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What Is Family Law?

Family law (also called matrimonial law) is an area of the law that deals with family matters and domestic relations, including:

1.Marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships

2.Adoption and surrogacy

3.Child abuse and child abduction

4.The termination of relationships and ancillary matters, including divorce, annulment, property settlements, alimony, child custody and visitation, child support and alimony awards

5.Juvenile adjudication

6.paternity testing and paternity fraud

This list is not exhaustive and varies depending on jurisdiction. In many jurisdictions in the United States, the family courts see the most crowded dockets. Litigants representative of all social and economic classes are parties within the system.


Family law consists of a body of statutes and case precedents that govern the legal responsibilities between individuals who share a domestic connection. These cases usually involve parties who are related by blood or marriage, but family law can affect those in more distant or casual relationships as well. Due to the emotionally-charged nature of most family law cases, litigants are strongly advised to retain legal counsel.

What Does Family Law Cover?


Civil procedures and legal matters involving family members' financial responsibilities, custodial rights, eligibility, and other obligations generally fall under the family law category. Domestic violence and child abuse are included in this section, although they are criminal matters. The following is a list of family law topics:


Marriage & Living Together: Eligibility requirements such as age and gender (i.e., same-sex marriage) are primarily governed at the state level. Also, different states have different laws governing legal partnerships other than marriage.

Divorce & Alimony: Also called "dissolution of marriage," divorces come about via court order, either with or without legal representation. Sometimes one spouse will be required to provide financial support for the other after a divorce.

Child Custody & Child Support: When parents get divorced, the court must decide what is in the best interests of the children, which includes living arrangements and financial support.

Adoption & Foster Care: A variety of legal considerations may come into play when adopting or fostering a child.

Parental Liability & Emancipation: Parents often are liable for the actions of their children. Some children may become "emancipated" if they can prove their maturity and ability to live apart from their parents.

Reproductive Rights: Laws governing abortion, birth control, artificial conception, and other reproductive rights are established at the state level and change often.

Domestic Violence & Child Abuse: While these violations are handled in criminal court, they often raise legal issues affecting the family, as well.


The issue of child custody is the most common dispute in family court. As should be expected, parents are extremely concerned with the safety, education, and overall wellbeing of their children. Custody decisions become even more difficult following a divorce or breakup, as parents tend to be distrustful of each other at these times. Regardless of the state of affairs between the parents, judges will always decide custody based on “the best interests of the child.” 


In an effort to do what is best for the child, the court can assign legal and physical custody to one parent, or these rights can be shared. A typical schedule would allow the child to spend weekends, summers, and alternating holidays with the non-custodial parent, with both parents having an equal say in major decisions affecting the child. When approving a custody schedule, the court will do what it can to avoid unnecessary disruptions to the child’s life.