Family Law: Legal Matters Involving Children, Parents and Families

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Family law

What is Family Law?

Family law is an area of the law that deals with family-related issues and domestic relations including the nature of marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships. It also deals with the many legal issues that may arise during marriage including spousal abuse, legitimacy, adoption, surrogacy, child abuse, and child abduction. It also includes the termination of the relationship and legal matters including divorce, annulment, property settlements, alimony, and parental responsibility orders (child custody and visitation, child support and alimony awards).

In many jurisdictions in the United States, the family courts are the most active in the entire legal system. Litigants representative of all social and economic classes are parties within the family legal system.

Child Support

Child support or child maintenance is the ongoing obligation for a periodic payment made by a non-custodial parent to a custodial parent, caregiver or guardian, for the care and support of children of a relationship or marriage that has been terminated.

In family law, child support is often arranged as part of a divorce, marital separation, marital dissolution, marriage annulment, determination of parentage or dissolution of a civil union and may supplement alimony (spousal support) arrangements.

If you are looking for child support enforcement resources, do a Google search using the terms “child support enforcement” followed by your city and state. Enforcement of child support payments is usually handled at the local level, so this is the best way to find the help you need.

Help With Child Support Cases

To hire a private investigator that specializes in child support cases, please visit our Private Investigator Directory. While a private detective can’t enforce the law, they can help with tracking down a deadbeat parent, checking out their financial resources, and conducting surveillance, if needed.


Alimony

Alimony, maintenance or spousal support is an obligation established by divorce law or family law. The obligation of financial support is based on the premise that both spouses have an absolute obligation to support each other during their marriage (or civil union).  Alimony is the extension of the obligation to provide support, especially financial support, after the separation or divorce of marriage occurs.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines alimony as:

  • An allowance made to one spouse by the other for support pending or after legal separation or divorce.

It is important to note that alimony is not child support, which is another ongoing financial obligation often established in divorce or marital separation. Child support is defined as a legal agreement where one parent is required to contribute financially to the support of his or her children through the agency of the child’s other parent or legal guardian.


Legal Guardian

A legal guardian is a person who has the legal authority and the duty) to care for the personal and property interests of another person. The person who is being care for is legally known as a ward. Usually, a person has the status of legal guardian because the ward, usually a child, is incapable of caring for his or her own interests due to infancy, incapacity, or disability. The guardian is most often a relative, such as a grand parent, aunt or uncle, or cousin. However, the person does not have to be related to the individual, and it could simply be a friend of the family, or generally someone who cares about the well-being of the individual.

Most countries and states have laws that provide that the parents of a minor child are the legal custodian of that child, and that the parents can designate who shall become the child’s legal guardian in the event of their death. This is typically executed through a legal will, or last will and testament. This helps parents ensure that the child will be cared for according to their wishes. This is generally considered to be the least disruptive and the legal process is much easier than in other forms of guardianship.

Following are the various form of legal guardians:

General Guardianship – Courts generally have the power to appoint a legal guardian for an individual who is in need of special protection. A guardian with responsibility for both the personal well-being and the financial interests of the ward is known as a general custodian.

Special Guardianship – A person may also be appointed as a special guardian, who may have limited powers over the interests of the ward. A special attendant may, for example, be given the legal right to determine the disposition of the ward’s property without being given any authority over the ward’s person.

Guardian Ad Litem – A guardian appointed to represent the interests of a person with respect to a single action in litigation is a guardian ad litem. This is sometimes used during court cases or legal proceedings.

Natural Guardianship – Some jurisdictions allow the parent of a child to exercise the authority of a legal guardian without a formal court appointment. In such circumstances the parent acting in that capacity is called the natural custodian of that parent’s child.


What does a Private Investigator Need to Know?

A private investigator should be aware of the laws and regulations governing alimony and child support in the area in which their case is based. Although private investigators are not lawyers (in most cases), and they are not expected to provide legal advice, it is helpful to understand the law in order to act as a consultant to your client on such matters. The more you know, the better resource you become for them.

Private detectives are often involved with investigation cases that involve family matters. Cases include divorce investigations, custody battles, tracking down a deadbeat parent and more. Having an understanding of family law and related legal matters will help you offer more effective services to your clients.


Related Information

For other legal definitions related to family law, please see the following:

For more legal definitions, visit our Glossary of Legal and Investigation Terms.

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