Are Family Law and Divorce Law the Same?
While the terms “family law attorney” and “divorce attorney” are often used synonymously, divorce is now considered to be just one part of the practice of family law. In Cook County, and other court systems, divorce and parentage cases used to be handled by separate judges in separate parts of the building. While once considered to be two discrete areas of law and practice, over time the judiciary recognize that while not exactly the same, these cases were close enough in fact and law that they should be combined into one area of the courthouse under the heading of Domestic Relations. The blending of divorce and parentage cases in many ways created the more general header of “family law attorney” versus “divorce attorney”, as it implied that an attorney working in family law was also knowledgeable about parentage cases, child support cases, grandparent visitations, and other cases outside the boundaries of divorce.
For some attorneys, family law also goes beyond the area of practice most commonly known as “domestic relations” and may also include guardianships, adoptions, name changes, and other cases related to families that are heard in different court divisions. It is critical to know that not every lawyer who practices family law focuses on the exact same areas. More importantly, when hiring an attorney, you will want to be sure you have found one who works on your specific kind of case to ensure you have knowledgeable and experienced legal representation when going forward with your case.
What Areas of Law Do Family Law Attorneys Handle?
Beyond divorce, family law also encompasses parentages cases, which involve unmarried parents in litigation regarding their children, and can also include cases for formerly married couples, now divorced, who are seeking to enforce their marital settlement and parenting agreement or change them in post-decree cases. Family can also include cases where a grandparent is seeking visitation rights to their grandchild(ren), or cases to establish child support. In short, the practice of family law goes well beyond just the issue of divorce.
Some attorneys, like the attorneys in our firm, also practice some areas of law pertaining to families, but that are considered to be outside of the areas of “domestic relations”. A good example of this would be guardianships. While most would consider guardianships to be an area of family law, guardianships are actually part of the Probate court. Adoptions and name changes are handled by still another division of the court, as they are considered to be a separate process from Domestic Relations, as well, even though adoption is most certainly a “family” matter, and a name change can be as well.
What Should I Look for When Selecting An Attorney?
When selecting an attorney, it is important to look at your case to first confirm what kind of case you have and confirm with the attorney that they specifically handle your kind of case. While most “family law” or “divorce” attorneys will say they handle divorce and parentage cases, you will need to inquire specifically about what kinds of cases they handle, particularly if you think your case falls outside of those two main practice areas of divorce and parentage actions.
Likewise, if yours is a parentage case, you want to be sure you have a family law attorney who understands the nuances, and differences, between a divorce case and a parentage case. While many of the procedures and parts of the process are similar, they are not identical. An experienced family law attorney will know the differences when it comes to procedures and to drafting your parenting agreement.
Further, you want to retain an attorney who can speak to experience with your kind of case, and the specific issues that you are dealing with, as part of their practice. When going through an attorney consultation, confirm your needs and what you should be looking for. If you are not married to the other parent of your child or your situation falls into some other legal category besides divorce, you will want to be sure you retain an attorney familiar with parentage cases and the other practice areas beyond divorce. If the attorney you are talking to refers to themselves explicitly as a “divorce” or “matrimonial” attorney, it is possible they may not be the best attorney for you as their designation indicate their specialty, and area of interest, which is exclusively divorce and issues surrounding marriage.
If your case falls beyond the general boundaries of domestic relations into some of the other areas of law related to guardianships or adoptions, be sure that the attorney has specific experience in those divisions of the judiciary and their specific procedures and practices. You might find that an attorney who advertises themselves as a divorce or matrimonial attorney might practice exclusively within this niche, whereas a family law attorney may practice a wider range of cases that touch upon various aspects of family. The most important thing in selecting an attorney for your case is to be sure that whatever their title, the attorney you are hiring has specific knowledge of and experience in your kind of case to be sure they can adequately guide you through the legal process and help you obtain your desired result.