What Is Family Law?

Family law governs the legal responsibilities between individuals who share a domestic connection. Family law cases usually involve parties who are related by blood or marriage, but can also involve those in more distant or casual relationships. Due to the emotionally-charged nature of most family law cases, parties are strongly advised to retain legal counsel.

Common family law deals with issues arising from

  • a marriage;
  • civil unions and domestic partnerships;
  • mental and physical abuse of the spouse and/or children;
  • legitimacy, adoption, surrogacy and abduction of children;
  • annulment, divorce, alimony and settlements;
  • and custody, visitation and support.

Subjects include separation, divorce or annulment, child custody and visitation rights, child support payments, and spousal support/alimony. Family law specifically deals with children regarding adoption, guardianship, state child protection, and domestic violence.



Child custody issues often arise when a couple goes through a divorce.  If the couple agrees on their own on child custody and visitation, the court will usually honor such an agreement.  However, if the couple cannot reach an agreement, the court will issue a child custody plan based upon the legal standard of “the best interests of the child.”

The court will use several factors (e.g., parent’s ability to provide, health of the parents, preference of the child, etc.) to assign legal and physical custody to one parent, or these rights can be shared.


Child support is a series of court ordered payments by a noncustodial parent (the parent the child does not live with) to the parent with primary custody of the child.  Child support is intended to provide for the child’s necessities and usually covers food, shelter, and clothing, health and medical care, and educational expenditures.

Courts generally require each parent to complete a financial statement before deciding on child support.  The financial statement lists each parent’s gross income, minus any mandatory deductions like taxes, social security, healthcare, mandatory union dues, and other child support payments they may already be making.  Some courts may take into consideration a spouse’s ability to earn versus actual earnings.  Someone underemployed but capable of earning more may be found liable for the higher amount.

Based on this financial information and the amount of time each parent spends with the child, the Court uses a standard formula to determine the child support amount.


Rules regarding alimony after a divorce will vary by the laws for each State.  Many States have enacted statutes for alimony, otherwise known as spousal support, setting out a list of factors a court should review when awarding and setting the amount of alimony to be paid.  Alimony payments are not to be confused with child support.  The decision whether to award alimony is up to the discretion of the judge hearing each case.

Factors that courts generally consider include:

  • Financial resources of the spouse seeking alimony;
  • Division of property;
  • Division of debt;
  • Duration of the marriage;
  • Education and employment skills of the spouse seeking alimony;
  • Misconduct or mismanagement of financial matters of the other spouse which resulted in a reduced value of the marital estate;
  • Property brought into the marriage by either spouse;
  • Contribution by one spouse to the education, training, or earning power of the other spouse;
  • History of domestic violence;
  • Health of either party

It is best to consult with a divorce attorney or alimony attorney that regularly practices family law in your jurisdiction to determine what level of spousal support is appropriate for your situation.



Generally, law is described as either criminal or civil.  All civil matters fall into one of two categories: general civil law and family law.  Civil law deals with disputes between people or organizations.  Civil law disputes can be about contracts, wills, property, personal injury, etc.  An example of a civil dispute is when one person owes another person money.


Both divorce and annulment are court procedures that dissolve a marriage.  However, while a divorce simply ends the marriage, an annulment treats the marriage like it never existed, and thus has effects going back in time to the start of the marriage.  They are generally more common for shorter marriages rather than marriages that have lasted for a long time.

In some cases, it’s much easier to get a divorce than to get an annulment.  Annulment must usually be based on factors like misrepresentation or fraud in the original marriage documents, or concealment of important facts related to the marriage.  Refusal or inability to consummate the relationship is also grounds for annulment.



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Quotes of Wisdom

What Lawyers Wish You Knew

“People assume that in a divorce, assets acquired during the marriage are necessarily divided equally between the spouses. In fact, in the vast majority of states, property is divided under a nuanced doctrine called “equitable distribution” which calls for a fair – but not necessarily equal – division of marital property.”

–Thomas Kretchmar,
Matrimonial & Family Law

“Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it.”

― Howard Zinn

“Let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve of monarchy, that in America the law is King. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King; and there ought to be no other.”

― Thomas Paine

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