Family law is a varied area of the law that occupies more space on the civil court docket than any other type of matter. Not only does Family Law include marriage and divorce cases, it also includes adoption and juvenile matters.
There are several ways in which a marriage occurs. Most people marry under the statutes in their states. Some marriages are created under common law. People who live together (cohabit), hold themselves out as husband and wife, and who intend for a present marital relationship to exist are actually married in states that recognize common law marriages. Covenant marriages are formed under the Louisiana Covenant Marriage Act.
Common Law Marriage
Adoption is the legal procedure that makes a person or persons the legal parents of a minor child who is not their natural child. Private adoptions usually occur between grandparents and grandchildren, but could be any private party who knows of a party who wishes to place the child belonging to him/her/them for adoption. Public adoptions usually occur when a child in the state system (foster care, for example) is placed for adoption. A closely-related adoption is usually a step-parent adopting the child(ren) of the spouse.
Step-parent Adoption (or other closely related party)
States have the obligation to protect children, and if a child's health, safety, and physical and emotional well-being are in peril by virtue of being with the parents, the child will be removed from the parents' custody. A dependency petition is brought by any interested party (usually a relative) and alleges that a parent is not able to care for a child for some reason. The parent may have a drug problem or a physical problem that makes caring for the child impossible. The court performs a home-study and decides if the petitioner should have the custody of the child. Most states will make every effort to rehabilitate the parent(s) and reunite the family. If the state finds that the parent should not be reunited with the child, and if it is in the best interest of the child, the parent's rights will be terminated.
Termination of Parental Rights
Marriages are dissolved in several ways. The most common way for a couple to end their marriage is divorce, a statutory termination of the marital state. Annulment is possible if the marriage was never legal to begin with. For example, if one of the parties was too young under the law to marry, the marriage can be annulled. A legal separation is like a divorce, but a divorce decree is not entered. A Decree of Legal Separation does all of the same things as a Final Divorce Decree--for example, it can divide property and award custody of children. People may choose this option for religious reasons or for more practical reasons, like a need to remain on a health care policy.