There is no denying that the modern age has been characterised by a slew of transformations in the social dynamic.
The positive empowerment of women in our society, an often-seen reversal in traditional family roles and different outlooks on the concept of the family dynamic are all aspects that have contributed to a shift in the way families are formed, managed and held together in the modern age.
For the most part, families are navigating these changes with some success; but in many families, holding on to the reigns is difficult.
We are seeing a constant rise in divorce rates in South Africa. As far back as 2016, the divorce rate in our country was already as high as 44%. By 2018, however, this percentage had taken a worrying turn upward, now sitting at over 50%.
That means that 1 in every 2 South African marriages fail on average, many of them doing so within the first 7 years. If the marriage fails early on enough and isn’t characterised by accrued assets or the birth of children, divorces are often a cleanly cut matter. However, as these factors accrue overtime, dissolving a marriage is extremely difficult, and comes with no small amount of financial and emotional collateral.
This means that the roles played by family lawyers in Johannesburg are growing in importance each and every day.
Far from being the stereotypical banes of ex-husbands and wives that they were once considered by the layman; the ability that family law has to minimise the collateral faced by each person in the marriage, and more importantly any children produced in such an unstable coupling, is growing in value and importance all of the time.
But what exactly does a practitioner of family law actually do?
Let’s take a closer look:
Fields of Family Law
Family law is, of course, an umbrella term for a range of legal specialisations relating to South African families. The various fields of family law include matters of prenuptial agreements, identifying paternity in a relationship, coming to favourable alimony negotiations, managing marital property and more.
While each of these segments of family law is generally handled independently, they all form a cohesive part of a domestic legal system designed to protect the best interests of all involved parties, paying particular attention, in most cases, to the wellbeing and best-interest of any children resulting from marriage.
Let’s take a closer look at these fields:
Emancipation of Minors
The field of law concerning itself with the emancipation of minors compares a child’s upbringing in terms of the capabilities and responsibilities of their parents.
Where parents fail to meet these needs, but in being independent and capable of fulfilling adult roles, the child does; a court process can be conducted to allow the minor to be considered a self-supporting entity, independent of his or her parents.
This allows the child to make decisions about their own wellbeing without the consent of their parents.
In the context of South Africa, a court order or any other application need not be made for a minor to be considered legally emancipated.
Managing Marital Property
Wherever property has been acquired by any partner in the marriage, during the period of the marriage, needs to be divided fairly and accordingly following a divorce.
Since such matters are often surrounded in emotion following a divorce, this is one of the most valued services offered by family lawyers in Johannesburg.
The division of assets following a divorce can be a very complicated affair, particularly if no prenuptial agreement was put in place, or any of those assets were acquired by either (or both) party during the marriage.
Determining who should get what after a split is often a matter best negotiated on between legal professionals.
Spousal support is an important consideration following a divorce since ideally, both parties should be able to continue living with a set quality of life following a separation.
The factors that determine alimony negotiations are extensive and varied and tied in with no small amount of complication; making them best handled by family law professionals.
Determining Paternity & Child Custody
Paternity cases are generally filed by mothers where the father is absent, in an attempt to secure support payments from the biological father.
This proves, beyond any reasonable doubt, the relationship between the father and child. This is also sometimes done by fathers looking to further illuminate the relationship between him and his child.
Child custody and support cases are also handled under the umbrella of family law and determine details such as visitation rights, child support agreements
The conditions for child support cases are typically dependant on the abilities of both parents and their financial situation, which is subject to change. Should the financial situation of the non-custodian parent change, the support agreement is generally renegotiated.
In all instances where paternity, support and custody are concerned, the best interests of the child will carry the most weight when reaching a decision.
Contracting Prenuptial Agreements
These agreements are drawn up between couples in marriage before the marriage takes place, and serves a number of functions:
Firstly, it ensures that the assets belonging to each party before entering into the marriage, remain their property should the marriage be dissolved. It is always recommended, under any circumstance, since there is no way of knowing what changes to a relationship the future may bring.
Of course, this is not the only beneficial function of a prenuptial agreement. It offers a practical approach to protecting the assets and liquidity of each individual in the marriage should they be faced with insurmountable debt.
With a prenuptial agreement in place, no partner will be liable for any debts held by their partner, allowing them to protect their liquidity individually from their partner.
When Would You Hire a Family Lawyer in Johannesburg?
Having looked at these specialisations, you can already see the value behind having a professional attorney on hand, who is able to specialise in the nuances of family law.
Here are some of the reasons why you may need to call on one:
Facilitating a Divorce
During a divorce, each partner will need to make contact with their own attorney. The goal here is not to take the case to court if it can be avoided. Most attorneys would prefer to reach an agreement before it gets to that point.
The responsibilities of the attorney in these instances would be to facilitate the division of marital property, to determine how much support should be paid by each partner to the other, and they will outline the details for child support and custody with the child’s best interest in mind if it applies.
Attorneys ensure that divorce proceedings commence with as little complication as possible. Since this is a time when couples are undergoing severe financial and emotional stress, these details are often best left to attorneys, who would rather see that the case is handled fairly, than to let emotions dominate the decisions that are made.
Detailing Child Support & Custardy
With the child’s best interest in mind, a family law attorney will also work towards detailing which partner is awarded custody over the child, and what support that parent would require to do so effectively.
This might include expenses such as medical expenses, school-fees, future investments and extra-curricular activities that have a positive impact on the child’s wellbeing.
Administrating Adoption Procedures and Foster Care
Family lawyers also specialise in facilitating adoption procedures. This might be when considering a couple who is looking to adopt a child from outside of the family as their own. A family lawyer, in such a case, will not only help to ensure that the process is carried out successfully but may also advise potential adoptive parents as to the viability of their decision.
Adoption may also take place where a child from a previous marriage becomes the legal child of a parent in a new marriage. This may take place in the event of the death or absence of the biological father, or where the biological father has been declared unfit to partake in their parental duties, for whatever reason.
This ensures that decisions about the child’s wellbeing can be made by the adoptive parent without the consent of the biological one.
Finding the Right Family Lawyer
When calling on the services of a family lawyer in Johannesburg, it is best to first do a bit of research on the practitioner or firm you are considering. Not all legal professionals offer services at the same quality, and the better the choice you make in this regard, the more chance of success there is when approaching your case.
So to ensure that you pick a legal professional who meets your needs closely, be sure to ask them (and yourself) the following questions:
Have you handled a related case?
As we have mentioned before, most family cases have something unique about them, which would require a slightly different approach each time.
Finding a lawyer who can handle your case the best, requires sourcing one that has had plenty of related experience in both the particular field of family law related to your issue, as well as cases that are similar to your own.
The more success they have had in this regard, the higher your chances are of reaching a favourable outcome.
Who will handle proceedings?
You should remember that often, legal cases are not necessarily handled by the representative you consult with initially. Oftentimes they refer facets of the case to other practitioners in their firm, either due to time constraints or because the other person is a better fit.
This isn’t necessarily a problem, not if there is nothing to question about that person’s ability, qualifications and experience.
Still, it is always a good idea to ensure that you meet with the person who is handling your case personally, so be sure to ask if anyone else will be handling your case.
Do they communicate clearly and effectively?
Divorce proceedings and other matters of family law are complicated, especially as understood by the layman.
Since family law is also shrouded in no small amount of anxiety and emotion, having a legal representative who communicates clearly with you at each step of the process is essential for your wellbeing, as well as the success of the case.
So be sure to opt for a professional attorney in Johannesburg who is able and willing to open up clear lines of communication with you.
Do they want what’s best for the family?
This one is important, and often feuding couples tend to overlook it. A good family lawyer is there to protect the interests of the family unit, no matter how fragmented.
Because of this, it is best to source a lawyer who values fairness and transparency and isn’t looking to help you get revenge or the ‘best-possible-deal’ by destroying the financial standing of the other partner.
Remember that by doing so (especially where children are concerned), you are limiting the chance of an outcome that has the best interests of the family members at heart, in the long-run. Family law is not about grudges and financial winnings; but rather the stability of all involved.
Contact Michael Krawitz Attorneys for Details on our Family Law Services
Our law firm specialises in family law and strives to find solutions that not only benefit our clients but looks out for the wellbeing of the family as a whole; particularly in cases where minors are involved.
If you are looking for a group of professional attorneys in Johannesburg who can assist you with the details and execution of any family law case, be sure to get into contact with a representative from Michael Krawitz today, or visit our website for additional details on all of our legal specialisations and offers.