Mental Help Net
Family Law
Basic Information

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  • Thinking about adoption
  • Changing your name after marriage or divorce
  • Going through a divorce
  • Choosing a guardian for a child or adult
  • Signing a prenuptial agreement
  • Having a child in special education

These common experiences can be intimidating when you don't have a working knowledge of the legal issues they touch upon. The stress associated with such issues can be reduced by careful and informed planning, and a little knowledge from the right sources.

This topic center provides you with the up-to-date and legally accurate information you need to successfully (and less stressfully) deal with important personal and family matters.

Although this information is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified lawyer, consulting these chapters will hopefully allow you to navigate through each situation with more confi...


Fast Facts: Learn! Fast!

What types of adoption are there and what is involved?

  • One of the first decisions many prospective adoptive parents make is whether to adopt a child from the United States or from another country.
  • In domestic adoption, you may choose to work with a public agency, a licensed private agency, an attorney ("independent adoption"), or an adoption facilitator (if allowed by laws in your State) or unlicensed agency.
  • Intercountry adoption differs in several significant ways from domestic adoption. Children eligible for intercountry adoption must have lost their birth parents to death or abandonment, or the birth parents must prove that they are incapable of caring for the children. In some cases, children adopted through intercountry adoption may have been raised in orphanages or institutional settings.
  • There are many paths to building your family through adoption and it's important to understand the steps involved and resources available at each step.
  • The laws of every State and the District of Columbia require all prospective adoptive parents (no matter how they intend to adopt) to participate in a home study.
  • There are a number of significant differences between foster care and adoption for the foster/adoptive family involved, even when a child remains in the same household.
  • The landscape for LGBT adoption is changing, with an increasing number of LGBT individuals and couples choosing to build families through adoption. Many agencies, both public and private, welcome the LGBT community.
  • Consent refers to the agreement by a parent, or a person or agency acting in place of a parent, to relinquish a child for adoption and release all rights and duties with respect to that child. This is regulated by State statutes, and States differ in the way they regulate consent.

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What do I need to do if I have changed my name?

  • If you legally change your name because of marriage, divorce, court order or any other reason, you need to tell Social Security so that you can get a corrected card.
  • If you are working, also tell your employer.
  • A mismatch between the name shown on your tax return and the SSA records can cause problems in the processing of your return and may even delay your refund.
  • You can determine what your state requirements for name changes are by contacting a local lawyer, contacting your county court, or looking up the state statutes in a law library.

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What are the steps and issues involved in a divorce?

  • The divorce process is started when one spouse files a legal document with the court called the 'complaint' or 'petition' requesting a divorce.
  • Divorcing couples must decide how their jointly held property and debt will be divided before their divorce can become final.
  • When a divorcing couple has minor children the division of child custody becomes a critical part of their divorce settlement.
  • Child Support involves taking wages so as to insure that minor children can receive adequate care.
  • Spousal Support (also known as alimony), involves taking wages so as to insure that an economically disadvantaged spouse can continue to live comfortably after marriage has terminated.
  • Learn about the practical ways that divorcing people can cope with and make the best of their stressful circumstances.
  • Divorce is very hard on children because it changes their entire lives by changing their families, living conditions and their ability to trust in the stability and reliability of support from their parents.
  • Divorce offers people the opportunity to reflect on and learn from the mistakes they have made in order to reduce the chances that they will make those same mistakes again.
  • A parenting plan is a legal document that explains the basic arrangements for caring for children, including where the children will live, who will make decisions for the children, and how disputes about the parenting arrangements will be resolved.
  • A main objective of the Child Support Enforcement (CSE) Program is to make sure that child support payments are made regularly and in the correct amount.

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What is the difference between adoption and guardianship of a child?

  • Adoption and guardianship offer children and parents two similar paths to permanency.
  • Both options provide permanent caregivers with many of the same legal rights as birth parents.
  • Adoption is a lifetime relationship that gives the child all of the legal benefits of a child born into the family.
  • Guardianship builds family relationships that can last a lifetime, the legal relationship established by a juvenile court guardianship ends when the child turns 18 and is considered an adult.
  • For a child to be adopted, the rights of the birth parents must be legally terminated, voluntarily surrendered, or the birth parents must have signed a consent to the adoption. The birth parents rights do not have to be terminated with guardianship.
  • Depending on what is in the best interest of the child, the birth family connections can be maintained with ongoing contacts after an adoption or guardianship.
  • There are many legal differences between adoption and guardianship including decision making powers, relationships with birth parents and siblings, the child's legal name, the child's right to inheritance, and whether a child can be returned to the state's care.

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What is involved in guardianship of an adult?

  • Guardianship is often suggested for individuals who need help with regular activities of daily living, such as paying bills, managing medications, or buying groceries and preparing meals.
  • Individuals who may be referred for guardianship might include: a student with a developmental disability who is turning 18, a frail elder, a person in the late stages of Alzheimer's, or a person with mental illness who is unable to make informed decisions.
  • A Guardian is a person appointed by the court to make decisions on behalf of another individual. A guardian is appointed if the court finds an individual is unable to make certain decisions independently.
  • Under Full Guardianship, a guardian has decision-making control over all areas of an individual's life.
  • Under a Limited Guardianship, a guardian has control over some but not all areas of an individual's life. For example, a limited guardian may be responsible for providing consent for medical treatment or making all financial decisions.
  • Alternatives to full guardianship include legal documents (such as Power of Attorney or a Living Will), community services (such as Meals on Wheels or Homemakers), and government programs. All of these may delay or prevent the appointment of full guardians for individuals who are not able to make decisions on their behalf.
  • Limited guardianship is preferable to full guardianship because it encourages maximum independence for individuals.

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What is a Prenuptial Agreement?

  • A prenuptial agreement is a contract entered into by two people before their marriage.
  • The couple decide how their property will be divided if they get a divorce, legal separation, or annulment, or when one of them dies.
  • Sometimes couples wait until they are married to make these agreements – then the contract is a “marital agreement.”
  • In general, a prenuptial or marital agreement is more likely to be enforced by a court if the contract is fair and if both spouses are honest and clear about their finances, including salary, other income, possessions and property, and debts.
  • It is a good idea for both of you to have independent legal advice (that means different attorneys for you and your fiancé or spouse) and help drafting such a contract.

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What should a family know about special education for a child?

  • By law, schools must provide special help to eligible children with disabilities. This help is called special education and related services.
  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), as amended in 2004, guides how special education and related services are provided to children with disabilities in the United States.
  • It’s extremely important to understand that the terms you’re likely to hear in special education that come from IDEA.
  • In order to fully meet the definition (and eligibility for special education and related services) as a “child with a disability,” a child’s educational performance must be adversely affected due to the disability.
  • Before a child can receive special education and related services for the first time, a full and individual initial evaluation of the child must be conducted to see if the child has a disability and is eligible for special education. 
  • An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a written statement of the educational program designed to meet a child’s individual needs and every child who receives special education services must have an IEP.
  • For many students with disabilities, the key to success in the classroom lies in having appropriate adaptations, accommodations, and modifications made to the instruction and other classroom activities.

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Basic Information
Family Law IntroductionAdoptionChanging Your NameDivorceGuardianship of Children and AdultsPrenuptial AgreementsSpecial Education
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