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Family Law: A Beginner’s Guide – Part 1: Formation and Dissolution of Marriage

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

Whether it be in relation to marriage, the birth of children, adoption, or divorce, family law is one area of the law that affects nearly everyone.  But even though family law is a part of daily life, legal issues in this area can quickly become complex.  Below, we have collected a sampling of the marriage and divorce law resources available, both at the Law Library of Congress and on the free web, to help researchers get a better handle on these issues.

Books

An international high noon divorce. Photomechanical print by Samuel D. Ehrhart.  Courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Reading Room.

An international high noon divorce. Photomechanical print by Samuel D. Ehrhart. Courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Reading Room.

For True Beginners

General

Practice-Focused Guides

Military-Focused Resources

Same-Sex Marriage

Collaborative Law and Mediation

Prenuptial Agreements

Subject Headings

The regulation of family law is largely the purview of the states and, in many instances, there are state-specific treatises on the dissolution of marriage.  To locate treatises specific to your state’s law, please click here to use our catalog and browse subject headings. Click “browse” and use the drop-down to select “SUBJECTS beginning with” or “SUBJECTS containing,” 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.

  • Domestic relations–United States.
  • Domestic relations–[State Name].
  • Domestic relations–United States–Forms.
  • Domestic relations–United States–States.
  • Domestic relations–United States–Trial practice.
  • Divorce suits–United States.
  • Divorce suits–United States–Forms.
  • Prenuptial agreements–United States.
  • Divorce mediation–United States.

State Statutes

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.

Cases

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 dissolution of marriage 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. Please note that the topics of child custody and support will appear in a forthcoming guide.  If you have any questions regarding your legal research, please contact the Law Library of Congress.

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