A family law attorney generally handles matters that involve the family court system, including family-related issues and domestic relationships. Some of the common practice areas Santa Barbara, California family lawyers handle include:
Marital property division
Child custody cases
Alimony or spousal support
Family lawyers may work in many capacities, including as a private lawyer in a small family law firm, a family law lawyer in a big firm, for county or state government agencies, in nonprofit organizations, or as a state attorney. Attorneys act as advocates for their clients, which may include representing the interests of a minor child in child abuse or juvenile dependency hearings.
A large part of family law practice involves divorce. Divorce can be a difficult process, especially when the couple is in dispute over how to handle the separation. A contested divorce can get complicated when emotions are involved, often involving money problems or infidelity. Divorce is a major life-changing event and it can be difficult to navigate on your own.
In general, a divorce lawyer can only represent one spouse in a divorce. There is a conflict of interest in trying to represent both spouses. When you find a family law attorney, your attorney will act as an advocate for you and advise you in your best interests.
In an uncontested divorce, a family law attorney can help their client prepare the divorce order, with all the issues settled between the couple, including division of property and child custody and visitation. In an uncontested divorce, there is nothing left for the court to decide and the court may issue the final divorce court order after making sure the couple has met all the statutory requirements to legally end the marriage.
In a contested divorce, there may be a dispute over many issues, including property, alimony, and child custody. If the couple cannot settle these issues through negotiations or mediation, it may be left up to the family court judge to decide how to settle the disputes. Contested divorces can take longer and be more expensive for each spouse.
Some family law issues can be handled without an attorney, including simple court filings like name changes. However, when there are important issues at stake, it may be best to find an experienced lawyer for legal advice. A divorce may involve dividing up a lot of money, property, and assets. Lack of legal representation may expose you to losing out on what you deserve after a separation.
The most important issue for many separating couples is visitation and child custody issues. If there are disputes in child custody, a family lawyer can help make sure your child will be safe and properly provided for. This includes granting custody with the custodial parent, working out a visitation schedule that is in the best interests of your child, and getting the financial support necessary to care for your child.
Many people who need to find a lawyer in California have never hired a lawyer before. Talking to a lawyer may be a new experience and you might want some help getting started. Here are some questions you may want to ask a lawyer before deciding who to hire.
What is your main practice area?
How many years of experience do you have in California with cases like mine?
How often do you take cases to trial or settle them out of court?
Can I take my case through mediation or arbitration?
Do you offer a free consultation?
What are your fees and costs?
Will you be the attorney primarily handling my case?
How will I be kept up-to-date about my case?
In order to practice law in California, attorneys have to both pass the California bar exam and be admitted by the State Bar of California. Most attorneys in California graduate from an accredited law school but some lawyers are admitted through on-the-job experience for a minimum of 4 years and through passing an additional legal exam. After a lawyer is admitted to law practice in California, they can practice in almost any area of law.
Lawyers in California are held to strict ethical guidelines known as the Rules of Professional Conduct. Attorneys may have duties and limitations in:
Duty of client advocacy
Conflicts of interest
Duty of candor
Limitations in soliciting clients
Restrictions on handling a client's money
Many people avoid calling a lawyer because they are worried it will be too expensive. In many cases, a lawyer can end up saving the client money. This includes getting an increased award, recovering additional damages, avoiding financial problems in the future, and avoiding future disputes and litigation. Some legal areas even allow the lawyer to recover legal fees from the party at fault.