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Family Law Overview

Family law or domestic relations law involves many topics related to the status of family and its members. These include marriage, divorce or dissolution of marriage, adoption, guardianships, conservatorships etc.

Although family law comprises many facets, they are all directly or indirectly related to the marital relationship. Marriage is the legal union of one man and one woman, for the purpose of creating a family. The right to marry is a basic freedom that is protected by the U.S. Constitution, provided that parties meet the legal qualifications for marriage under their state law.

Legal Requirements to Marry - Every state has established legal requirements to enter into a valid marriage. These include competence to marry, gender, and a good faith agreement to create a genuine marital relationship.

Legal Restrictions to Marry - The legal restrictions or reasons to debunk a marriage include consanguinity, being under the minimum age of consent, mental incapacity, health or a preexisting marriage.

Consanguinity - This is the blood relationship between persons who intend to marry. Every state has laws that forbid marriage between parent and child, brother and sister, as well as uncle and niece. Marriage between first cousins also is forbidden in thirty states. A purported marriage between relatives in this group is void.

Minimum Age - All states have established a minimum age that must be reached before a person legally may consent to marry.

Mental Capacity - To be competent to marry, parties must have the mental capacity to understand the nature, effect, and consequences of marriage at the time of the marriage. The level of capacity is different for marriage than it is for entering into other types of contracts. To annul a marriage on this ground, the petitioning spouse must prove lack of capacity by clear and convincing evidence. (If you ever get married in Vegas to someone you just met and you were severely inebriated, then this would be an example of a marriage that will be annulled, or never existed.)

Health Standards - States require parties to a marriage to meet certain health standards before they can marry. An example would be they must be free from venereal disease.

Preexisting Marriage - This is self explanatory in that no party to the marriage can be married to someone else at the time of the marriage. If one does marry another while still being married could face possible criminal prosecution for bigamy.

Mutual Consent - Both parties must consent to the marriage voluntarily and in good faith. Consent given under duress can lead to an annulment.

Gender - Every state has statutes in place that require individuals to be of opposite gender.

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