Family law is a legal practice area that focuses on issues involving family relationships such as marriage, adoption, divorce, and child custody, among others. Attorneys practicing family law can represent clients in family court proceedings or in related negotiations. They can also draft important legal documents such as court petitions or property agreements.

Some family law attorneys even specialize in adoption, paternity, emancipation, or other matters not usually related to divorce. The matter of family encompasses so many life aspects. Lawyers in the field, therefore, help all kinds of people facing all kinds of sensitive issues that many people wouldn’t immediately assume go under the family law umbrella.

The following is a primer on family law and what it entails.

Helpful Terms to Know

  • Emancipation: A court process through which a minor becomes self-supporting, assumes adult responsibility for their personal welfare, and is no longer under the care of their parents.
  • Marital Property: Property acquired by either spouse during the course of a marriage that is subject to division upon divorce.
  • Alimony: An allowance made to one spouse by the other for support during or after a legal separation or divorce.
  • Paternity: Origin or descent from a father (to establish paternity is to confirm the identity of a child’s biological father).
  • Prenuptial Agreement: An agreement made between a man and a woman before marrying in which they give up future rights to each other’s property in the event of a divorce or death.

Reasons to Hire a Family Law Attorney

Most family lawyers represent clients in divorce proceedings and other matters related to divorce. But family law is a relatively broad practice area, including such issues as foster care and reproductive rights. Since family law matters hit so close to home, having a trusted legal professional by your side can help you ensure your loved ones are properly represented and protected during any legal process.

The most common reasons to hire a family law attorney include:

  • Divorce: Each partner hires their own attorney, who will help devise a settlement plan in order to avoid a trial. Divorce attorneys typically are skilled at dividing marital property, calculating spousal support, and proposing a plan for child custody, visitation, and support (if applicable).
  • Child Custody / Child Support: Court orders and settlement agreements involving both custody and support usually are included in the larger divorce case, but may be revisited as conditions change. For instance, child support may be altered after the non-custodial parent’s financial situation changes.
  • Paternity: In most cases, paternity cases are filed by the mother in an effort to secure child support payments from an absent father. But sometimes biological fathers file for paternity in order to have a relationship with their child. Paternity typically is determined through DNA testing.
  • Adoption / Foster Care: Adoption is a complex process that differs according to the type of adoption, where the child is from, variances in state laws, and other factors. Therefore, it’s important to consult with a family law attorney. Foster parents sometimes adopt their foster children, but the foster process does not necessarily require legal representation.

Family law often intersects with a wide range of other legal practice areas. For example, instances of domestic violence and child abuse typically involve criminal investigations (and may result in arrests and charges). Along with that process, family courts are tasked with determining how to best protect the victims and ensure a relatively safe environment for those involved. Other related legal practice areas include the following:

Marriage and Divorce Laws Vary by State

States have the right to determine “reasonable formal requirements” for marriage, including age and legal capacity, as well as the rules and procedures for divorce and other family law matters.

The timeframe of the divorce process, for example, depends on location. Some states have divorce laws that require a waiting period. Same-sex marriage has historically been a state matter. Prior to the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, some states restricted marriage (and divorce) to opposite-sex couples only.

Need Help With a Family Law Matter? Talk to a Professional

Whether you’re in the process of a divorce, need help with an adoption, or have questions about enforcing a child support order, it’s often in your best interests to work with an attorney. Get the help you need by contacting an experienced family law attorney near you.

specialized lawyers

When facing legal trouble, or pursuing legal action against another person, some people may be tempted to represent themselves in order to save costs. While you may want to avoid legal fees, the repercussions of not hiring legal representation can far outweigh saving a few dollars. Here is why you should always consult with a lawyer before any legal proceeding:

  1. Lawyers are professional negotiators
  2. Lawyers are subject matter experts
  3. Lawyers can present you case in an organized manner
  4. Lawyers know court etiquette 
  5. Law is extremely complex
  6. The other party will most likely have representation
  7. Lawyers are not emotionally involved

Lawyers are professional negotiators. Even if it seems like your case has no hope, and you think representing yourself without a good criminal defense lawyer won’t matter for the outcome of your case, you should still consider representation. Lawyers are great at negotiating sentences and can lower the amount of time you serve. In some circumstances, they can even get your case dismissed.

Lawyers are subject matter experts. When it comes to the finer details of your case, nobody has the knowledge and expertise quite like a lawyer. If you hire a good lawyer, they will do their homework on your particular area of legal emphasis and may have previous experience in dealing with it. These seemingly small details can have a major impact on the outcome of your case, so hiring a legal representative is imperative.

Lawyers can present your case in an organized manner. Court proceedings have an order to them, and unless you have studied law, you’re not going to be very well versed in the structure of your proceeding. Presenting your claims/evidence in the right structure can help simplify your case for a jury, and ultimately lead to a better outcome for your case.

Lawyers know courtroom etiquette. Motions, presenting witnesses, and submitting evidence (as well as many other actions in the courtroom) have to be done in a certain manner. The courtroom is not a free-for-all, and it takes a person with specific courtroom knowledge to jump through the legal hoops that will help strengthen your case.

Law is extremely complex. Legal jargon, and the ability to understand the law, are extremely difficult to navigate. This is why lawyers spend a significant amount of time in schooling and have exams they must pass in order to verify their knowledge. Legal representatives not only have a wealth of knowledge, but also a significant amount of relevant resources they can call upon to help them with your case.

The other party will most likely have representation. Nine times out of ten, the party pitted against you will have hired a lawyer to represent them. The last thing you want to do is put yourself up against someone who is trained in the law when you yourself are not. If your opposing party has hired a lawyer, it is best to follow suit for the sake of your case.

Lawyers are not emotionally involved. While this may seem like a negative aspect, this doesn’t mean the lawyer does not care about your case. Simply put, a lawyer is less likely to cause disruptions in the courtroom and will most likely have less clouded judgment when it comes to your case. Keeping a level-headed, fact-oriented mindset in the courtroom is extremely important when presenting your case.

Law firms come in a variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from single-attorney law practices to multi-state, multi-staffed legal organizations. In addition, law firms in the U.S. are generally equipped to handle nearly every legal challenge facing individuals, small businesses, and large corporations.

Depending on your legal issue, there are a variety of law firms to choose from, generally broken down by size, type of practice, (for example, litigation, criminal defense, or transactional), location, or legal topic (like personal injury law, family law or tax law.) While there is no one-size-fits all solution to solving legal problems, choosing the right law firm can make the difference between a successful outcome and missed opportunity. Knowing which law firm to hire will depend on a number of factors – including your finances, geographical location, personal work preferences, and your specific legal challenge or need.

Below is a summary of the various types of law firms available in most areas.

Solo Law Firms

As the name suggests, solo law firms are run by a single lawyer. These “solo practitioners” typically handle general legal matters on a variety of topics — ranging from personal injury law to family law, but may also specialize in one particular area of law, like patent law. There are several benefits to working with a solo law firm, especially if you have a single legal issue to resolve or if you are looking at ways to reduce costs. Generally, solo law practices are less expensive than their larger legal counterparts, and they often have the flexibility to hire outside staff such as paralegals and legal experts – to help lower costs and/or assist with special tasks. They can also provide more one-on-one personal attention since the attorney would be working on your case usually single-handedly.

On the other hand, solo law firms may lack extensive experience or resources – especially if the attorney is a recent law graduated who recently decided to “hand up their shingle” or has limited access to fee based legal resources and data.

Small Law Firms

Small law firms, also referred to as “boutique” law firms, generally employ from two to ten attorneys — often allowing the lawyers an opportunity to collaborate with other lawyers on complicated or related legal matters. Because of the close-knit circle of lawyers in small law firms, these firms often have the “feel” of solo law firms – such as having close one-on-one attention – but may also allow for representation on a broader range of legal topics.

Large Law Firms

Large law firms, also known as “full-service” firms, can range in size from several dozens of lawyers and employees, to several thousands of employees including lawyers, paralegals, administrative staff, human resource specialists, librarians and other staff – and can exist in multiple cities, states, and even countries.
Large law firms specialize in all areas of the law and typically have big legal departments, such as corporate, employment, and real estate groups.

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Additionally, large law firms are able to handle most types of legal work, including business transactions (like mergers and acquisitions), large scale litigation, and criminal defense matters (especially “white-collar crimes”.) Moreover, the typical client of a large law firm is a company, organization, or other high-stake entity, but may also represent individuals with legal issues spanning multiple practice areas.

Litigation vs. Transactional Law Firms

Law firms are sometimes broken down by the type of legal services they offer. For example, a law firm might only focus on litigation, representing clients in court cases — or it can focus on transactional matters involving heavy paperwork relating to disputes over money, property, and insurance.

Lawyers typically do not cross over practice areas within a law firm, however. For instance, lawyers who are trained to represent clients in court hearing and at trials typically stay within this type of practice for the duration of their career. Similarly, transactional attorneys who handle corporate and other drafting-intense work may never see the inside of a courtroom.

Criminal Law Firms

Law firms specializing in criminal defense against crimes such as securities fraud, DUI and other crimes often focus on representing private clients who can afford their own criminal defense attorney (as opposed to being represented by a public defender.) A person facing criminal charges will often hire a criminal defense lawyer to assist them in all stages of the criminal process to help reduce the serious penalties often associated with criminal charges.

Moreover, because of the nature of what’s at stake in criminal proceedings, lawyers who work within criminal defense law firms are usually very skilled and knowledgeable about the laws and procedures, and often have relationships with local attorneys and judges. While the cost of hiring a criminal defense law firm will vary – based on the law firm’s experience, track record and location, for example – it is probably wise to speak with a variety of criminal lawyers in your area to represent you in any criminal proceedings.

Law Firms by Practice Area

In addition to size, location, and type of practice, law firms can be broken down by legal topic area. These “practice areas” refer to the types of legal issue you may be facing, or alternatively, the area of law an attorney’s practice lies. Click here for a full list of practice area definitions or search for a lawyer or law firm by practice area.

11 Legal Tips for Small Businesses.png

There are a number of legal issues that can trip up small businesses. Here are a few tips to make sure your company operates as smoothly as possible.

1. Form a Separate Entity

Determine the proper entity structure for your business. Your choice of entity influences how you borrow money, how you will be taxed and how you structure the sale of your business. Set up your business from the start in a separate entity so you protect your personal assets. Otherwise, you are personally responsible for the debts and obligations your business incurs.

Your company must have enough capital to pay the company’s foreseeable debts and expenses. Lenders realize that a newly formed business may not have the resources to repay a loan and frequently require the business owners to personally guarantee any loans. Many entrepreneurs fail to fully appreciate the impact of guaranteeing their company’s debts or personally guaranteeing other contractual obligations of the company, such as leases. Small business failures can cause financial hardship or bankruptcy for the individual owners.

2. Maintain Proper Records

Verify that the organizational documents are in place. Your business is required to create and maintain proper records including such items as adopting resolutions documenting business decisions, paying payroll and taxes, maintaining the company’s bookkeeping, complying with federal and state labor, safety and wage requirements, and acquiring and maintaining licenses or permits. Be sure to keep your business and personal finances separate.

You should have an agreement that covers items such as management, voting protocols, profit-sharing, restrictions on adding new owners and how the owners will solve disagreements. These items are typically included in an operating agreement, company agreement or stockholder agreement. Having a well-considered agreement can limit disputes and promote harmony among the owners.

3. Adopt a Buy-Sell Agreement

It is likely the ownership of your business will change over time. A buy-sell agreement provides for the orderly acquisition of an ownership interest in the event an owner leaves the business. Common trigger events include death, disability, termination of employment, divorce, retirement, bankruptcy or the owners no longer get along and want to split up. A buy-sell agreement addresses how the business will be valued when a trigger event occurs and describes how the payout to buy the departing owner’s interest will be structured.

4. Investors and Securities Laws

Many small businesses owners turn to outside investors to raise cash to operate their businesses. Frequently the owners and investors disagree on how the business should be run. Choose your investors carefully! Be sure to update your business’s governing documents to address the new ownership and management issues.

If people or companies are investing in your business, you must comply with the appropriate securities law disclosures. Otherwise, if the investors lose money, they can sue you for treble damages.

5. Insist on Written Contracts

Too often, entrepreneurs value speed over accuracy when it comes to detailing relationships with partners, vendors, customers and even employees. Verbal agreements are virtually impossible to enforce. Contracts must address each party’s obligations and explain how potential issues concerning your products or services will be resolved.

Be sure to document any modifications or extensions to your agreements in writing.

6. Require Employment and Independent Contractor Agreements

It is critical to hire good employees. But that is only the first step, businesses need to be aware that they must comply with various state and federal employment regulations.

Employee and independent contractor agreements are often vague or non-existent. Protect your business trade secrets, such as pricing, client lists, data, know-how, product specifications, business plans and marketing plans with agreements so employees and contractors cannot leave and start their own businesses competing against you.

A handbook is an essential tool for managing employment matters. It informs employees of the company’s policies and expectations. It can also provide the company with protection against potential employee lawsuits and other complaints.

7. Review Non-Compete Agreements

Non-compete agreements are enforceable in Texas if they are reasonable. Review all non-compete agreements your employees, independent contractors and you have signed and determine whether there are any restrictions that apply to your workers or you.

8. Protect Your Company’s Intellectual Property

Intellectual property includes any work that is the result of creativity, including inventions, discoveries, know-how, or processes. Require employees and independent contractors assign new technologies or processes they develop to your company. Properly register trademarks and license software to third parties.

Many times, the profitable verticals of a business evolve. Ownership of intellectual property in a relatively insignificant area may be critical for future success.

9. Use NDA’s

When exploring the possibility of working with other businesses or individuals, do not share your business’s confidential information, strategies, know-how trade secrets or proprietary information without first obtaining a non-disclosure agreement from the other party.

10. Take Steps to Avoid Litigation

Generally, litigation should be considered as a last resort. It is very expensive and distracting! In many cases, better solution is to negotiate disputed matters.

Litigation often results from poor planning, documentation and execution. Document all transactions with third parties and especially document any disputes. In many cases, litigation is the result of signing a bad contract or not fully understanding what you have signed.

Wrong decisions or inadequate legal documents can cost you! In an effort to save money, small business owners may try to draft documents themselves. Oftentimes, it is significantly more expensive for an attorney to go back and fix these documents than to simply have the attorney handle the matter from the outset.

Experienced counsel can help a small business spot and avoid legal issues before they become destructive to the company. Seek legal advice before making important business decisions.