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Family Law: A Beginner’s Guide – Part 2: Child Custody, Support, and Adoption

This post is coauthored by Barbara Bavis and Robert Brammer, legal reference specialists.

In Part Two of our Family Law Beginner’s Guide, we are shifting our focus to what the law says about children’s roles in the family—focusing on their custody and care.  Below, please find information and resources for legal researchers regarding child custody, child support, and domestic adoption.

If you are interested in resources related to dissolution of marriage, please see our previous post.


Photograph shows Warren Harding's pet dog Laddie Boy with the "child movie queen" Mariana Batista on the lawn at the White House. Washington, D.C., ca. 1923. Courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Reading Room

Photograph shows Warren Harding’s pet dog Laddie Boy with the “child movie queen” Mariana Batista on the lawn at the White House. Washington, D.C., ca. 1923. Courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Reading Room


Child Custody & Support

Subject Headings

As we mentioned in Part One, many of the laws that regulate family law are promulgated by the states. To locate treatises specific to your state’s law, please click here to use our catalog.  Specifically, to browse Library of Congress subject headings of interest, click “Browse,” use select “SUBJECTS beginning with” or “SUBJECTS containing” from the drop-down menu, and then input a subject heading using one of the examples shown below. Finally, click on a result and you can browse the materials classified under that subject heading.  Where possible, we will include a link to the subject browse result below:

If you want to find the resources classed under these subject headings in a library in your area, we suggest performing a subject search in either your local library’s catalog or the WorldCat catalog.


To locate your state’s statutes on topics associated with family law, please see our Guide to Law Online page and click on your state. You will find a link to your state’s code under the heading “Legislative.” You will often find that family law, which is sometimes listed as “domestic relations,” has its own title or chapter.

While most laws in this area are state-specific, some federal laws can have a role as well, particularly in the area of adoption.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has created a very helpful report regarding these federal laws, titled “Major Federal Legislation Concerned With Child Protection, Child Welfare, and Adoption,” which provides citation information and helpful summaries.  For more information about how to do further research regarding federal legislation, see our prior post, “Federal Statutes: A Beginner’s Guide.”


If you are interested in court rulings in this area of the law, you may want to visit your local public law library to take advantage of their subscription(s) to commercial legal research databases, such as Westlaw and LexisNexis. You can also locate cases related to adoption, child support, and child custody using Google Scholar and other sites on the free web. Because this area of law is often state-specific, you may want to limit your results to your particular jurisdiction. You may find that you need cases that interpret and apply a particular provision of your state’s family law statutes. You can locate these cases by searching Google Scholar using the citation to a section of your state’s code.  To learn more about how to use Google Scholar to find free case law online, please view the Library of Congress video tutorial on the subject.

Rules of Procedure

Many states have distinct rules of procedure for family law. If you are submitting a pleading to a court, be sure to check the Federal or State Rules of Procedure, as well as the local court rules to ensure you have complied with their rules.  For more information about state and local court rules, and to find links to pertinent online legal information, be sure to visit each state’s Guide to Law Online page.

Online Resources

State and local court websites often contain forms related to family law, and some even contain form packets.  Again, please check our Guide to Law Online site for links to state and local court websites.  Other online sources that might be helpful include:

We hope you found this guide helpful. If you have any questions regarding your legal research, please contact the Law Library of Congress.

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