Although family courts in the United States hear cases dealing with people of varied social and economic classes, they are overloaded with cases concerning those who are disadvantaged. The courts, notorious for lacking resources, have been criticized for not being beneficial to those they attempt to help, especially since the most contentious family law issues are often child custody and visitation rights.
Historically, in the United States, family law was based on European feudalism. Marriage, as defined by law before the beginning of the 20th century, enabled the husband to become the owner of the wife property’s as well as her legal guardian, despite property laws that gave women more rights regarding property ownership. By 1900, all states, with the exception of South Carolina, allowed for judicial divorces instead of legislative divorces, which required more time to process.
In the 1970s, family law was redefined rapidly, as it had become a part of the wider national debate regarding family values, gender bias, and morality. The areas of family law that experienced the most changes were divorce, child custody, and child support. By 1987, all states had adopted no-fault divorces, which make dissolving a marriage a relatively easy process. This has incensed some who advocate traditional family values, because it appears to encourage couples to resort to divorces rather than to address the reasons for discord in their relationships.
Family law is an increasingly important area of legal studies, with many law schools offering numerous elective courses on the subject and the bar exam testing knowledge of this area of law. Furthermore, family law is evolving as the national debate surrounding family continues. One notable change is how family law has been broadened to encompass couples who do not choose to marry.