Family Law covers a wide array of situations. But when it comes down to it, how do you know when, how, or why to ask an attorney for help?
At Smith Legal Group, the knowledgeable and dedicated attorneys work closely with clients to provide services for dissolutions of marriage, post-decree issues, or other family-related matters. In addition, they advocate for families in need of guardianships over protected adults and minor children.
We spoke with attorney Courtney Smith, owner of Smith Legal Group, to help dispel any confusion about the services offered at the Chesterton-based practice.
Adopting a child is a joyous yet sensitive matter that requires a caring and professional adoption attorney. Few decisions in life may ever be as essential and heart-felt as the desire to give the best life possible to a child.
Smith Legal Group handles step-parent adoption (when the step-parent adopts the child of his or her current spouse), adoptions by choice (the client chooses not to have biological children), adoptions due to the inability to have children, or cases through the Department of Child Services (children in foster care waiting to be adopted).
Additionally, adult adoption is a popular option for biological parents or for children who find their birth family and wish to be formally acknowledged, or fathers who find children they did not know they had. Smith Legal Group can help with these situations as well.
“Recently, I had a client who found her biological father through an online genetic testing service. She was in her 40s and her dad was in his 60s, and he came to the decision to adopt her after years of not knowing she existed,” Smith said. “I had the pleasure of handling this agreed adoption.”
Child custody and child support
A relationship between a child and parents is one of the most important in life. At Smith Legal Group, each case is handled with compassion, experience, and understanding. Positive solutions for everyone involved is the main goal. No matter the situation, the best interests of the child(ren) and clients always come first.
“It’s important for an attorney to approach these situations in a personal way. At the end of the day or case, the parents can mostly move on with their lives, but the people who are affected the most are the children,” Smith said. “I try to get my clients to give a little before they take a little. There needs to be normalcy in the children’s lives. It’s very important to effectively co-parent.”
For child support modification, Smith encourages potential clients to visit https://www.in.gov/judiciary/2625.htm before hiring an attorney if a client’s budget is tight. There is no guarantee this method is as efficient, but it is helpful and free.
Dissolution of Marriage
Divorce is a difficult family issue. Decisions made during this process can have a lasting impact on all family members, assets, and finances.
To obtain a divorce, one spouse must file a divorce petition, also called a petition for dissolution of marriage. In Indiana, once one files a petition for dissolution, Indiana law implements a 60-day waiting period during which the parties' divorce may not be granted. After the expiration of the waiting period, the parties may proceed to a final hearing to resolve their dissolution.
Smith Legal Group handles matters from simple uncontested dissolutions (both parties agree on the terms of the divorce) to contentious divorce litigation (parties cannot agree on a settlement).
Attorneys at Smith Legal Group tirelessly protect clients’ rights and ensure that all agreements, property divisions, and custody arrangements are fair to both parties and children involved.
“I’m a big fan of both parties getting together to communicate their needs,” Smith said. “Both parties involved know their families better than anyone else, so I always request they come together first so we can come up with a settlement and agreement. There is more flexibility this way once the court date comes around.”
Guardian ad litem
A guardian ad litem (GAL) is someone the judge assigns to help and represent a person who cannot come to court or protect their rights and interests for a single case. A GAL can be appointed in cases involving children or incapacitated adults such as senior citizens suffering from dementia, those with Down syndrome, mentally incompetent persons, and all other individuals who generally need help protecting their rights in court.
In all cases, the court will determine the need for guardianship and who should serve as a person’s guardian. A guardian helps with a person’s daily needs and essentially becomes their custodian. Smith Legal Group offers affordable rates, accessibility, and peace of mind in the practice’s years of experience to ensure that clients receive the best representation possible for adults or minors.
“In these cases, we want to protect these persons from being taken advantage of. Appointed guardians will help these persons with things such as finances, medications, and other services that go hand-in-hand with a person’s wellbeing,” Smith said. “Our goal is to find the most effective, yet least restrictive agreement to reserve a person’s rights. We want them to be functioning adults, just with some regulated support.”
A paternity case can be brought by the mother, father, a next friend, or the Department of Human Services (DHS). It is a legal proceeding brought to establish a legal father. In all cases, paternity cases come about when there is a child born from an unwed mother.
At Smith Legal Group, the team understands that fathers have rights, and to ensure they are able to play a positive role in their child’s life, paternity must be established first. One may need a paternity test if they want to secure child support and have access to medical records, government benefits, and health insurance for the child but have not established parentage.
Once genetic relation is established, custody, visitation, and child support are decided.