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Divorces and legal separations are main issues that a lawyer specialising in family law handle. A family lawyer acts on behalf of their client to settle issues in their favour. The other party or parties in the matter are likely to have their own lawyer working on the same issue (for example, dividing of marital property). If the issues cannot be settled outside of court, they may be taken to court before a judge. In these cases, the judge typically makes a final decision and comes to a ruling.

Most people retain the services of a family lawyer when things go wrong. However, a family lawyer may also be involved when times are good. For example, a couple wanting to adopt a child needs to go through steps in order to ensure that the adoption is legal.

A family lawyer may also be involved in criminal cases, especially those involving juvenile law or domestic violence.