More on Family Law
Most, but not all, of family law is related to divorce. When parents have children under the age of 18, a divorce proceeding can have as many as five distinct elements:
- Legal parental rights and responsibilities, sometimes called “legal custody;”
- Physical parental rights and responsibilities, sometimes called “custody and visitation;”
- Child support;
- Spousal maintenance, often referred to as “alimony;"
- Division of property.
Parental rights and responsibilities (PR&R) govern which parent has decision-making authority over the child’s health care, education, religion and extraordinary travel. Physical PR&R establishes the times during which the child is with each parent. Child support is set through a fairly complex formula which is based mostly on the parents’ incomes, and the amount of time the children spend with each parent. Spousal maintenance is generally intended to equalize the parties’ standard of living for a period of time after the divorce. It is more of a factor in longer marriages, especially when one spouse has a much greater income that the other. Property division depends on a variety of factors, including the length of the marriage, how and when the property was acquired by the parties, and in rare cases, the relative “fault” of the parties.
The grounds for "fault" in a divorce include the following:
- Incarceration for more than three years;
- Intolerable severity;
- Deserting the other person for at least seven years;
- Refusal by either side to provide financial resources despite a proven ability to do so;
- Incurable insanity.
One way for parties to limit the cost of the divorce process is to gather all the information about their income and expenses, and their assets and liabilities, prior to consulting a lawyer. This process has other benefits as well. This task is not a simple one, and we encourage you to use the forms provided by the courts for this purpose. The forms will have to be filled out shortly after the filing of the divorce in any event, and engaging in the process prior to filing can sometimes allow the parties to approach the process in an uncontested manner. This, in turn, is better and cheaper for all concerned.
The process of going through a divorce is often one of the most difficult life transitions that one can experience, and for this reason, as is the case in all aspects of our practice, we encourage the use of alternative dispute resolution (usually mediation) whenever appropriate.