Life is full of milestones. Some are joyful and anticipated, like births, adoptions and marriages. But others can catch us by surprise or stir up complicated feelings, like losing a loved one or ending a marriage.
A family law attorney, like the team at Dixon & Moseley, P.C., can help protect your assets and offer you and your family peace of mind. Read on to learn about four common, real-life situations when an individual or family should seek out a family law attorney.
1. Dividing assets in a divorce.
When a couple dissolves a marriage in Indiana, their “marital property” gets divided between the two parties. That property includes everything that each spouse owns, regardless of when it was acquired or whose name is attached to it legally. (Yes, it includes what each person had before getting married.)
For example, if you inherited assets, land, or accounts from a grandparent or started a successful business, that’s part of your marital property. If you haven’t taken steps to protect those assets, they will likely be divided equally between you and your soon-to-be ex.
Some ways to protect your assets include a prenuptial before your marriage, a post-nuptial during the marriage, and overcoming the assumption of a 50/50 split.
A premarital agreement (sometimes called prenuptial or antenuptial agreement) is beneficial for many reasons, primarily for asset protection. This contract lets you and your fiancé(e) legally declare whose “stuff” is whose – from retirement funds and real estate to businesses and future inheritances. If your marriage ends later, the premarital agreement has your back without needing the court to interfere.
A postnuptial agreement is similar to a premarital one but happens after marriage. The courts take a closer look at these agreements, and they are overturned more often than their prenuptial counterparts, but they are still a good option.
The last option is overcoming the presumption that a 50/50 division of property would be just and reasonable. Indiana state law lists several factors that help determine when an unequal division is actually the right choice, such as when you own a business and want to retain full ownership.
2. Dealing with child custody issues.
Family law attorneys can also help with custody cases. In Indiana, a trial court is obligated to make a custody determination in accordance with the best interests of the child(ren). They consider factors like age and gender, the parents’ and child’s wishes, family dynamics and relationships, and how they would adjust to changes in their home, school, and community.
In Indiana and most of the US, the courts don’t side with one parent over another at the beginning of a custody case, so both sides get a fair shot at sharing their story. (This hasn’t always been the case.) Changes in custody agreements are different, however. The parent who wants to modify the custody agreement needs to prove that substantial changes have happened – and that a change in custody is in the child’s best interest.
3. Appealing a child custody decision.
Families and individuals have the right to appeal a final judgment (one that’s dealt with all claims). Both initial custody cases and modifications are resolved with “final judgments,” though exceptions exist.
However, those decisions can be appealed with the help of a family law attorney. Time is of the essence here, as there’s usually a 30-day limit on filing a notice of appeal with the Court of Appeals. This is crucial, as waiting too long can result in you waiving your right to appeal.
4. Estate planning.
Many couples do their estate planning when they are married but forget to update those plans when the marriage ends. This can mean that an ex-spouse is still listed as a beneficiary or that they control your living will or have power of attorney. Best practice is to change paperwork and update these documents upon divorce.
Whether you have an existing estate that needs to be updated or you don’t have one yet, talk to a family law attorney. They can ensure that your end-of-life wishes are honored, that your assets go to the people you want to receive them and that you maintain freedom of choice over your finances and well-being.
Dixon & Moseley, P.C.,is a law firm focused on the needs of families. With 24 years of experience, the Indianapolis-based firm serves clients in six core practice areas: family law, appellate practice, probate, estate planning and trusts, criminal and firearms law, general practice, and personal injury. This blog was written by attorneys at Dixon & Moseley, P.C., who handle all aspects of family law and other legal matters throughout the state. It is written and posted for general educational purposes and is not to be construed as legal advice or solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.