Family Law

What is Family Law?

In the U.S., family law is regulated at the state rather than federal level. To that degree, family law varies somewhat from state to state. Family law is a broad, multi-faceted field of law that addresses family relationships and encompasses many legal areas, some of which include:

  • Adoption
  • Marriage
  • Divorce
  • Child custody
  • Child support
  • Children’s rights
  • Spousal maintenance
  • Alimony
  • Visitation
  • Separation agreements
  • Marital property division
  • Elder law*
  • Estate planning*
  • Estates and Trusts*
  • Probate*
  • Wills and will contests*
  • Cohabitation agreements
  • Pre-nuptial agreements
  • Post nuptial agreements
  • Domestic Violence
  • Modification
  • Restraining orders
  • Enforcement

U.S. Family Law – An Evolution of Legal Choices

Contrary to how you might think of family law, as static, an unwavering set of rules, this is not the case. As in all bodies of law, family law is always developing or evolving. To give you an idea of how family law has emerged in the U.S. over the past few hundred years, here are some highlights.

First U.S. Family Law Era (1790-1870)

  • Basic divisions of the law – husband, wife, parent, child
  • Individual choice in marriage
  • Parental control in child rearing
  • Common law marriage
  • Abortion prior to first fetal movements
  • Increased rights for illegitimate children
  • Broad acceptance of judicial divorce
  • Publication of first law book, Domestic Relations

Second U.S. Family Law Era (1870-1930)

  • Increased state regulation of the home
  • Restriction/abolition of common law marriage
  • Introduction of blood tests prior to marriage
  • Limitations on grounds for divorce
  • Bans against birth control
  • Bans against abortion

Third U.S. Family Law Era (1931-Present)

  • Elimination of bans on interracial marriage
  • Legalization of birth control
  • Legalization of abortion
  • Increased paternal custody rights
  • Adoption of no-fault divorce

Trend toward Specialization

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Along with evolving laws, cultural changes have taken place, and the trend is toward specialization. If you need hip surgery, you would not go to a general M.D. You would find an orthopedic surgeon. The same holds true in the legal field. If you are in a sticky divorce, why go to a lawyer who practices in many areas of law, when you could easily find a seasoned lawyer who devotes a significant aspect of his or her practice to family law?

The Texas Board of Legal Specialization, which lists lawyers who are specialists in specific fields, makes it easy to find a family law specialist.

Texas Board of Legal Specialization – Board Certified Family Law Specialists

As it says on the Texas Board of Legal Specialization home page, “Authorized by the Supreme Court of Texas, the TBLS certifies attorneys in 20 specific areas of law and paralegals in six specific areas. Board certification helps insure that the citizens of Texas receive the highest quality legal services.”

To become a Board Certified Specialist in Family Law, the lawyer must meet the following qualifications (and re-apply every five years meeting the following requirements for continued certification):

“Been licensed to practice law for at least five years; Devoted a required percentage of practice to a specialty area for at least three years; Handled a wide variety of matters in the area to demonstrate experience and involvement; Attended continuing education seminars regularly to keep legal training up to date; Been evaluated by fellow lawyers and judges; Passed a 6-hour written examination. “

See the Texas Board of Legal Specialization (http://www.tbls.org/) for more information.

Related website: http://www.thewrightlawyers.com

*While categorized under family law, estate planning, estates and trusts, wills and will contests, probate and elder law have also become such specific areas that many lawyers deal with them as their own category separate from other family law areas. Individuals typically find an estate planning lawyer to handle these legal areas as opposed to a family law attorney.

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