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Family and matrimonial law
Most states have a separate family court with jurisdiction over divorce actions, custody suits, adoption proceedings and other family-related matters. Some attorneys work in a general family law practice; others work only within a particular area, such as divorce law or juvenile crime. Generally, these lawyers work for firms that specialize in matrimonial law or start their own firms as solo practitioners. There are plenty of opportunities for litigation in this field, even though family law attorneys and their clients would often prefer to avoid court.
Matrimonial law includes both divorce hearings and issues of child custody. This field can be extremely challenging and emotionally draining, as two people in a once happy couple now become legal adversaries. A matrimonial lawyer fights for such rights as alimony, child visitation and support, and an equitable division of marital property. Matrimonial attorneys need a sharp eye for financial matters, as well as a solid knowledge of children's law. Some lawyers charge a set fee instead of working by the hour. Some divorces are handled quickly and merely involve the filing of forms. More complicated cases involving large sums of money, disputes over children, or allegations of abuse or infidelity can drag on for years. A divorce lawyer must be a tough negotiator who nonetheless manages to keep the sanity and emotional well-being of his client in sight. Sadly, there is no shortage of work for divorce attorneys.
Some attorneys deal exclusively with juvenile law. Any person under the age of 18 who commits a crime is considered a juvenile delinquent. However, the closer he is to 18, the more likely he will be tried as an adult. Attorneys who specialize in working with juveniles assess their clients' backgrounds and home environments as well as prepare legal defenses to alleged crimes. "Sometimes it wears you down," says a public defender with experience in juvenile law. "You see kids who are so close to the edge and you want to give them another chance. But their home environments are so bad -- you don't know if you can really help them from where you're standing."
Family court also encompass other child-related issues such as child abuse and neglect. Attorneys who handle such cases also work with social workers and children's support services. Some attorneys are former social workers themselves or have advanced degrees in childcare, child psychology or sociology. The work can be difficult, especially in a system itself often overburdened. Clients might include children with emotional, mental and psychological disorders. The court's first priority is providing a safe environment for children, but its second concern is keeping families together. When these priorities clash, the situation can become emotionally charged and troubling. A litigator entering this field should be prepared for such logisitical and emotional challenges. On the other hand, family law offers opportunities for litigation experience and sometimes a real chance to make a difference in a child's life.
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