The Wikipedia defines “family law as an area of the law that deals with family-related issues and domestic relations including, but not limited to: the nature of marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships; issues arising during marriage, including spousal abuse, legitimacy, adoption, surrogacy, child abuse, and child abduction; the termination of the relationship and ancillary matters including divorce, annulment, property settlements, alimony, and parental responsibility orders “.
While broadly family law encompasses every aspect of a family as seen as a ‘unit of people living together for many reasons’, there are many finer aspects relating to ‘family’ in many different contexts in different parts of the world.
Family denotes a group of people affiliated by a consanguinity, affinity or co-residence.
Consanguinity – ‘con’ means together and ‘sanguine’ means blood; so it simply refers to people descended from a common ancestor. It is an important legal aspect to determine if two people can marry or to determine who inherits property left by a person who has not made a Will.
Affinity in the family sense means attraction of feeling or kinship or relation by marriage.
Co-residence refers to individuals or a group of people living in the same residence and carrying out responsibilities of a family or a household. This may include a parent and child or children and other members sharing blood ties or living together for other reasons.
Family law therefore cannot be confined within social, economic or governmental regulations. There are simply far too many aspects and complexities involving human relations that laws in many countries have diverse legalities referring to each country’s intrinsic social and familial guidelines.
Stark and startling contrasts govern legislation in certain parts of the world. In some societies, patriarchal laws govern while in some others matriarchal. In many parts of Europe, before the advent of the legal system as we see it today, the Church was seen as the law enforcer.
Historically, family law has been based on European feudalism. In the 1970s, family law underwent rapid changes and became redefined, as it had become a part of the wider national debate regarding family values, gender bias, and morality. Particular areas of family law relating to divorce, child custody, family property etc. experienced many changes. Such rapid changes enabling quick fix solutions in marriage, divorce, alimony, child custody and child support drew widespread criticism from many quarters that viewed rising cases of marital discord and disharmony all over the world as a dangerous trend.
Family law is an increasingly important area of legal studies, with many law schools offering numerous elective courses on the subject and the bar exam testing knowledge of this area of law. Furthermore, family law is evolving as the national debate surrounding family continues. One notable change is how family law has been broadened to encompass couples who do not choose to marry.
Today’s family unit has evolved over the generations and may be a concise or shortened version of the co-resident families of the past. Relationships too have evolved and newer legal aspects to family law are being formulated to cope with the complexities of modern life and emerging trends.