Family law, body of law regulating family relationships, including marriage and divorce, the treatment of children, and related economic matters. In the past, family law was closely connected with the law of property and succession and judging from the records available, it must have originated principally in the economic and property questions created by the transfer of a female from her father’s family to the power and guardianship of her husband. Even with regard to the relationship between parent and child, legal concepts such as guardianship, custody, and legitimacy were associated with family power structures and family economic interests.
Family law also traditionally has to do with matters of personal status: for example, the question of whether a person is to be considered married or single, legitimate or illegitimate though the incidents and importance of these distinctions often derive from the law of property.
Family law shares an interest in certain social issues with other areas of law, including criminal law. For example, one issue that has received considerable attention since the late 20th century is the very difficult problem of violence within the family, which may take the form of physical violence by one adult member on another or by an adult on a child or some other violent or abusive conduct within a family circle. In serious cases the only real solution may be to terminate cohabitation or to remove an abused child from the family unit into some form of public or foster custody.