Family law is an area of the law that deals with family-related
issues and domestic relations including, but not limited to the nature
of marriage, the termination of marriage, and child-related issues.
The family unit is not only the site of reproduction of the human species, but also the generation of the human spirit, our culture, and our character. The body of rules in family law help to maintain harmony and cooperation in society regarding all issues related to family. As such, family law is a vital cornerstone upon which the stability and growth of a society depends.
Formation of a union
A family is a domestic group of people, or a number of domestic groups, typically affiliated by birth or marriage, or by comparable legal relationships including adoption. There are a number of variations in the basic family structure. The nuclear family consists of husband and wife and their children, while the extended family includes grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Other family patterns include polygamous (usually patriarchal).
Marriage is an interpersonal relationship with governmental, social, or religious recognition, usually intimate and sexual, and often created as a contract, or through civil process. Civil marriage is the legal concept of marriage.
The most frequently occurring form of legal marriage unites one man and one woman as husband and wife. When a man has several wives, or vice versa, this is polygamy and while practiced in a number of cultures both historically and in the present time, it is generally not a legal form of marriage. Equally, group marriage, in which several men and women participate in a union, is also not a legal form of marriage.
Same-sex marriage is a term for a governmentally, socially, or religiously recognized marriage in which two people of the same sex live together as a family. Since the sexual relationship involved is homosexual (or lesbian), other terms often used for this type of relationship include "homosexual marriage," (or "gay marriage") and "lesbian marriage," as well as "gender-neutral marriage," "single-sex marriage," and "same-gender marriage."
A civil union is a recognized union similar to marriage. Beginning with Denmark in 1989, civil unions under one name or another have been established by law in many developed countries in order to provide same-sex couples with rights, benefits, and responsibilities similar (in some countries, identical) rights and responsibilities to opposite-sex civil marriage. In some jurisdictions, such as Quebec and New Zealand, civil unions are also open to opposite-sex couples.
Most civil-union countries recognize foreign unions if those are essentially equivalent to their own; for example, the United Kingdom, lists equivalent unions in Civil Partnership Act Schedule 20.
A domestic partnership is a legal or personal relationship between individuals who live together and share a common domestic life but are not joined in a traditional marriage or in a civil union. However, in some jurisdictions, such as California, domestic partnership is in fact nearly equivalent to marriage, or to other legally recognized same-sex or different-sex unions. In such cases a domestic partnership may be referred to as common-law marriage. The terminology for such unions is still evolving, and the exact level of rights and responsibilities conferred by a domestic partnership varies widely from place to place.
Issues arising during marriage
Spousal abuse refers to a wide spectrum of abuse. This includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and financial abuse. The abuser can be the husband or wife as can the victim.
Most of the information today confuses spousal abuse with domestic violence, which is only part of the whole spectrum of abuse. Domestic violence which is a specific form of violence where physical or sexual abuse is perpetuated by one spouse upon another, or by both partners upon each other.
Surrogacy is an arrangement whereby a woman agrees to become pregnant for the purpose of gestating and giving birth to a child for others to raise. She may be the child's genetic mother (the more traditional form of surrogacy), or she may be implanted with someone else's fertilized egg (gestational surrogacy), as this trend started since the first artificial surrogate mothers in Europe and the U.S. in the 1960s.
Issues affecting children
In the common-law tradition, legitimacy describes the status of children who are born to parents that are legally married, or born shortly after a marriage ends through divorce. The opposite of legitimacy is the status of being illegitimate—born to unmarried parents, or to a married woman but of a father other than the woman's husband. In both canon and civil law, the offspring of putative marriages are legitimate.
Adoption is the legal act of permanently placing a child with a parent or parents other than the birth mother or father. An adoption order has the effect of severing the parental responsibilities and rights of the birth parents and transferring those responsibilities and rights onto the adoptive parent(s). After the finalization of an adoption, there is no legal difference between adopted children and those born to the parents.
There are several kinds of adoption, which can be defined both by effect (such as whether the adoption is open or closed, meaning whether the information about the birth parents is public available or not) and by location and the origin of the child (such as domestic or international adoption).
Child abuse is the physical, sexual, or emotional maltreatment or neglect of children by parents, guardians, or others. While most child abuse happens in the child's home, large numbers of cases of child abuse have been identified within some organizations involving children, such as churches, schools, child care businesses, or in government agencies. It also sometimes occurs almost anywhere (such as kidnappings, random murders, and so forth).
Child abduction is the abduction or kidnapping of a child (or baby) by an older person.
Several distinct forms of child abduction exist:
- A stranger removes a child for criminal or mischievous purposes.
- A stranger removes a child (usually a baby) to bring up as that person's own child.
- A parent removes or retains a child from the other parent's care (often in the course of or after divorce proceedings).
Termination of the relationship
Divorce or dissolution of marriage is the ending of a marriage before the death of either spouse.
Divorce can be contrasted with an annulment, which is a declaration that a marriage is void, though the effects of marriage may be recognized in such unions, such as spousal support or alimony, child custody, child support, and distribution of property.
Alimony, maintenance or spousal support is an obligation established by law in many countries that is based on the premise that both spouses have an absolute obligation to support each other during the marriage (or civil union) unless they are legally separated. In some instances the obligation to support may continue after separation.
- in the European Union, parental responsibility (access and custody) refers to the bundle of rights and privileges that children have with their parents and significant others as the basis of their relationship;
- in Canada and the United States, parental responsibility (criminal) refers to the potential liability that parents may incur for the acts and omissions of their children.
Child custody and guardianship are legal terms which are sometimes used to describe the legal and practical relationship between a parent and his or her child, such as the right of the parent to make decisions for the child, and the parent's duty to care for the child.
In many countries, child support or child maintenance is the ongoing obligation for a periodic payment made by a non-custodial parent to a custodial parent, caregiver or guardian, for the care and support of children of a relationship or marriage that has been terminated. In family law, child support is often arranged as part of a divorce, marital separation, dissolution, annulment, determination of parentage or dissolution of a civil union and may supplement alimony (spousal support) arrangements.
A family court is a court convened to decide matters and make orders in relation to family law, such as custody of children. In common-law jurisdictions "family courts" are statutory creations primarily dealing with equitable matters devolved from a court of inherent jurisdiction, such as a superior court. In many jurisdictions in the United States, the family courts see the most crowded dockets. Litigants representative of all social and economic classes are parties within the system.
Fathers' rights movement
The Fathers' rights movement or Parents' rights movement emerged in the 1970s as a loose social movement providing a network of interest groups, primarily in western countries. It is primarily interested with family law and issues affecting fathers, and mothers, both custodial and non-custodial, and victims of paternity fraud, including child custody sometimes after divorce, child support, adoption, and paternity.