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What is Family Law?

The term “family law” is a term that is frequently used by practitioners (lawyers, attorneys, judges, administrators) but is not commonly used by lay people. Family law is a very broad term. The term family law is generally even broader than the term “divorce.” Whereas the term “divorce” typically refers to the dissolution of a marriage itself along with the numerous legal issues normally associated with the dissolution of a marriage, the term “family law” is even broader and encompasses legal matters that can, and often do, arise outside of the context of the dissolution of a marriage and those issues which arise within the context of a dissolution of a marriage.

Family law includes matters relating to child custody and child support. Child custody matters can arise in the context of the dissolution of a marriage but they can also arise outside of the context of the dissolution of a marriage. Similarly, child support matters can arise in the context of the dissolution of a marriage but can also arise outside of the context of the dissolution of marriage. When two people have a child outside of wedlock, additional family law issues can arise such as paternity matters. Paternity is the determination of the identity of the biological father of a child.

Family law also includes other matters pertaining to children. It can include things like adoption, step-parent adoption, artificial reproduction technology (A.R.T.), and the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction of the Hague Convention. These matters, just like child custody and child support, are not at all dependent upon the existence and dissolution of a marriage.

Family law also includes matters pertaining to spousal support. “Spousal support” includes post separation support and alimony matters. Post separation support and alimony cases can only arise in the context of dissolution of a marriage. This means that a post separation support matter can only arise after a married couple separates from one another. Alimony is the longer term support of a dependent spouse by a supporting spouse.

Family law also includes equitable distribution of property. This is the equitable division (not necessarily the equal division) of marital assets and debts upon separation and divorce. Like post separation support and alimony, these matters only arise in the context of the dissolution of a marriage. Generally speaking, marital property is that property and debt which is acquired during the marriage and is subject to equitable distribution. There are certain exceptions to this rule, including assets that are received by one spouse via inheritance or gift. In certain instances, the Court can enter an injunction (or a restraining order) to preserve marital assets by precluding waste.

Family law can also include domestic violence matters. In the unfortunate instance of domestic violence in a relationship, there can be wide ranging consequences including Domestic Violence Orders of Protection (commonly referred to as “50B” because of the North Carolina General Statute under which the restraining order arises) or related criminal charges. The lawyers at Arnold & Smith, PLLC are well versed in both family law and in criminal law. When those two areas of the law intersect, it is important to have a good lawyer (or lawyers) who is experienced in handling both types of cases in conjunction. When criminal matters and family law matters occur at the same time, they can often have unanticipated or unintended consequences for one another. Experienced family law and criminal defense lawyers, like those at Arnold & Smith, PLLC, can work with you to manage these matters effectively.

The experienced family law lawyers at Arnold & Smith, PLLC are available to consult with you regarding your divorce or other family law case. We have lawyers experienced in family law matters and Board Certified Specialists in Family Law. A Board Certified Specialist in Family Law is a lawyer who has met certain stringent requirements set by the North Carolina State Bar Board of Legal Specialization to be certified as a specialist in domestic relations law.