Family Law and Divorce

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Family Law and DivorceWhen things aren’t going well in your family—the bonds between you and your spouse have been broken, or you’ve been unable to build a family—the emotional challenges can make it difficult to take the right steps to protect yourself. Uncertainty about what the future holds can cause significant stress and anxiety. Often, the more informed you are about your rights and options, the more actively you can participate in decisions about your future, and the greater your peace of mind.’s Family Law and Divorce Center provides overviews of the myriad legal issues facing families and family members, from divorce and marriage to adoption and domestic violence. We offer helpful information about all matters arising out of divorce, such as child custody and visitation, child support, alimony and spousal support, and the division of marital debts and assets.


Divorce and all the legal issues associated with it—child custody, visitation, child support, alimony or spousal support, property division—these matters all differ based on state law.

Child Custody

In divorce proceedings involving minor children, state laws provide guidance regarding who will have physical custody of the child, and who gets to participate in decisions affecting the child’s welfare (known as legal custody).

Child Support

As part of the final divorce order when there are minor children in the home, one of the parties will typically be required to pay child support. The amount and duration of the obligation may be agreed on by the parties, or may be established under state law.

Child Visitation

Even though courts typically order sole physical custody of a minor child in a divorce, they typically seek to promote healthy relationship with both parents, requiring reasonable visitation rights for non-custodial parents.

Alimony/Spousal Support

Though the frequency with which courts award alimony or spousal maintenance has changed dramatically over the last 50 years, there are provisions in every state for different types of spousal support.

Property Distribution

States generally take one of two different approaches to the distribution of marital debts and assets. Most states require “equitable distribution,” where a number of factors are considered to determine what is “fair.” A smaller percentage of states are known as “community property” states, where all assets accumulated (with a couple exceptions) during the marriage are divided equally in a divorce.

Collaborative Law

The collaborative approach to divorce offers an alternative for couples who can work cooperatively to dissolve a marriage. As a consequence, the parties can typically finalize a divorce with less expense and in a shorter period of time.

Domestic Violence

Every state has laws and processes set up to protect victims of domestic violence or abuse. These laws may protect unmarried partners, ex-spouses and children.


The parties to a legal marriage enjoy certain benefits under the law. As a consequence, the legal landscape governing marriage has changed dramatically in the last few years, specifically with respect to same-sex marriage.

Prenuptial Agreements

An effective prenuptial/postnuptial agreement can remove all concern about the distribution of property in the event of separation or divorce.


You may be considering adoption for a variety of reasons. You may want to legally adopt the children of a new spouse. You may be unable to build your family biologically. You may need to provide a home to the children of a sibling or other family member who has lost parental rights.

Emancipation of Minors

As a general rule, a minor (anyone under the age of 18) does not have the legal status or rights of an adult, and is legally dependent on his or her parents. There are specific instances, however, where a minor may receive legally emancipated status, terminating all duties owed by parents, and conferring all legal rights of adulthood on the minor.

Fathers’ Rights

The “tender years” doctrine, long used by courts to give priority to mothers in custody and family law matters, has been uniformly rejected by courts across the country over the last 50 years. Fathers now stand on equal legal footing with ex-spouses in family law disputes.

Domestic Partnerships

Before same-sex marriage was widely recognized, many same-sex couples opted to enter into domestic partnerships. However, domestic partnerships were not limited to same-sex couples. In many states, counties, and municipalities, civil unions and domestic partnerships extended benefits, rights and responsibilities associated with marriage to same-sex couples. The benefits of a domestic partnership vary from state to state but may include: access to family health insurance plans, spousal visitation rights in hospitals and jails, and the ability to use family leave (paid or unpaid) in order to perform specific tasks concerning one’s domestic partner or the partner’s dependents. However, domestic partnerships do not alter rights or responsibilities in other areas of law including immigration and federal taxes: U.S. Customs and Immigration Service does not treat domestic partnerships as marriages and domestic partners may not file their federal taxes jointly.

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