What is Family Law?

What does that even mean? Common questions you may never think to ask…

What is family law? Family law is an area of the law referring to matters arising from a dissolution of marriage, annulment, an action for support unconnected with a dissolution of marriage, an action for paternity, child support, or involving a parenting plan for a minor child(ren), a proceeding for temporary or concurrent custody of a minor child(ren) by extended family member, adoption, proceedings for emancipation of a minor, a declaratory judgment action related to a premarital, marital or post-marital agreement, injunctions for protection against domestic, repeat, dating, and sexual violence, and stalking, and all proceedings for modification, enforcement, and civil contempt of these actions. As you can see, family law encompasses quite a bit.

What is a family law attorney? A family law attorney is a lawyer who represents individuals on any one or more of these issues. Not all family law attorneys, however, handle all types of these cases. Some attorneys limit their practice area to one or a few of the issues listed above. For example, some family law attorneys only handle dissolution of marriage actions; some only handle injunctions for protection against domestic, repeat, dating and sexual violence and stalking; and, some only handle adoptions. Additionally, while all Florida attorneys can practice in the state as a whole, many family law attorneys limit the geographic scope of their practice. An example might be an attorney who only practices family law in the counties that encompass the Second Judicial Circuit which includes, Leon, Franklin, Gadsden, Liberty, Jefferson, and Wakulla.

Types of Family Law Cases

To break family law down a little further here are some very simplified definitions of the areas of the law related to family law and the family court system:

1. Petition for Dissolution of Marriage – most people know what this is. It is an action filed in the court seeking to have the marriage dissolved and the parties (Husband and Wife/Husband and Husband/Wife and Wife) restored to being single.

2. Petition to Establish Paternity – many people are also familiar with this action. Because Father’s and, now, donor Mothers, do not give birth to child(ren) in the physical sense, their parentage of the child is not legally presumed. Accordingly, this is one of the processes by which a parent can seek to legally establish their rights to their child. Until those rights are established, they have no legal duty to support the child nor do they have any legal right to the child.

3. Action for Annulment – this is a very uncommon legal action seeking to an Order or Decree concluding the “marriage” is void or never actually occurred. An example of this would be where parties married before one of the party’s was divorced or where the officiant of the ceremony did not have the capacity to marry the parties.

4. Petition for Adoption – most people know what this is however, many people may not know that adults can be adopted too. Obviously, the process is somewhat different but, there is a process by which both children and adults can be adopted by their new parents. Just as with children, adults adopted to parents become the legal child of the adopted parents and, therefore, entitled to all rights and benefits of a biological child under the law.

5. Petition for Injunction for Protection Against Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Violence, Repeat Violence, and Stalking. While each of these injunctions have similar proof requirements, the underlying result being sought in all actions is a court order directing the offending person to have no contact with the filing person. In this particular type of case, there are no filing fees assessed to the filing party and, if the allegations of abuse are sufficient to meet the requisite legal standard, the judge will sign a temporary injunction (order granting the relief) that will last for 15 days or until a full hearing can be held.

6. Petition for Temporary Custody – The is a very under-utilized process by which a parent/both parents can grant temporary or concurrent custody to another family member for specific or unspecified periods of time. This grants the appointed custodian, the ability to make educational, health care and other such decisions for the child(ren) as may be necessary.While this information is not comprehensive or complete, I am hopeful it provides individuals with a little clearer picture of family law issues. The more we know, the more we understand, the better able we are to make informed decisions.

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