What is Family Law – Becoming a Family Lawyer

Family law is an area of law that addresses family relationships, custody of children, child support, and divorce, among other aspects. Lawyers who practice in this area represent their clients in family court hearings. While many lawyers conduct general family practice, others specialize in paternity or adoption, for example.

Family lawyers draft crucial legal documents, like property agreements and court petitions. They advise clients on their legal rights and help gather evidence that could strengthen the cases. They handle matters that relate to relationships, so they’re often involved in confidential and personal issues, some of which may be emotional at times.

Family Lawyer – Areas of Practice

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in family law, you should be conversant with the common issues in this field. Generally, family law covers the following:

Divorce

When a man and a woman marry, they form a legal relationship. Sometimes things don’t work out, and the spouses part ways. To do this, they have to file court papers to break the bonds of their marriage (the legal contract).

Most states allow no-fault divorce. They have a residency requirement, however, to prevent spouses from moving to a state with more favorable laws.

Grounds for divorce include cruelty, domestic abuse, and infidelity.                                                                               

Separation

Some couples prefer to separate or dissolve their civil partnerships, instead of going through with a divorce. There are a couple of reasons why people take this route.

It could be they’ve been in a marriage for less than one year, have drifted apart, or would like to separate without referring to misconduct as the cause. Such couples can separate via the judicial process or obtain a Deed of Separation. They could also separate without taking legal steps.

A family lawyer can help spouses explore the best options and make the right decision.

Alimony and Spousal Support

One of the contentious issues in any divorce is spousal support. Certain states use a formula to calculate the amount, while in others, it’s left to the discretion of the judge. It’s for a court to ensure all the factors are taken into account before it arrives at a just amount.

Family lawyers can help by presenting evidence of such factors.                                                                       

Child Custody

It’s among the most contested and debated areas of family law. Most states consider the interests of the child when deciding custody and parenting time. They also factor in other aspects, such as child-parent relationships, whether the parents have residence, criminal records, and a history of substance abuse.

As a lawyer, you have to ensure the level-headed parent or guardian wins custodial rights for the children.

Alimony and Spousal Support

One of the contentious issues in any divorce is spousal support. Particular states use a formula to calculate the amount, while in others, it’s left to the discretion of the judge. It’s for a court to ensure all the factors are taken into account before it arrives at a just amount.

Family lawyers can help by presenting evidence of these factors.

Pre & Post-nuptial Agreements

Sometimes, partners or spouses sign a contract before they enter the marriage. Prenuptial agreements stipulate the allocation of assets in the event of a divorce. Child custody and support agreements aren’t part of it.

If they make a deal while in the marriage, it’s called a postnuptial.

Family lawyers help gather evidence, such as school records, the testimony of psychologists, or medical records that a court can use to make a ruling.                                                                           

Legal & Physical custody

Many states separate care into physical and legal avenues. Physical custody deals with who lives or stays with the children. Legal custody is about who makes the major decisions on behalf of the child.

Spouses may share both.

Family lawyers ought to know how courts determine custody of kids within their jurisdiction and learn about the law that touches on their practice. They can explain the legal aspects of the case to their clients to foster realistic expectations and make sound decisions.                                                        

Abuse and Neglect

Where a state finds that a parent isn’t taking adequate care of the child, they can use their authority to initiate child neglect and abuse proceedings to terminate their rights.

Family lawyers can defend clients accused of abuse or child neglect by the state or help them to comply with state requirements and regain custody of a child.                                                                                         

Child support

Every child has a right to support from their parents. The court presumes the parent who has custody of the child should provide this support directly. If spouses live separately, the court can decide who contributes most toward a child’s basic needs, healthcare, and education.

The court will look at the parents’ incomes, tax deductions, and overall spending. Some states also factor parenting into the decision. 

Family lawyers help clients fight for the rightful share of support towards their child from the other spouse.

They can also provide evidence to show a change of circumstances and review the court’s calculation to ensure the amount is inaccurate.

Why Should I Become a Family Lawyer?

When you study family law and practice as an attorney, you will have the opportunity to help thousands of individuals wading through the rough waters of divorce, alimony, child custody, and support in their lives. You can explain their rights and help protect the rights of their children. To be able to discharge your duties and advocate for the best interests of your clients, it’s critical for you to have skills, restraint, and compassion.

The other reason is that family law covers diverse areas of practice, which can be narrowed down by specialization. One day you could be prosecuting a divorce case, the next day, you could be fighting for the rights of a child who requires financial support from either parent. There’s never a dull moment in the life of a family attorney.

Let’s not forget the rewarding intellectual challenge that comes with working as a lawyer.  They help clients file applications, research laws, and present cases in a court of law. Family attorneys are problem-solvers, analysts, communicators, and thinkers rolled into one.

Your intellect is going to play a crucial role in influencing the court’s decision on a family matter through litigation.

The financial rewards and perks for working as a family attorney also facilitate a comfortable life. If a huge firm employs you, you’re assured of plush accommodation, a stylish office, and ample support staff to help you with your cases.

Education and Training for Family Lawyers

Do you want to become a lawyer in the United States? You must complete a bachelor’s degree, examinations, and a licensing process before you can practice. Here is an outline of the steps:

Step 1

Enroll for a Bachelor of Law (LLB) undergraduate degree. It takes three to four years to complete. Common majors for pre-law students include Political Science, Journalism, Philosophy, and Business.

Step 2

Register and take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). It’s an essential aspect of law school admissions. This test measures the knowledge and competence of applicants and involves five sections of multiple-choice questions and an ungraded written test.

Step 3

Find a law school and send an application. Once you complete your LLB degree, apply to join a law school in your state. Other than your GPA, coursework, and LSAT scores, your admission may also depend on letters of recommendation, affiliations, community service, and other legal professionals.

Tips for Selecting a Law School

  • Find an ABA-approved law school.
  • Review the school’s curriculum before sending an application.
  • Ensure the law school meets your educational needs and career goals.
  • Attend a law school with research facilities and a well-stocked library.
  • Consider states with reciprocal agreements that allow you to practice law while studying.
  • Get an understanding of faculty members, their academic background, and experience.

Step 4

Earn a Juris Doctor (JD) degree. It is the only recognized degree for prospective lawyers in the USA and the highest law degree obtainable. Over two hundred ABA-accredited institutions offer it.

Before you apply, take the time to find out about the study areas, faculty, tuition, and the curriculum. A typical JD takes three years to complete.

Step 5

Pass the bar examination. Many states require students who want to practice law to sit for state bar exams once they graduate from ABA-approved law schools.

Bar exams take two days. On the first day, you will complete a Multistate Bar Exam, and on the second day are written exams that focus on various legal matters. Testing guidelines vary from state to state.

Overall, it’s going to take you close to 7 years of full-time study to complete your qualification. Four years in college and three years in law school are the minimum requirements before you can practice as a qualified family lawyer. To stand out from the crowd, join your local bar association, and undertake community initiatives that pertain to law. 

Top Skills to become a Family Lawyer

Family lawyers must have excellent negotiation and litigation skills. Time is of the essence, and they should possess critical time management skills, as many family cases stagnate because of interruptions.

It’s also crucial for a person in this field to have basic counseling skills, as they will be dealing with clients who are distressed and emotional.

Lawyers should also have sound financial skills and an understanding of the basics of accounting, so they can advise clients on business issues and represent them properly.

Other soft skills, such as oral communication and assertiveness, are equally important, as family lawyers are always in touch with clients, court officials, and defense counsel.

You’re going to be preparing specific documents such as trusts, wills, prenups, and power of attorney declarations that require precision. To do this effectively, you need to have superior writing skills.

Other than writing, you’re also going to spend time scrutinizing laws and regulations that apply to your cases. Research skills are crucial, so you can find the relevant laws and offer sound legal advice to your clients.

Interpersonal skills are also essential for establishing relationships with your clients. Once you win the confidence and respect of your clients, they will be comfortable enough to share private matters that help you build a stronger case on their behalf.

As a lawyer, you should be able to separate your emotions or bias from the client’s problems, and objectively evaluate the relevant information. It calls for excellent problem-solving skills, too.

Armed with these skills, you will be able to prepare the best defense and offer solid recommendations to each of your valued clients.

Practicing as a Family Lawyer

From day-to-day, you will provide legal counsel and professional advice. You will also offer support to individuals who are facing a myriad of family issues, from divorce to child support and adoption.

You will be instrumental in resolving disputes, helping spouses make considerations before separation or divorce, and influencing courts to arrive at fair financial settlements. Where two parties want to enter a marriage, you will be responsible for drafting the prenuptial and other financial agreements.

Other tasks include:

  • Attending court hearings
  • Corresponding with clients and solicitors on legal issues
  • Preparing and submitting court applications and contracts
  • Referring clients to financial advisors, psychologists, and other professionals.

 

Often, the routine for cases is similar—you have the opportunity to impress and argue your cases. Remember that matters of family law rely on evidence and facts, though. You’re likely to spend a significant portion of your time collecting evidence to show the court the facts of the case and how they apply to the state law.

If you love making arguments or presentations, you’ll thoroughly enjoy practicing family law.

Job Outlook and Salary

The demand for family lawyers is constant, considering family matters such as domestic abuse, child custody, and financial settlements are part of life. When you’re not drafting applications, you’re drafting agreements or participating in court proceedings.

The BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) notes that the demand for all lawyers, including family attorneys, is expected to shoot up by ten percent between 2012 and 2022.  The job market is competitive, as thousands of students graduate from law schools every year.

On average, family attorneys earn between $75,000 and $172,000 per year. Lawyers who work in state or government agencies tend to earn less than their counterparts in corporate settings who specialize in commercial law.

In twenty-five states, the annual remuneration for family lawyers exceeds the national average. Some of the top cities where lawyers receive huge perks include Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and San Diego.

Although law firms will remain the top employers of family lawyers, there are several federal government agencies that are expected to continue hiring lawyers to prosecute civil suits on behalf of the state. Budgetary constraints may stand in the way and moderate the rate of employment in these areas, however.

Advancing Your Career in Family Law

You’ll probably start working as an associate with more experienced lawyers to hone your skills or as a clerk in a court of law. After a couple of years of successful practice, it may be possible to become a partner in a law firm or to step out and open a private law office. If you’re aggressive enough, you can move beyond practicing family law and work as a judge.

Lawyers also pursue further education to build their academic profiles. If you’re interested in teaching law, the best course of action is to enroll in a Master of Law (LLM) class and after that, obtain a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). Both qualifications will help you stay apprised to developments in the area of family law.

Thousands of students graduate each year, so you can expect the competition to be fierce. You can stay ahead of the pack by taking part in clerkships or internships while still in school. In this field, it’s not just what you know, but who you know that will take you places.

Build your networks and keep in touch with all your ambitious friends as you establish new contacts.

Conclusion

As a family lawyer, you have the opportunity to impact the lives of the clients you will represent in court far more effectively than in other areas of law. People from all walks of life will depend on you for counsel or guidance during their most stressful moments.

This responsibility is vast, and you have to hone excellent interpersonal, mediation, and trial advocacy skills. Your clients could include spouses or partners who’re going through divorce or separation, relatives seeking custody of a child, and single parents seeking financial support (alimony), among others.

For you to practice as a lawyer, you must first complete an LLB and complete a law school education. After that, you can work under a law firm to build your mettle before you go into private practice. Excellent communication skills, negotiation skills, and interpersonal skills, as well as time management skills, are crucial to helping you progress quickly in your career.

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