Family Feuds: Divorce, Custody, Support
By Robert Ambrogi
FAMILY LAW -- divorce and child custody -- may be the most ubiquitous field of law practice. That makes it all the more surprising how few family-law resources there are on the Internet of true usefulness to practicing lawyers.
Yes, plenty of sites are devoted to divorce and children. But the majority of them target non-lawyers. They tend to be of little practical use to attorneys, providing only elementary overviews of law and practice.
Still, there are sites worth a lawyer's time. Here is a sampling:
Divorce and Child Custody
Started in 1995 as a means of showcasing a Newton, Mass., family law practice, DivorceNet, quickly grew into one of the most comprehensive family-law sites and remains so today.
Its early popularity came in part from its interactive bulletin board, where visitors could post messages and questions and others could respond. That original board has evolved into some 20 discussions of matters such as domestic violence, child support, parental abduction and stepfamilies.
DivorceNet also features a separate page for each U.S. state, with a summary of the state's divorce laws, links to full-text statutes, listings of family-law attorneys in the state, selected articles, child-support calculators, and links to related state resources.
Designed to serve as a comprehensive divorce information network for both legal professionals and the general public, Divorcesource.com, does a better job serving the latter.
All of its information is organized both by state and under generic topics such as "Parental Abduction," "Paternity," "Grandparent Issues," and several more. Its section, "Cases of Interest," compiles digests of significant cases both by topic and by state, although most cases were several years old. Also of interest to lawyers is an overview of divorce laws by state.
Maybe the only site devoted to palimony and related issues, Unmarried Couples and the Law, www.palimony.com, is sponsored by Goldman & Kagon, the Los Angeles firm that handled the famous palimony defense of actor Lee Marvin. The site has a small collection of short articles on general topics of living together. It also has articles specifically focused on the Marvin case, including tips on defenses and discovery in such cases. A "Resources" page lists links to Web resources related to unmarried couples.
The Children's Rights Council, is an organization that believes, "The best parent is both parents." Its site includes information about current legislation relating to child custody and support, and has the full text of related federal bills.
One section provides a state-by-state survey of laws providing for joint custody. A library includes a bibliography of research on joint custody and shared parenting. The site also has the text of the "Children's Bill of Rights." A connected site, "Info 4 Parents," provides articles and resources on shared parenting targeted towards never-married and single parents.
If you represent a former spouse who is owed delinquent child support, there are several sites with information about relevant laws and collection procedures. A good starting point is the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It offers detailed profiles of each state's child support enforcement laws, with specific information on support guidelines, income withholding, establishment of paternity, statutes of limitations, international reciprocity, age of majority, and modification of orders. CSE also provides links to each state's child-support enforcement agency.
Another resource from the OCSE is the National Electronic Child Support Resource System, a searchable index of federal, state and local resource materials related to child support. The index can be searched by key words or browsed by topic or type of resource. Documents include administrative, legislative and judicial materials, as well as a variety of reports and guides.
Support Guidelines.com offers a vehicle for researching child support laws nationwide. Its highlight is access to the full text of the child-support guidelines for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It includes links to other Web resources for family law research, as well as to child support calculators available online.
Laura Wish Morgan, senior attorney for family law at the National Legal Research Group, Charlottesville, Va., maintains the site, which includes the first chapter of her treatise, Child Support Guidelines: Interpretation and Application, published by Aspen Law & Business. She also provides digests of recent cases concerning child support as well as a more in-depth monthly article.
Violence, Abuse and Neglect
Sponsored by the American Bar Association's Young Lawyers Division, the Washington-based Center on Children & the Law, is one of the ABA's largest staffed programs and hosts one of its busiest Web sites. Within the site are sections devoted to a number of issues, such as child and adolescent health, child protection, foster care, court improvement, parental kidnapping and juvenile courts. It includes the full text of numerous reports and legal materials, as well as the complete 1992 manual, "Working With The Courts in Child Protection."
If you are unfortunate enough to have a case involving allegations of child abuse or neglect, you may want to explore the research data available from the National Data Archive on Child Abuse & Neglect. It provides data relevant to the study of child abuse and neglect. Through its Web site, you can browse a catalog of available datasets and place an order for any you would like to purchase, at a cost of $75 per dataset.
Several of the datasets' user guides are provided for free here. A recent example is, Sensitively Assessing Children's Testimonial Competence, a research project that examined the most sensitive means by which to measure children's competency to testify truthfully.
The site of the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence, gets right to the point, opening with a collection of links to key resources for victims of domestic violence along with key phone numbers for anyone needing shelter or referral to a lawyer.
Unfortunately, the commission has little else on its site, with mostly general information on its activities and a series of brief pages on topics such as responding to domestic violence, a model code on domestic and family violence, teaching about domestic violence, and the like.
In 1993, an ABA working group issued the report, "America's Children at Risk: A National Agenda for Legal Action," which exhorted lawyers to devote their skills to the legal needs of children.
An outgrowth of that project, the Steering Committee on the Unmet Legal Needs of Children, is charged with facilitating the ABA's efforts to implement the report's recommendations.
The primary feature of its site is "A Directory of Pro Bono Children's Law Programs," its guide to legal volunteer opportunities on behalf of children.
The directory lists child advocacy programs across the nation, including volunteer projects, law school clinics and resource centers.
Robert J. Ambrogi is author of The Essential Guide to the Best (and Worst) Legal Web Sites, available through LawCatalog.com.