What types of issues are covered by family law, or the law of domestic relations?

This area encompasses all aspects of intra-familial life, including but not limited to marriage, divorce, child custody, child support, child visitation, adoption, paternity, and surrogacy. Most state law codes contain a separate section or sections—called a title or titles—that deal exclusively with family law. For example, there is a separate title (Title 25) in Arizona called "Marital and Domestic Relations." Tennessee has a separate title (Title 36) called "Domestic Relations." Often attorneys will specialize in particular aspects of family law given the complexity and depth of the subject.

Family law interacts with many other areas of law, including contracts, torts, crimes, and other areas. Marriage itself is a civil contract between two parties (in nearly every state between one man and one woman). Both parties must consent to the marriage just as with any other type of contract. Sometimes parties will enter into contractual arrangements before marriage referred to as prenuptial agreements. Sometimes parties to a marriage will allege criminal and/or tortuous (wrongful) conduct committed by their partner.


How is marriage defined by the law?

Marriage is a civil contract or union between two persons (in nearly all U.S. jurisdictions between one man and one woman) who live together and share their lives together (at least until a dissolution). Ideally, the two people share deep emotional and physical bonds that allow them to survive and even thrive during the hardships

Although most marriages are performed in religious settings, certain legal actions must be taken for the parties to be considered married partners by the state (

Although most marriages are performed in religious settings, certain legal actions must be taken for the parties to be considered married partners by the state (

of life. Unfortunately, we know that a large number of marriages dissolve and end up in divorce.

How can people be married?

Most people are married through a ceremony performed by a religious figure or a secular figure authorized by the state to perform marriages. Many people are married in churches or chapels by a minister of one of the person's church. Others are married at the local courthouse by a judge or justice of the peace. Still others are married by a family friend who has the authority as a lay person to perform marriages. These unions are referred to as ceremonial marriages, because the institution or process of marriage is performed through a ceremony.

The parties to a marriage must provide their names, addresses, ages and social security numbers to obtain a marriage license from a county clerk. Other states require applicants to also disclose their places of birth and their current occupations. Those applicants who have been previously married may have to disclose information about those prior marriages. The applicants must swear that the provided information is true in most states. The clerk then gives the parties the license, which they provide to the person performing the marriage ceremony. In fact, in a few states (South Carolina is an example) a person who performs a marriage ceremony without receiving a valid marriage license from the parties can be punished and fined.

What is a common-law marriage?

In some states, parties can form a common-law marriage, meaning that the state recognizes the persons as legally married even though they have not performed a ceremonial marriage. Instead, the parties live together for a period of years and hold themselves out to be married.

How much does a marriage license cost?

This varies from state to state. In Delaware, marriage licenses are only $10. In Alaska, the legislature designates the registrar to set the fee for a marriage certificate, which is only $20. In Hawaii, a state statute provides that the cost of a marriage license is $60. In Tennessee, the cost is more than $90.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >