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What is Family Law?

Family law deals specifically with the familial unit; spouses, parents and minor children. There are times where extended family members (i.e., grandparents, cousins, etc.) and interested parties (i.e., foster parents) are brought into family law matters, but the majority of cases are focused on the immediate family. Family law covers divorce, divorce from bed and board, equitable distribution, alimony, post-separation support, child custody, child support, termination of parental rights, and adoption to name a few. 

Below are brief descriptions of some issues that can help you when you are trying to figure out if a case is a family law matter or if it falls under a different area of law. 

Divorce: The legal termination of a marriage between two individuals. When the parties have no other issues besides finalizing the divorce (e.g., property division, custody, etc.), it is considered an absolute divorce. 

Divorce from Bed and Board: A divorce from bed and board happens when the spouses agree to separate but neither one wants to leave the marital home. In North Carolina, one spouse must move from the marital home for the parties to be considered separated. Either spouse can file for a divorce from bed and board and a judge will decide which spouse has to move out. 

Equitable Distribution: This is the division, allocation, and distribution of marital property. Marital property is typically equally distributed between the spouses. Marital property includes such items as the marital home, bank accounts, retirement accounts, vehicles, etc. Not all marital property is divided equally. Sometimes a party can ask for an unequal distribution in certain circumstances. 

Alimony: Payments from one spouse to the other paid for a specific amount of time or until specific events take place that will terminate the alimony payments. Alimony is awarded to the dependent spouse (the spouse with lower or no income) and paid by the supporting spouse (the spouse with a higher income). Usually, the amount and duration of alimony are based on the party’s needs and are in the judge’s determination. 

Post Separation Support: Post-separation support is paid by the supporting spouse to the dependent spouse until permanent alimony is determined. 

Child Custody: The legal and physical custody of the minor child. Legal custody allows a parent to make decisions for the child (e.g., medical, schooling, etc.) and physical custody refers to which parent the minor child lives with. Parents can share joint legal and physical custody. In some cases, the parents may share joint legal custody with one parent having primary physical custody and the other parent having secondary (visitation) custody. 

Child Support: The monthly payment from one parent to the other parent for the benefit of the minor child. Typically child support payments are paid to the parent that the minor child lives with primarily. Child Support is usually set in accordance with the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines.

Termination of Parental Rights: The termination of the legal relationship between the child and the parent(s). One parent may terminate the rights of the other parent so that a stepparent can adopt the child or both parents’ rights can be terminated so that the child may be placed for adoption. One cannot terminate his or her own parental rights, but a party may relinquish his or her own parental rights if the child is being adopted or if there are substantial allegations of abuse, neglect, or dependency. 

Adoption: Creating a legal relationship between a child and parent. The adopting parent(s) assume all legal rights and responsibilities as if the minor child was biologically their own. Under this circumstance, a child may inherit from their adoptive parent as well. 

Although this list is not exhaustive, it should serve as a general guide as to those issues handled by family law attorneys.  If you are still unsure if you need a family law attorney, please give us a call at Stott, Hollowell, Windham & Stancil, PLLC, and we will be glad to assist you.


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Stott, Hollowell, Windham & Stancil, PLLC

Stott, Hollowell, Windham & Stancil, PLLC offers legal knowledge and experience spanning over 40 years to provide quality legal services to the greater Gaston and Charlotte regions.

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