Usually referred to as family court, domestic relations court is a court that focuses on the resolution of legal issues that involve families. This type of court is part of the legal system in the United States, as well as a number of other countries around the world. Courts of this type are used to settle disputes between spouses as well as domestic partners in areas where civil unions are recognized as legally binding. Often, actions in this court have to do with dissolving a marriage or civil union, determining matters of child custody, or dealing with incidences where violence toward one or more members of the family by a member of that family has taken place.
The status of legal unions is often addressed in a domestic relations court. In situations where a couple that are married or part of a civil union wish to legally separate, they may come before the court and request legal recognition of that status. In some jurisdictions, this is necessary as a means of protecting the assets of each individual. A family court can also address the issue of annulments, essentially declaring that a marriage or civil union never legally took place. When the desire is to permanently end the legal union, the family court has the responsibility of granting or denying the divorce action. All courts dealing with domestic relations are bound to follow the laws and regulations that apply in that particular jurisdiction.
When children are involved, the domestic relations court must seek to determine what type of custody arrangement is in the best interests of each child involved. In situations where the children are older and deemed capable of stating their own wishes, many courts will honor those wishes if there is no legal reason to prevent that action. Among divorcing couples who are able to present an amicable arrangement for child custody to the court, chances are that the court will agree with and order those arrangements, if there is no evidence that the arrangement would be detrimental to the physical and emotional well-being of the children. In any action where minor children are involved, the court is required to ensure that each child is provided for and protected to the full extent of the law.
In situations where one parent chooses to not comply with the ruling, there is a good chance that the domestic relations court will rule that contempt has taken place, and order whatever actions are allowed under the child custody laws that apply to the jurisdiction. For example, if a non-custodial parent fails to pay child support, he or she may be fined or even jailed, depending on applicable laws. At the same time, a custodial parent that denies court-ordered visitation rights to the non-custodial parent may also be subject to fines or even jail time for the infraction.
A domestic relations court will also hear cases that involve some incident of domestic violence. While actions of this type often focus on physical violence directed at one member of the family, laws enacted in some jurisdictions around the world also allow for the consideration of the incidence of mental abuse as well. Depending on the body of evidence and the laws that the court must follow, the judge may render judgments that pave the way for further legal action, or order some type of relief or recompense along with the judgment.
In many jurisdictions around the United States, a juvenile court is included in the overall structure of the domestic relations court. This court focuses on cases that involve children under the age of 18. In some jurisdictions, the juvenile court may hear cases involving children up to the age of 21, depending on the legal age established as adulthood within the jurisdiction, and whether or not the child lives with one or both parents.