Family law practice encompasses both juvenile and domestic relations courts. In some counties they are separate courts, in others they have been combined. In Cuyahoga County they are separate. If the parents were not legally married, all issues pertaining to the children are handled by the juvenile court. If the parents were married the issues are resolved in domestic relations court.
In Lorain County the courts are separate but the judges are the same and they are in the same courthouse.
In both domestic relations and juvenile court the standard applied for parenting and visitation is primarily the “best interest of the child standard.” There is no preference in the law for one parent over the other.
Each court has its own rules and resources to assist people in working through the various family law issues. Some courts have structured departments and programs, and others are less structured. All courts have some sort of guardian ad litem (GAL) program.
A GAL is a person appointed by the court to represent the children’s best interest. Depending on the court, the GAL may be an attorney, a social worker, or may have no special training at all. It is the GAL’s job to try to keep the children out of the middle of the conflict between the parents. The GAL will have access to the children, each of the parents and any other person that may be important to talk with such as therapists, grandparents and neighbors.
Having an attorney who can guide you through custody disputes and
divorce law is paramount to your quality of life and peace of mind
It is not unusual to have both a civil domestic violence case in the domestic relations court and a criminal domestic violence case in the municipal court involving the same people at the same time. The difference between these types of cases is in the burden of proof and the consequences that result in being found guilty.
In a civil domestic violence case a finding of guilt means that a person will not be allowed to return to their home, may not have visitation or limited visitation with their children and will not be allowed to be near or communicate with their spouse or significant other. In the criminal case a finding of guilt means that a person will go to jail.
Divorce Then and Now
Up until the 1980’s, divorce law was fairly simple and most attorneys could adequately and competently represent a husband or wife in a divorce. You figured out who was at fault and divided up the tangible assets: the car, the furniture, china, cats and dogs and the bank accounts. Traditionally the wife got the house and children. And the husband got the stock portfolio, his pension and retirement benefits. And whoever was earning more money, usually received the debt. If the husband was at fault, or if it was a long-term marriage, the wife got alimony. Child support was a nominal $50 per month.
Today divorce is far more complicated, supporting a child is much more costly and dividing assets can be messy. Fault is no longer an issue and debts are traded off for assets. Pensions are evaluated for present value and divided by a means of special orders that must comply with IRS regulations.
A couple’s home is either sold, or held jointly for a period of time, and then sold and the equity divided equally. Fathers are retaining custody of children more and more, and today the concept of shared parenting or joint custody is commonplace. Alimony has changed drastically and can last for a period of years or indefinitely. There are tax consequences especially if it ends too soon, or if too much is paid out too quickly.
Arrangements in custody disputes and divorce law are ever changing. Having an attorney who can guide you through this challenging process is paramount to the quality of life and peace of mind you can have post-dissolution.
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What used to be a simple, but highly emotionally charged area of the law has now become incredibly complex. Today divorce requires the services of not just an attorney, but often a variety of outside experts including accountants, mental health professionals, business evaluators and real estate appraisers. Bankruptcy frequently goes hand-in-hand with divorce, creating further complications with alimony, debts and child support.
Divorce can impact you financially and emotionally for life. If you have children, it will determine how you will be able to relate to your children, what role you will play in their future and what decisions you will be involved with regarding their upbringing. You need to choose an attorney who will listen to you and explain the law to you in simple terms. You must be able to discuss your concerns and expectations regarding your finances and/or children, your spouse and your future openly and honestly with your attorney. Your attorney should not only be a legal guide, but also your advocate.