What does a Family Law Lawyer Do?
by Philip Ahn, Attorney
If you are going through a divorce, separation, child custody battle, etc., you may be wondering “What does a family law lawyer do?” and “Is it worth hiring one?” Before you spend thousands of dollars on legal representation, it is important to know what a family law lawyer does and how they can help you.
A family law lawyer helps clients with all issues related to family law. These issues can include child custody, divorce, spousal support, child support, paternity, adoption, etc. Hiring a family law lawyer does not guarantee a successful outcome in your family law case, but it significantly increases your likelihood of success. We can connect you today to a local family law lawyer to discuss your matter.
Learn more about what you can expect from a family law lawyer below.
What Is Family Law?
Family law is the area of legal practice that mainly focuses on issues that involve family relationships such as divorce, separation, adoption, child custody, etc. Since family law relates to children and familial relationships, it can be one of the most volatile, stressful, and emotional areas of law. By nature, family law lawyers have a more personal relationship with their clients.
Lawyers practicing family law represent their clients during negotiations and court proceedings. They also draft documents, file petitions, advise you of your rights, etc. In some cases, family law lawyers combine their experience with other areas of law like business, tax, immigration, and the like.
Common Family Law Terms To Know
Family law can be complex. While it is recommended you hire a family law attorney in your area, if you choose to represent yourself, there are a few legal terms that you should be familiar with. Listed below are a few common family law terms that can be helpful to know.
- Alimony: Sometimes called “spousal support,” alimony is an allowance paid by one spouse to the other over a specific time. In some cases, alimony will be ordered permanently.
- Prenuptial Agreement: A prenuptial is an agreement made between a couple before they marry. The specifics of these agreements can vary, but they are generally used to protect the property and assets of each partner in the event they divorce.
- Marital Property: Property obtained by either spouse during the marriage can involve “marital property.” Typically, property acquired before marriage is considered “Separate Property.”
- Modification: After a judge makes a final ruling on your divorce, child custody, etc. you may ask to have the order changed via a modification. In most cases, you will need to prove to the court that your requested changes are due to a substantial change in circumstances.
- Hardship: A condition that makes it very difficult or impossible to fulfill spousal support and/or child support obligations.
- Judgment: The court’s final ruling on a family law case. While it is final, it is not necessarily permanent. Spouses can request an appeal of the ruling or petition to modify the order.
- Contested & Uncontested Divorce: A contested divorce occurs when spouses cannot agree on all their divorce-related issues before going to trial. Conversely, an uncontested divorce is when both parties agree to the terms of their divorce and do not need to go to court.
- Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR): This refers to any method of settling family law-related disputes outside of the courtroom. Popular ADR methods include mediation, arbitration, and collaborative law.
- No-Fault Divorce: This type of divorce does not require one spouse to blame the other for the breakdown in their marriage. Some states allow divorces with fault, which involve issues like adultery, abandonment, and incarceration for the reason to divorce.
Reasons To Hire a Family Law Attorney
Family law deals with some of the most sensitive and important aspects of your life. A judge’s ruling can affect where you live, what you own, how much money you pay to your spouse, child custody and support, etc. With this in mind, it can invite risk to move forward in your family law issues without the help of an attorney in your area.
Learn about the most common reasons to hire a family law lawyer below.
Divorce / Separation
Divorces often become highly contentious. Hiring an attorney will help you negotiate with your spouse, review draft agreements, advise you of your rights, and represent you during a trial (if necessary).
Additionally, divorce lawyers understand the rules for the division of marital assets, how to calculate alimony, as well as developing family plans that are in the best interest of your children.
Child Custody / Child Support
Child custody, visitation, and child support issues can make divorce cases more complex. Your child custody lawyer will review parenting plans and help to draft them. Additionally, if you and your ex cannot settle disputes before going to court, a qualified child custody attorney can help represent you during your child support and custodial hearings.
In some cases, mothers want to establish the paternity of their child as well as secure child support payments. Other times, fathers wish to establish paternity to gain visitation and other parental rights. Your attorney can help you file paperwork, serve documentation to your spouse, negotiate visitation terms, and child support payments.
Adoption / Foster Care
Regardless of the state where you live or your unique personal circumstances, the adoption process can become notoriously complex and often confusing. For this reason, it is important to have a family law lawyer assist you during the adoption process.
Do I Need To Hire a Family Law Lawyer?
Technically, no. You are not obligated to hire a family law lawyer for any reason. However, representing yourself can lead to mistakes, misunderstandings, delayed proceedings, and potentially unfavorable agreements or rulings.
Family law affects some of the most sensitive areas of your life. If you choose to represent yourself, you could be accepting significant risk. If you are unsure whether you should hire an attorney or not, it will be beneficial to take advantage of a free, initial consultation with a family law lawyer in your area.
How To Find a Family Law Lawyer in Your Area
It’s important to have an attorney assist you with your family law-related issues. However, keep in mind that all lawyers are not created equal. Some focus more on child-related issues, others are better equipped for high net-worth divorces, etc.
It is in your best interest to understand your needs and then find an attorney that fits them, in addition to being affordable. When beginning the search for a family law lawyer, conduct your research, interview multiple lawyers, ask the right questions, and base your choice on more than just price.
Learn more about finding a family law lawyer in your area below.
Most people begin their search by typing a phrase into Google Seach like “The best divorce lawyer in my area.” This is a great place to start, but remember, it is best to conduct other research before making a hiring decision.
Ensure that you pay attention to the reviews on popular law firms and lawyer review sites. Also, check to see if there are complaints against them with the Better Business Bureau.
Interview Multiple Attorneys
You may fall in love with the first family law lawyer that you consult with. However, it is best to interview at least 2 – 3 lawyers other lawyers. This provides an opportunity to compare different styles, client service packages, costs, experience, and overall compatibility.
Ask the Right Questions
The initial consultation is most useful when you take the time to ask a potential attorney hard questions. During your first meeting with a family law attorney, it can be beneficial to ask a few of the following questions:
- What do you expect the outcome of my case will be?
- Have you handled cases similar to mine in the past? If so, what was the outcome?
- Who will I be in contact with?
- How much will this cost me?
- What are your billing methods and when do you expect to get paid?
- What is the best way to communicate with you?
No attorney can guarantee a specific ruling or outcome in your case, but they can give their educated opinion. The initial consultation is typically the best chance you will have to ask a family law lawyer important questions. Ensure that you take advantage of it.
Take All Factors into Account
It can be tempting to search for the “cheapest family law lawyer in my area” or similar terms. However, this is not recommended. When choosing your attorney, consider all of these factors including communication, customer service, and experience. Cost is important, but it should not be the only thing you consider when hiring an attorney.
How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Family Law Lawyer?
Family law lawyers are not cheap. The average family law attorney charges $3k-$5k upfront, and an additional $300-$500 per hour on top of that. Needless to say, it can be tough for the average person to afford such high fees.
Furthermore, the average divorce costs $15,000 in the U.S. The lion’s share of those costs can be attributed to legal representation. Fortunately, there are ways to decrease your legal fees and spend substantially less while still having an experienced family law lawyer represent you.
Ways To Decrease Legal Fees
If you have wondered “How can I save money on legal fees?” you are not alone. The good news is that there are more resources available online now than ever before. While it is not recommended that you substitute these resources for hiring an attorney, they will help you to handle a few things on your own. Some of the best ways to save money on legal fees include:
- Get Along With Your Ex: You do not have to be best friends. However, the better relationship you cultivate with your ex-spouse, the more likely you are to agree without going to court. This can save you time, stress, and a lot of money.
- Win-Win Proposals: Whether you are negotiating with your ex on your own or in mediation, it is in your best interest to make fair offers to them. Otherwise, it can cause resentment, a prolonged trial, and potentially a negative outcome.
- Take Care of Some Things on Your Own: Many people hire an unbundled attorney to take care of the more complicated tasks, while they save money by taking care of the rest on their own. Learn more about unbundled legal services below.
How Can Unbundled Legal Services Save Me Money?
With unbundled legal services, you can hire a family law lawyer to help you with your case for as low as $500-$1500. This allows you to hire a lawyer to help you with parts of your case, while you save thousands of dollars by taking care of the other parts on your own.
Essentially, if your case is a good fit to be unbundled, you avoid having to pay high upfront fees for legal representation. If your case is more complex, our network of unbundled attorneys also offers full representation at affordable rates.
Before you spend thousands of dollars in upfront fees, get in touch with an unbundled family law lawyer in your area, and learn if your case is a good fit to be unbundled today.