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Changing Family Law

There have been dramatic changes in family structures for the past fifty years. Social and demographic changes of the late twentieth century and into the twenty-first see more cohabitating couples, same-sex couples, and increasing numbers of single-parent families and extended families resulting from divorce than ever before. The American legal system has been slow to adequately address the legal issues that stem from these new family dynamics. Changes to existing family law have not kept pace with new societal family norms.

Legal Issues Arising from Different Family Structures

Some major issues that continue to need redress include but are not limited to:

  • Inadequacy and ambiguity of property and support obligations between cohabitants
  • Legal incidents of non-residential conjugal relationships
  • The negative impact of gender-neutral rules in divorce as they apply to women and children
  • Relationships in post-divorce families and inheritable rights among stepparents and their stepchildren
  • The unfinished revolution in the status of lesbian and gay couples (LGBTQ+) within the legal system
  • Conflicting laws addressing these issues by different states yield inconsistent treatment

Keeping Up with Modern Families

It is necessary to either remedy or complete the legal evolution of these major issues because they affect the most common issues handled in family court. The law must seek to keep pace with the modernizing family unit in whatever form it takes. Addressing what constitutes a legal marriage beyond current federal law and who is eligible to participate, divorce rights (particularly in community property states), and inheritable rights law need refinement. Also, paternity and child custody issues, termination of parental rights, adoptions, and even protection orders against domestic violence must legally account for all family types.

Recent Family Law Legislation

As states mostly adjudicate family law disputes, family law applications will vary according to your state. Famously the U.S. Supreme Court became involved in the stance on same-sex marriage when an alliance challenged the ban on same-sex marriage in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. In 2015 a landmark civil rights case, Obergefell v. Hodges, came before the U.S. Supreme Court (USSC). The court decision states there is a fundamental right for same-sex couples to marry in accordance with the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This ruling is one that all states must abide by per the USSC decision.

The U.S. Congress has also enacted numerous federal statutes addressing serious family law matters that states have either been unable or unwilling to resolve. These statutes, in particular, tend to address cases that involve the welfare of children. According to the American Bar Association (ABA), there is a growing federalization of certain family law areas traditionally left to the states.

What about the rest of the existing state laws that may not keep up with the changing family structure and are not already federalized? So many family situations face unique challenges and how they want their family to be legally recognized is important. Whether you are in a same-sex marriage, blended family situation, or cohabitate as a couple, even a throuple, to ensure your family receives the protection you want, meet with a family law attorney.

Meeting with a Family Law Attorney

While not all law has kept pace with the changing American family system, family law attorneys have experience representing the interests of more modern family dynamics. Legal documents, mechanisms, and entities can provide “workarounds” to address property, support, child, and inheritable issues.

If you are in a relationship, it is best to consider all aspects of family law that may apply to your situation. This may include:

  • Laws that regulate marriage
  • Cohabitation
  • Parentage
  • Adoption
  • Child welfare
  • Religion
  • Family support obligations
  • Property rights
  • Inheritable rights

Communicating with Family Members to Uncover Legal Issues

Honest discussions with partners or spouses (even ex-spouses) about family expectations can provide information for your family law attorney to craft a legal framework that your family can live within and receive legal protection under your state and federal laws. A family lawyer will understand the federal laws now impacting and regulating families, especially those that confer jurisdiction on federal courts. Some cases may involve complex inter-jurisdictional (two or more jurisdictions) or full faith and credit issues.

Every situation is unique for a family. A family law attorney can guide your understanding of what is possible to do to meet your desires and ensure your family’s protection. Going it alone without sound legal advice can put your family at risk. Proactive planning and understanding of how your family system fits within the confines of the family legal system will enable you to ensure the desired outcomes you imagine.

Please contact our Houston office today or schedule a consultation to discuss your legal matters. We would be happy to help you and welcome your call.

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