Anatomy of a Family Law Case Study

Anatomy of a Family Law Case Study

Definition of a family

A family is a social unit that is comprised of two or more persons who are related by adoption, marriage or blood and have a shared commitment to the relationship that is mutual. A more in-depth analysis of the term family offers three definitions from a biological perspective. The first definition is that it is the fundamental social group of parents and their children. The second definition is that it is a group of individual who are descendent from the same ancestor and share unique genetic markers and similarities. The third definition is a group of individuals who are related by feelings of closeness, marriage or blood (Shiel, 2019).  Anatomy of a Family Law Case Study


The legal definition of the term family is more distinct as a social unit comprised of one or more persons who occupy a single dwelling unit. The definition extends to more than one person if they are related by marriage or blood, and the family cannot have more than five members with domestic servants housed in the unit not counted as part of that family. It further adds that the parents have a legal responsibility by court order, marriage or blood to take care of the family members (typically children). Besides that, a family must meet either one of three conditions. Firstly, the members of the family should be living together and have a shared commitment to the domestic relationship. Secondly, it should be comprised of the parents and their children. Thirdly, it should comprise of persons connected through law, affinity or blood within three generations (US Legal, 2019).

Based on the definitions offered, five types of families can be identified. Firstly, nuclear family that comprise married partners and their offspring, within two generations. Secondly, extended family that has three generations. Thirdly, joint family that has sets of partners and their offspring, within two generations. Fourthly, blended family formed when widowed or divorced parents remarry with their children. Finally, family by choice that has a composition not recognized by the legal system, for instance, queer, transgender, bisexual, lesbian and gay families. Could also include families comprised of close friends, live-in partners, and adopted children (Ember, C. & Ember, M., 2011).

Marriage as a contract with the state

Marriage is a contract with the state in the United States with the intention of offering protection to the marriage for social reasons. In this case, marriage is considered as a legal relationship, condition or status resultant of a contract between one woman and one man who have the legal capacity to enter into the agreement and mutually promising to life in a relationship of wife and husband for as long as they live or until the marriage is legally terminated. Within the marriage, the wife and husband have equal rights and specific duties unless they mutually agree to changes within legally prescribed limits. For instance, they can sign a prenuptial agreement while contemplating the marriage relationship to determine property separation following a divorce. Another example is separation agreement that details how child visitation and support will be conducted following a divorce or separation (Melone & Karnes, 2008).

A marriage is contract with the state since it recognizes marriage through offering a license that allows the parties to publicly hold themselves as husband and wife. Still, it must be noted that the state must have a valid reason for absolutely prohibiting a marriage, and that each individual has a right to marry that cannot be casually denied. To be more precise, the state has prohibitions on the degree of relationship that must be met for a marriage to be invalid. In fact, marriage between close relatives within three generations is not legally permitted with some states including distant relatives in that prohibition. In addition, the state places an age requirement on marriage with the statutes requiring a minimum of 18 years for males and 16 years for females (Melone & Karnes, 2008).

The state is allowed to grant a divorce or annulment since no individual has the constitutional right to remain married. Through issuing a marriage license, the state is able to regulate marriages and prescribe who can marry and how marriages should be dissolved. The license helps in protecting the couple’s (husband and wife) expectations. In addition, it validates the marriage so that any children in the marriage are legitimized, allows family members to inherit property in the absence of a will, and entitles surviving spouses receive social security benefits. Overall, all state limit marriage one husband and one wife at any given time, and do not only allow for a marriage license to be issue if there is a living spouse. Individuals can only be allowed to remarry following an annulment, divorce or death of a spouse. Entering into a second marriage before the dissolution of the first marriage is considered bigamy and punishable by law (Melone & Karnes, 2008).  Anatomy of a Family Law Case Study

Benefits conferred by marriage

Marriage confers unique benefits. Firstly, it offers tax benefits that allow for the tax responsibilities to be divided and minimized through joint returns and sharing business income. Secondly, it offers estate planning benefits through tax exemptions, inheritance, trusts, and prioritizing conservators. Thirdly, it offers government benefits through extending disability, Medicare and Social Security benefits, military and veterans benefits, and public assistance benefits. Fourthly, it offers employment benefits through eligibility for bereavement leaves, retirement plan benefits, compensations and wages for deceased partners, family leave to care for sick family, and insurance benefits through employers. Fifthly, it offers medical benefits through decision-making when a spouse is incapacitated. Sixthly, it offers death benefits through right to make final (burial) arrangements, and consenting to after-death procedures and examinations. Finally, it offers family benefits through child visitation, custody and support after divorce, sharing in the marital property following diverse, and receiving joint care rights (Melone & Karnes, 2008).


Process of ending spousal relationships

There are three legal processes that can be applied when ending a spousal relationship. The first process is a divorce whereby one spouse or the couple approaches a court and file for the divorce, mentioning that they have irreconcilable differences and do not get along. A divorce is filed in the state of residency. A summary dissolution is permitted in the divorce proceedings if the couple has a mutual agreement on how debts (must not exceed $6,000 acquired during the marriage) and property should be divided, no spousal support is requested, no children together and no children expected, and married for less than five years. The court can intervene to determine how property and debt can be divided during the divorce, as well as the couple’s responsibilities for their children. The second process is legal separation whereby the couple maintain their marriage status but divide the property and debt. It is a common practice when the couple seeks to enjoy the benefits of marriage, conform to personal/religious beliefs that abhor divorce, and/or do not meet the residency requirements for divorce. Unlike a divorce, the couple are not considered single and cannot enter into another marriage unless they file for summary dissolution of the marriage or divorce. Also, it sets orders related to custody of children. The third process is annulment whereby the marriage is legally invalidated with records of the marriage expunged and the marriage considered to not have occurred. In fact, an annulment voids the marriage. This process is applied if the couple did not meet the legal requirements for marriage to include bigamy, incest, age, incapacity, force/fraud, and absence of the spouse (Melone & Karnes, 2008).  Anatomy of a Family Law Case Study

Challenges resultant from ending the relationship

There are challenges that can result from ending the relationship. Firstly, it presents financial challenges since income is reduced. This is particularly true for federal benefits that must be divided among the couple in consideration of the divorce. This is a rule of thumb that applies to all monies accumulated over the course of the marriage. This is a challenge for the partner who previously had more money but now has diminished earnings as the money is divided to cover two households instead of one household. This challenge also extends to division of assets. Secondly, it presents a challenge in access to health insurance particularly for the partners who previously benefited from health insurance that was not directly paid for. In such cases, the health insurance is terminated upon divorce when the couple separates. This challenge extends to life insurance where the partner can be removed as a beneficiary from the policy following the relationship ending. Thirdly, it presents a challenge in how to form and maintain relationships with children and other dependents. This is particularly so if the diverse is acrimonious and children are forced to choose sides (Oldham, 2006).


Ember, C. & Ember, M. (2011). Cultural anthropology (13th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Melone, A. & Karnes, A. (2008). The American legal system: perspectives, politics, processes, and policies (2nd ed.). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Oldham, T. (2006). Divorce, separation and the distribution of property. New York, NY: Law Journal Press.

Shiel, W. (2019). Medical definition of family. Retrieved from

US Legal (2019). Family law and legal definition. Retrieved from Anatomy of a Family Law Case Study


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