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What is Family Law? – A General Overview

Despite practicing law for over 20 years in the areas of Contract Law, Consumer Law, Employment Law and Wills & Probates, we still get many calls as to what issues our office handles in the area of Family Law. To assist our readers, the following will outline the most common and not so common areas of Family Law that we have handled and continue to handle.

DIVORCE: The most common family law action is one for divorce, which encompasses the division of property and debt, as well as the division of investments/retirement accounts, businesses and other assets, child custody and visitation, support, insurance and child care needs. “Do It Yourself” (DIY) divorces are clearly not recommended if there are minor children, any type of domestic violence and/or abuse of the children, special needs children, any real property (houses, land et cetera), businesses, military benefits, retirement /investment accounts, if one party has inherited a large sum of money during the marriage and/or invested his/her separate funds into the marriage. We can provide an initial consultation to address any or all of these issues, including guidance as to whether to not to pursue a “DIY” divorce.

MODIFICATION: If there are minor children, what naturally follows a divorce action is an action for modification of child custody and/or child support (a reduction or increase in monthly payments). Such action can be pursued if there is a significant change in circumstances and (the modification) is in the best interest of the child. The potential and numerous examples of what constitutes a change in circumstances depends on the facts of each case. Therefore it is imperative and worthwhile to have a legal interpretation of what is deemed as a change in circumstances.

CHILD CUSTODY: Is an action resulting in a court ordered custodial schedule for the minor children that should include provisions for the school year, summer break, holidays and birthdays as well as promote  stability and continuity. Custodial agreements are only enforceable if reduced to a court order, so a verbal agreement is not usually in the child’s best interest and can create future legal problems. We can help you draft a custodial schedule to fit your child’s growing needs over time.

CHILD SUPPORT: By law, child support needs to be established in any action involving a minor child when the parents are living separately or divorced. There are exceptions based on the facts. The amount of child support is based on several factors and should not be randomly determined without knowledge of the Idaho Child Support Guidelines, which is used in the state of Idaho to determine the amount. Otherwise, an inadequate or excessive child support amount can be the result and be more costly to correct in the future. Currently, waiving child support is not encouraged absent certain circumstances. Every case varies depending on the facts and needs legal guidance to be fair and adequate.

PRENUPTIAL AND POST NUPTIAL AGREEMENTS: Includes written contractual agreements between soon-to-be spouses or persons already married who want to define and/or safeguard the assets, debts (et cetera) acquired before (and after) the marriage. The agreement may also address how property and child related issues will be handled in the event of a future divorce. A written Post or Prenuptial Agreement is recommended when one or both parties have acquired assets prior to the marriage, as well as for second and third marriages. Such written agreements are also recommended for asset identification when there are adult children of each spouse so that upon death of one or the other (spouse), confusion and litigation over who owned what and who inherits what can be avoided. There are very specific criteria that must be met if any such agreement can be found unenforceable. It is critical that both parties have independent counsel before signing any such agreement. Our office drafts, reviews and challenges both Prenuptial and Post Nuptial Agreements.

PATERNITY: When parents of a child are not married, a paternity action can be filed by either the mother or father, to determine a custodial schedule and child support. This type of action usually occurs if the unmarried parents terminate their relationship with each other. We represent both mothers and fathers in these actions (*note – not in the same case).

GRANDPARENT RIGHTS: Grandparents now have several options to choose from in maintaining or securing a relationship with their grandchildren, depending on the desires of the grandparents and the relevant facts. These actions usually occur when the natural parents are not able to provide a safe and stable home environment or are not willing to allow contact with the grandparents for no justifiable reason. Our office represents grandparents as well as parents to ensure the best result for the grandchildren (*note – not in the same case).

CUSTODIAL INTERFERENCE: We usually see custodial interference when one parent will not return a child to the other parent on a timely basis according to a divorce or custodial order issued by the Court. This more commonly occurs at the beginning or end of summer break from school or more often during Christmas vacation. Typically actions in these cases can be handled swiftly if there is an existing order. Other legal avenues exist if there is not an existing order. It is recommended that you contact us immediately if this situation arises with your child.

KIDNAPPING: Kidnappings of minors by a parent or other relative happen and can differ from custodial interference depending on the facts. If you believe a kidnapping has occurred it is recommended that law enforcement be contacted immediately and seek our legal advice to assist law enforcement officials and provide for court intervention.

TERMINATION/VOLUNTARY RELINQUISHMENT OF PARENTAL RIGHTS: In extreme cases, when one or both parents have abused, neglected or abandoned (as defined by law) a minor child, or wish to voluntarily terminate their parent rights (a relinquishment), a formal action for termination can be pursued. This action is usually a prelude to an adoption. All three (termination, relinquishment and adoption) require legal expertise in which we have more than 20 years of experience in representing client’s needs.

ADOPTION: Is the naturally subsequent action after a parental termination or if a parent or both parents are deceased or have legally relinquished their parental rights. Stepparent adoptions are common when the other parent is deceased or has otherwise had his or her parental rights relinquished or terminated.

GUARDIANSHIPS/CONSERVATORSHIPS: Can be filed for the benefit of minor children where neither parent is willing or able to properly care for their child/children. This avenue is also available for disabled or elderly adults who are unable to care for their basic living and financial needs. In addition to representing those who pursue a guardianship/conservatorship of another, we also can act as counsel to the person in question to dispute or ensure rights are being protected (note – not in the same case).

GARNISHMENTS/ ENFORCEMENT ACTIONS: Are actions usually initiated by the State to enforce child support. A person’s professional license, driver’s license and/or hunting license can
be at risk for failure to pay child support. Our legal counsel can represent the person to dispute the State’s claim based upon the evidence.

CONTEMPT: Is an action that can be filed if a person is willfully not abiding by a court order. Most often we see these actions when a person is not paying child support, is withholding a child or is not distributing property that was allocated in a divorce, including placing a parcel of land or a house on the market for sale to divide the sale proceeds between the owners, or is preventing the  division of accounts. This action can also be pursued when a parent is withholding a child from the other parent, contrary to a divorce or custodial order. We have represented persons seeking a contempt action against another, as well as defended the innocent (*note – not in the same case). This is merely an introduction as to what family law encompasses. The options as to how to handle any action are as numerous as the situations that come before us.

The Law Office of Merrilee A. Parr handles all of the above actions and more. Future Articles will address some more specifics. Click here for more informative articles, or call the office at (208) 667-1227 for an initial consultation.


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