Transnational and Comparative Family Law: Harmonization and Implementation


By Marylin Johnson Raisch


Marylin Johnson Raisch is the Librarian for International and Foreign Law at the John Wolff International and Comparative Law Library of the Georgetown Law Center. She received her J.D. from Tulane University School of Law (1980) with work both in civil and common law courses as well as international law and Roman law. She holds degrees in English literature from Smith College (B.A. magna cum laude, 1973) and St. Hugh's College, Oxford (M.Litt., 1978). She received her M.L.S. degree from Columbia University School of Library Service in 1988 and has worked as a law librarian for fifteen years, the past ten of which were at Columbia University School of Law as International and Foreign Law Librarian. Marylin has served as moderator or panelist in several continuing education programs at the annual meetings of the American Association of Law Libraries on such topics as collection development in international and foreign law (2006), effective quick reference in international and foreign law, foreign law in English, and Russian law, and a 2005 workshop on European Union law and well as an updated EUweb research guide in 2006. She has also presented talks on web access to foreign and international materials for the International Association of Law Libraries, has co-directed one of a series of special four-day institutes on "Training the Next Generation" of international and foreign law librarians, and has edited (with Roberta I. Shaffer) the resulting volume of proceedings, Transnational Legal Transactions (Oceana, 1995). She is the author of several articles, reviews, and web guides on international and foreign legal research.


Published January 2007
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Table of Contents

Major international agreements

Civil and common law approaches

An illustrative list of national constitutions and legal sources for family law

A selection of recent relevant articles and books



“Transnational” (or “transactional”) law is becoming a frequent phenomenon in the practice of law and now occupies a prominent place in the study of international and comparative law. Both academic and practitioner-oriented information sources point to ways to locate and connect national laws with treaties and regimes of harmonization; however, commercial and procedural rules have been, in general, easier to locate than substantive and harmonized law in the family law area. This guide points researchers to significant electronic and print sources in transnational and comparative family law. For a general guide to the major international conventions in this area, including aspects of the rights of the child, please consult sources cited in Raisch, Marylin J., International Family Law: A Selective Resource Guide (hereinafter referred to as Raisch, ILF Guide); the purpose of this complementary guide is to indicate how these international conventions are implemented in selected jurisdictions and an indication of how to locate substantive national law under these same international regimes.


1. Major international agreements by sponsor or region

(for an arrangement by topic, see Raisch, ILF Guide)


In the family law area, treaties which apply within a regional legal regime are more likely to have a supra-national enforcement mechanism or court (such as the European Union or the OAS or lately the emerging African Union regime). Other major instruments are interpreted through an evolving jurisprudence based on decisions of national courts in the several states party to that particular treaty.


1.1. The Hague Conference on Private International Law

The official web site lists all treaties sponsored by the Hague Conference, and segregates all the treaties in the family law area as pasted below to preserve the sub-headings:

1.1.1.      International Protection of Children, Family And Property Relations

International Protection of Children

·       Protection of Children (1996)

·       Child Abduction (1980)

·       Adoption - Co-operation (1993)

·       Maintenance Obligations (Applicable Law) (1973)

·       Maintenance Obligations (Enforcement) (1973)

·       Maintenance Obligations - Children (Applicable Law) (1956)

·       Maintenance Obligations - Children (Enforcement) (1958)

·       Protection of Minors (1961)

·       Adoption (1965)

International Protection of Adults

·       Protection of Adults (2000)

Relations between (Former) Spouses

·       Marriage (1978)

·       Divorce (1970)

·       Matrimonial Property Regimes (1978)

·       Maintenance Obligations (Applicable Law) (1973)

·       Maintenance Obligations (Enforcement) (1973)

Wills, Trusts and Estates

·       Form of Wills (1961)

·       Administration of Estates (1973)

·       Succession to Estates (1989)

·       Trusts (1985)


1.1.2       Status of Hague family law treaties   It is important to check the status tables for all member states of the Conference; while most Hague treaties are in force, some are not, and several have attracted few signatories or ratifications.   An excellent feature of this set of charts, presented in Excel format or PDF, is a set of regional and organizational charts of ratification indicating the interrelationship between efforts at harmonizing the rules for local family law issues undertaken by the Hague Conference and those undertaken by other non-governmental or regional governmental organizations devoted to private and commercial law harmonization, such as Unidroit and the trade regimes of Europe and Latin America.   Official citations and print sources linked in part at the site may be supplemented by reference to the collection of texts and travaux préparatoires: Hague Conference on Private International Law, Actes et documents de la ... session / Conférence de La Haye de droit international privé. La Haye: Bureau permanent de la Conférence, 1961- , and by reference to   Hague Conference on Private International Law, Recueil des conventions (1951-1996) = Collection of conventions (1951-1996), ed. Permanent Bureau of the Conference, [The Hague]: Hague Conference on Private International Law; Cambridge, MA: distributed by Kluwer Law International, [1997?].


1.2  The United Nations (citations follow the online version style of The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, 18th ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Law Review Association et al., 2005), and includes some conventions of the International Labour Organization, (ILO) as reported to the U.N.


Main site for family-related human rights: Office for the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, International Human Rights Instruments - Dates of entry into force given if different from year treaty was opened for signature.

1.2.1       Rights of women

·       Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women , G.A. Res. 2263(XXII), U.N. Doc. A/RES/2263(XXII), (Nov. 7, 1967).

·       Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women , Dec. 18, 1979, 1249 U.N.T.S. 13; 19 I.L.M. 33 (1980).

·       Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women , Dec.10, 1999, 2131 U.N.T.S. 83 (2000).

·       Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women , G.A. Res. 48/104, U.N.Doc. A/RES/48/104(Dec. 20, 1993).

·       Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict , G.A. Res. 3318(XXIX), U.N. Doc. A/RES/3318(XXIX) (Dec. 14, 1974).

1.2.2       Rights of the Child

1.2.3       Marriage

1.2.4       Nationality, Statelessness, Asylum and Refugees

1.3  Council of Europe

Searches:  sex equality, maternity, mothers and children, workers with family responsibilities, housing.

1.4  U.S. Department of State: Private International Law (PIL) and Family Law

1.4.1 Family Law

1.4.2 International Support Enforcement

1.4.3 Other PIL Convention of Note (U.S. is not a party; not under active consideration for ratification) United Nations Convention on International Family Support (1956) [Text not yet available on line]


1.4.4 General Information on Children and Family from the US State Department


1.5  The Organization of American States, (note: most conventions are linked under the treaties and conventions section of the OAS site without specific URLs)


1.5.1       Inter-American Children’s Institute (under OAS issues) contains information and documents on the implementation in OAS member states of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child

1.5.2       Inter-American Commission of Women has sponsored the following conventions:



1.5.3       Office of International Law, Private International Law, lists the following information for treaties in the family law area stating as follows: 

“The CIDIP [Spanish acronym for Inter-American Specialized Conferences on Private International Law, a series of topical conferences (author’s note)] on process has produced several Inter-American Conventions and other instruments on family law, including the following: Inter-American Convention on the Domicile of natural persons in private international law; Inter-American Convention on conflicts of laws concerning the adoption of minors; Inter-American Convention on the international return of children; Inter-American Convention on support obligations; and, Inter-American Convention on the international traffic in minors.”


Inter-American Convention on Domicile of Natural Persons in Private International Law.

Inter-American Convention on Conflict of Laws concerning the Adoption of Minors.

Inter-American Convention on the International Return of Children.

Inter-American Convention on Support Obligations.

Inter-American Convention on International Traffic in Minors.


1.6  The African Union


·       Protocol to The African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa

·       African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child

·       The status of treaties sponsored by the African Union is provided in a chart and list of links to full text is available online.


1.7  The Role of Religious and Socialist Legal Regimes in the Middle East and East Asian Jurisdictions


1.7.1 In some jurisdictions, many areas of family law, particularly marriage, divorce, inheritance and succession, and personal status, such as minority, are governed at the national level by religiously-influenced legal regimes, either optionally for a given religious community or as indicated in the constitution of the jurisdiction. For a basic presentation of these concepts and selected sources in print or online, researchers may wish to consult Raisch, Marylin J., Religious Legal Systems.


2. Civil and common law approaches

Civil and common law approaches to family law


Civil law is a general term for legal systems derived from ancient Roman law, as received or later interpreted by the builders of national systems of codified law in the late eighteenth through the nineteenth centuries C.E. in Europe.  Influenced by medieval interpretations of the Roman tradition, and through use by the church and Germanic tribes, the civil law tradition evolved in a complex way alongside customary laws. Principally in its modernized and codified form, the tradition continued to spread and to be received by other jurisdictions of the world during the period of European colonization. Two main characteristics emerge from a simplistic description of the legal methodology characteristic of civil law:


Characteristics of civil law may be described as follows:


“…the parameters of the civil law are limited to areas of private law and do not extend to public law, commercial law, or penal law, …”


“the analysis of case law … [here referring to Louisiana but where it has much in common with other jurisdictions] does not equate to adoption of the common law concept of stare decisis, where a single case dictates the outcome of a later dispute, but may be perfectly consistent with the doctrine of jurisprudence constante, where a case may be used to discern a pattern that may aid in interpretation.” [italics mine] Kathryn Venturatos Lorio, The Louisiana Civil Law Tradition: Archaic or Prophetic in the Twenty-First Century? 63  La. L. Rev. 1, 6 (2002)


Some common effects of civil law systems on the family are to create a regime of community property for marriage (creating property rights equal and of the whole for partners regarding property deemed to belong to the marital community), forced heirship (mandates a portion of an estate to certain heirs, commonly children up to a certain age), and aspects of filiation or adoption (including rules about inheritance for natural children).


Characteristics of a common law system: “Common law is the legal tradition which evolved in England from the eleventh century onwards. Its principles appear for the most part in reported judgments, usually of the higher courts, in relation to specific fact situations arising in disputes which courts have adjudicated. The common law is usually much more detailed in its prescriptions than the civil law.”  William Tetley, Mixed Jurisdictions: Common Law v. Civil Law (Codified and Uncodified), 60 La. L. Rev 677, 684 (2000)


Some effects of common law systems within family law include similar core concepts shared with the civil law through the adoption in medieval England of canon law and equity principles to govern the application of law to the family. Marital property, legitimacy, and the evolving notion of the family and its contractual aspects regarding marriage proper are areas where common law originally vested greater rights in the male head of household.


Greater autonomy and contractual rights in marriage as well as inheritance may have opened the door more readily to non-traditional partnerships. 




3. An illustrative list of national constitutions and legal sources for family law

For exact citations to national laws or specific code articles in the basic sources listed with below with online access, please consult Thomas H. Reynolds, Arturo A. Flores, Foreign law guide: current sources of codes and basic legislation in jurisdictions of the world [internet][Berkeley, Calif.?: University of California], 2000-current. This is an excellent, fee-based web subscription database. In addition to general family law it covers citations and sources for abortion, adoption, guardianship, inheritance, and marriage. As with any one source, check the official legislative sites of jurisdictions for updates.


For additional and updated electronic sources of laws consult the World Legal Information Institute, and its family law category (for selected jurisdictions).


Newly revived and updated is the Lexadin World Law Guide, now current through October 2006, (as of this writing).


The Library of Congress maintains the Global Legal Information Network (GLIN), with English summaries for jurisdictions that it covers (selective);


The best related resource is the family law entry for each issue of the new free Global Legal Monitor, and the only reliable, free guide to updated judicial interpretations of family law, tracking latest developments, that we found on the web.



·       Constitution and civil code, but caution: according to the Foreign Law Guide cited above, “the 1977 Civil Code specifically abrogates the Marriage law of 17 Asad 1350 (1971)” but it is still listed!



·       Constitution; there is also a family code as of 2003 and civil code in English available



·       Constitution

·       Divorce and adoption provisions and civil code

·       Legislación Consejo Nacional de la Mujer (Legislation concerning the rights of women)



·       Constitution

·       Federal Constitution

·       Commonwealth of Australia Consolidated Acts

·       Tasmania’s Act legalizing civil unions



·       Constitution

·       Austrian Legislation



·       Constitution

·       Bangladesh Law Translation Project



·       Constitutions

·       Derecho familia y el menor (family and child law) (large, compressed file for download only).

·       Ley contra la violencia en la familia o doméstica (Law against violence against the family or in the home)


Bosnia and Herzegovina

·       Constitution



·       Constitution

·       Civil code (in Portuguese)

·       Statute of the Child and Adolescent

·       Brazilian Legislation (in Portuguese)



·       Constitution

·       Law on the Marriage and Family



·       Constitution

·       Marriage for Civil Purposes

·       Canadian Human Rights Act



·       Constitution

·       Family Law



·       Constitution

·       Civil code (in Spanish)

·       Human Rights Code (in Spanish)


Democratic Republic of the Congo

·       Constitution (in French)

·       Laws of succession and others at CongoLegal (in French)


Costa Rica

·       Constitution

·       Civil code (in Spanish)

·       Human Rights Legislation (in Spanish)



·       Constitution

·       Family code and federal family code via Lexadin



·       Constitution

·       Marriage act



·       Constitution

·       Civil code (in English)

·       Code de l'action sociale et des familles (in French)



·       Constitution

·       Same-sex partnerships (in German)

·       For a fairly exhaustive list of civil code sections on family law and German implementation of European and Hague conventions, consult the Foreign Law Guide cited above. See English translations of maintenance and obligations at the German Law Archive.

·       The German Federal Ministry of Justice has attempted a full English translation of the entire civil code, and it may be corrected to appear again at, but is not available at present.



·       Constitution

·       Family and Inheritance Law



·       Law Concerning Population Development and the Development of Happy and Prosperous Families



·       Constitution



·       Interim Constitution



·       Explanation of absence of a Constitution (Basic Laws are in place)

·       Basic Law, Human Dignity and Liberty



·       Constitution

·       Civil code (in Italian)



·       Constitution

·       Basic Law for a Gender-Equal Society

·       Mixed Nationality Families

·       Law for the Prevention of Spousal Violence

·       English translation of civil code in EHS law bulletin series. Tokyo, Ebun Horei Sha, Inc., 1948– .



·       Constitution

·       Statutes


Korea (South)

·       Constitution

·       Ministry of Gender Equality



·       Constitution

·       Laws of Lebanon



·       Constitution



·       Constitution

·       Civil code, federal (district model) and states, updated through Dec. 6, 2006, via Lexadin, (in Spanish, some files are large via UNAM site).



·       Constitution

·       Civil code in Dutch only



·       Constitution



·       Constitution

·       Child Marriage Restraint Act

·       Dissolutions of Muslim Marriages Act

·       Muslim Family Law Ordinance

·       The Punjab Marriage Functions



·       Constitution

·       Family Code of the Philippines

·       Rules and Regulations on the Trafficking of Children



·       Constitution

·       Civil code re family in Polish only (some commercial areas in English via Lexadin).


Russian Federation

·       Constitution

·       Civil code (in English)


Saudi Arabia

·       Constitution

·       Constitutional law


South Africa

·       Matrimonial Property Act

·       Children’s Act

·       Civil Unions Bill



·       Constitution

·       Marriage law (same sex) (in Spanish) ley 13/2005, de 1 de julio, por la que se modifica el Código Civil en materia de derecho a contraer matrimonio.



·       Constitution



·       Constitution

·       Family Law and Welfare Statutes



·       Constitution


United Kingdom

·       Magna Carta

·       Civil Partnership Act


3.2 Same Sex Marriage:  A Selected Bibliography


International Gay and Lesbian Rights Commission


Marriage recognized and rights given as such (information from Global Legal Monitor (cited above) and Wikipedia (note that Wikipedia, whatever its other faults, produces a more unbiased and usable result on this topic than Google, where political sites abound)

·       The Netherlands

·       Belgium (but same gender partners may not adopt)

·       Canada

·       Spain

·       Massachusetts

·       South Africa (beginning December 1st, 2006)


Civil Unions, domestic partnerships, and registered partnerships (with varying benefits and rights) are available in:

·       Andorra,

·       Argentina,

·       Brazil,

·       Croatia,

·       Czech Republic,

·       Denmark,

·       Finland,

·       France,

·       Germany,

·       Iceland,

·       Israel,

·       Luxembourg,

·       Mexico,

·       New Zealand,

·       Norway,

·       Portugal,

·       Slovenia,

·       Sweden,

·       Switzerland,

·       United Kingdom;

·       the Australian states of Tasmania and Western Australia,

·       U.S. states of California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, and Vermont; and the U.S. District of Columbia (Washington, DC)


OECD and UN voluntarily distinguish between same-sex and opposite-sex marriages and does not offer them the same benefits.  However, the World Bank does recognize domestic partnerships.  For example, the WHO.


Also useful:  Human Rights Watch, Non-Discrimination in Civil Marriage: Perspectives from International Human Rights Law and Practice.


Sex Laws Worldwide


4. A selection of relevant articles and books

These recent books, as well as articles from English language legal reviews, and in particular the source journals listed below, are examples of fruitful sources of information on international and comparative family law:


Inheritance and succession



Marriage and marital rights



Children’s issues



Religious law and legal theory