property settlements
- child support
- parental visitation and custody
These topics influence the integrity, safety, and future of people’s lives. The courts in all 50 states and U.S. territories make it a priority to protect vulnerable parties, particularly children under the age of 18 who are entitled to financial support and access to both parents when appropriate.
Determining when it is appropriate for children to have access to both parents or if it is safe for people to enter into legal arrangements like marriage or divorce also may require the intervention and attention of the courts. Family law judges have the obligation of protecting people who may not be able to make their own decisions or fail to realize what might be in their own best interests.
Furthermore, family attorneys advocate for people who may be intimidated or otherwise powerless in the courtroom. They ensure that members of a family have a voice in the legal proceedings and receive the justice and compensation to which they are legally entitled under state law.
Family lawyers may practice alone or as part of a firm that specializes in this area of law. When you wonder if you should hire a family law attorney to handle your case or what criteria to look for when vetting possible lawyers to represent you, you may get the best counsel for your situation by learning how and when to retain a family law attorney.
How to Find a Good Family Attorney
Before you hire a family law attorney, you may want to be on the lookout for several qualifications that could play a big role in the outcome of your case. As mentioned, a good family law attorney should be adept at handling any aspect of family law whether you are filing for a legal separation or plan on asking the court for joint custody of your child.
As such, when you start interviewing prospective family attorneys, you should make it a point to ask how long the attorney has been in practice and what percentage of his or her career is devoted to family law. Someone who has been in practice for years should be well-versed in the finer points of the state’s family laws including whether or not people can file for grandparents rights or child custody of a niece, nephew, or other minor child.
Of course, a good family law attorney should also know on what grounds you can seek a dissolution of marriage or legal separation as well as file any other case that fits within the state’s definition of family law. A novice attorney, even one who graduated with top honors from law school, may not have the skill or experience you need to get a viable separation agreement or to win joint custody over your children.
With that, before you put a family law attorney on retainer, you should ask for his or her educational and professional background information and also ask how long the person has been practicing as a family law attorney. If the lawyer has practiced for several years if not a decade or longer, you can be assured that he or she knows the state’s family laws including if you have grounds for divorce or a legal dissolution of marriage in the state in which you live now or plan to file the case. In fact, regardless of what kind of case you plan to file, a skilled family law attorney should be able to take it on with competence and with the assertiveness that you look for in good legal representation.
If you have never before hired a lawyer, let alone a family law attorney, you may wonder how to find one in your area who is willing to take your case. You can start by asking for your friends and loved ones for referrals. You probably know at least one person who has filed for a separation agreement, divorce, custody, visitation, or other family law matter.
You can also look online and consider the reviews of previous clients of family lawyers in your city or state. Based on the reviews that you find online, you can determine what ones to call and interview before putting one on retainer.
Finally, the state bar typically acts as a referral and may be able to point you in the direction of a good family law attorney who is within your price range and capable of handling your case. You can call the state bar association directly or get a referral for a family law attorney on its website.
When to Hire a Family Lawyer
After you learn the qualifications to look for in an experienced family law attorney, your next question might center on when to put this professional on retainer. As with most other important tasks in life, it is better for you to act early rather than too late to guarantee you the legal outcome you want with your case.
For example, if you plan on filing for sole child custody of your children, you may want to hire a lawyer before you even leave the marriage, end the relationship with the other parent, or otherwise make the other party aware of your intentions. Your lawyer can file the appropriate paperwork immediately with the court and have the other party served by the sheriff, thus notifying him or her of the impending case.
If you inform this person without legal representation, you put yourself at risk of countersuit or even in physical danger if the other person reacts hostilely towards you. Your family law attorney may even find it suitable to file a Protection from Abuse order (PFA) to protect you and your children from further harassment or victimization.
Similarly, if you plan on filing for grandparents rights or custody over other minor family members, you may want to hire a family law attorney as soon as possible. A family law attorney can file a motion with the court preventing the guardian or parent of the children from moving out of the state or city or otherwise restricting your access to the children. You may even be granted temporary guardianship until the case is presented and heard in court.
Regardless of what kind of family law case you file, you want a family law attorney who will be an assertive and knowledgeable ally in your upcoming legal effort. Each state has its own set of family laws on the books.
These laws are subject to change at any time and can be difficult for the average citizen to understand. You can avoid confusion, frustration, and failure with your case by hiring a family law attorney who is trained and experienced in this legal specialty to represent you in and out of court.