In most firms, “family law” is synonymous with divorce, i.e. family dissolution. Ms. Katz’s family law practice focuses on family formation issues, especially as they affect alternative families, rather than focusing on divorce and custody disputes. Her primary practice areas include, as described below, prenuptial agreements, partnership agreements, and paternity & legitimation actions.
PRENUPTIAL AGREEMENTS (PRENUPS):
In Georgia, the marital relationship brings with it many legal rights, but it also brings legal responsibilities and financial burdens. For example, under Georgia law, from the date of the wedding onward, every dollar that a married individual earns is considered joint marital property that would need to be divided equitably should the couple divorce. This includes earned income as well as deposits made into pension plans (including deposits made by the person’s employer). This is true even if bank accounts are individually titled. Joint marital property also includes unearned income, such as the increase in value of marital property.
For some couples, it is advisable that they sign a prenuptial agreement prior to marriage, to define how and if Georgia law will apply to their union. This would be true of older couples who have significant assets, couples with children from prior relationships, and any other couples who choose/intend to hold and share assets at variance with Georgia law.
PARTNERSHIP AGREEMENTS FOR UNMARRIED COUPLES:
Any couples choosing to form a domestic partnership without the intention of marrying should consider creating a Partnership Agreement. This agreement has similarities with both a marriage contract and a prenuptial agreement.
Like a marriage contract, a partnership agreement identifies the property that the couple intend to hold jointly, as well as separately. This simple declaration can avoid disputes or confusion that may arise later, if the couple chooses to separate, or if one of them dies without a Will.
Like a prenuptial agreement, a partnership agreement allows the couple to make decisions about how they would divide their property, if they decided to end their partnership. While this may seem like a negative endeavor, couples who create a partnership agreement do so with love and concern for their partner’s well-being. While both partners hope they will not need to rely on the agreement, the process allows them to make decisions with only the best intentions.
Without a partnership agreement, clients often find themselves in a nightmare of litigation, in front of unfriendly or unsympathetic judges, and with mounting legal bills.
PATERNITY & LEGITIMATION:
When a child is born “out of wedlock,” she has only one legal parent: her mother. The biological father has an automatic obligation to pay child support for the child, but has no legal right to custody or visitation because he is not considered a legal parent. Nor can the child inherit from the biological father, again because he is not a legal parent.
When the child is born, the biological parents can agree to place the father’s name on the birth certificate. The hospital will provide the biological parents with an acknowledgment form to declare paternity of the child. In addition, the acknowledgment form allows the biological father to acknowledge “legitimacy” of the child, and become the child’s legal parent.
If the biological mother and father do not sign the acknowledgments in the hospital, the mother may file a paternity action to obtain a judicial decree declaring the child’s paternity and ordering the father to pay child support.
On the other side, if there is a disagreement between the couple about the amount of time the biological father will have with the child, he must file a petition to legitimate the child, in order to obtain parental rights over the child, including visitation rights. Moreover, with an order of legitimacy, the child can inherit from the father, and can obtain social security and other benefits from him.