Family Law is the sets of laws that relate to any family and relationship matters. These include marriage, divorce, civil partnerships and many areas relating to children and parenting.
When two people get married they must sign a marriage certificate to confirm that they are a married couple. This must be witnessed by at least two people and the ceremony, whether it be in a church, registry office, or anywhere else, must be conducted by someone who is authorised to register marriages. This is necessary for the marriage to be recognised under UK law. Those marriages that take place in another country according to their own law, still stand in the UK. Anyone in a legally binding marriage must go through divorce proceeding if they no longer wish to be married.
Anyone getting married in the UK must be over 16 years of age; those under 18 must seek written permission from their parents. It is illegal to get married at the age of 16 or 17 without this permission, but the marriage will still stand. You cannot be married to more than one person at a time, although this is not the case in all countries. If you are married to multiple people it is called bigamy, and this can carry a jail sentence. Another legal requirement is that two people who are closely related can not get married to one another.
To get a divorce a couple must go through a legal process. This can sometimes be simple, but it can be extremely complex depending on the couples circumstances. This can especially be the case if the couple have children together. During the divorce process possessions and finances have to be split and this can be a long and arduous process. Around 10 per cent of divorces end up going to court.
When a couple separated (whether married or not) and have children together there are family laws that play their part in dictating with which parent the child or children live with, although this can be split. This is the most common point of dispute with separating couples and can often end up be deciding in the courts. Visiting rights for the parent who doesn't have custody can also be determined by a Judge. Family law with regard to children is often criticised for the fact that in the majority of cases custody goes to the Mother, especially if the couples had not been previously married. Maintenance payments also have to be determined.
A significant development in family law in the last few years was the introduction of civil partnerships in 2005. A Civil Partnership is essentially the registration of a partnership of a same sex couple. In many ways it is like marriage under a different name. Civil partners have many of the same rights, such as tax breaks, as married couples and there is also a process that must be followed to end the relationship - this is called a civil partnership dissolution.
There are stringent adoption laws put in place for the safety of children who are to be adopted. If someone adopts a child it means that they are the legal parent, and for this to happen there is a sometimes lengthy process to go through. Adoption authorities have to make sure they have done everything necessary to make sure children are adopted by the right people.