Degree Of Kinship

Degree Of Kinship
Degree Of Kinship
Quick Summary of Degree Of Kinship

The degree of kinship refers to the level of relationship or familial connection between two individuals. It is often used in legal contexts to determine inheritance rights, eligibility for benefits, and other legal matters involving family relationships. The degree of kinship is typically measured by counting the number of generations between two individuals, such as parent-child, sibling, grandparent-grandchild, etc. The closer the relationship, the higher the degree of kinship. For example, siblings share a higher degree of kinship than cousins. Understanding the degree of kinship is essential for establishing legal rights and obligations within families and inheritance laws.

What is the dictionary definition of Degree Of Kinship?
Dictionary Definition of Degree Of Kinship

n. the level of relationship between two persons related by blood, such as parent to child, one sibling to another, grandparent to grandchild, uncle to nephew, first cousins, etc., calculated as one degree for each step from a common ancestor. This may become important when determining the heirs of an estate when there is no will.

Full Definition Of Degree Of Kinship

Degree of kinship, a term pivotal in many legal contexts, refers to the closeness of the relationship between two individuals within a family. It is a concept that plays a crucial role in determining rights, obligations, and entitlements in various legal scenarios, such as inheritance, guardianship, and family law. Understanding the degree of kinship is essential for the application and interpretation of laws that govern familial relationships.

Historical Background

Historically, the degree of kinship has roots in Roman law, which classified relationships based on consanguinity (blood relations) and affinity (relationships by marriage). This classification system has influenced contemporary legal frameworks in many jurisdictions, including the United Kingdom. The Roman law concept of degrees of kinship was based on counting the number of generations between individuals, a method that still underpins modern legal systems.

Methods of Calculating Degrees of Kinship

There are several methods for calculating the degree of kinship, with two primary systems being commonly used: the civil law method and the canon law method.

  1. Civil Law Method: This method, used in many European countries and derived from Roman law, calculates the degree of kinship by counting the number of generations between the individuals. For example, in civil law, siblings are in the second degree of kinship because there are two generations: one from each sibling to their common parent.
  2. Canon Law Method: Predominantly used in the context of ecclesiastical law, this method calculates degrees of kinship differently. For instance, first cousins are in the fourth degree of kinship because the count includes the generations from each cousin to their common ancestor and back down to the other cousin.

The UK legal system generally adopts the civil law method for calculating the degree of kinship in most legal contexts.

Legal Implications of Kinship Degrees

  1. Inheritance Law: One of the primary areas where the degree of kinship is significant is in inheritance law. The degree of kinship determines who is entitled to inherit in the absence of a will (intestate succession). In the UK, the rules of intestacy prioritize close relatives, with spouses, children, and parents being at the forefront. The degree of kinship impacts the distribution of an estate and the order of priority among relatives.
  2. Marriage Prohibitions: The degree of kinship also affects the legality of marriage between relatives. The Marriage Act 1949, as amended, outlines prohibited degrees of relationship. These prohibitions are in place to prevent marriages between close relatives, such as siblings or parent and child, to avoid potential genetic issues and social taboos. The degree of kinship determines these prohibitions, ensuring that marriages are legally and socially acceptable.
  3. Adoption and Guardianship: In adoption cases, the degree of kinship can influence decisions regarding the suitability of adoptive parents or guardians. Close relatives may be given preference for adopting or becoming guardians of a child, as maintaining biological family connections is often considered in the child’s best interest. The Children Act 1989 provides a framework for such decisions, emphasizing the importance of family ties.
  4. Social Security and Benefits: Certain social security benefits and entitlements may depend on the degree of kinship. For example, carer’s allowance and bereavement benefits may be influenced by the relationship between the claimant and the deceased or the person being cared for. Understanding the degree of kinship helps in determining eligibility for these benefits.
  5. Immigration Law: In the context of immigration, the degree of kinship can impact visa applications and family reunification processes. The UK Immigration Rules consider the relationship between the applicant and their sponsor, prioritizing close relatives such as spouses, parents, and children for family visas. The degree of kinship plays a vital role in these determinations, ensuring that genuine family connections are maintained.

Case Law on Degrees of Kinship

Several landmark cases have shaped the interpretation and application of degrees of kinship in UK law. These cases highlight the complexities and nuances involved in determining kinship degrees and their legal implications.

  1. Re Erskine (1919): This case involved a dispute over the distribution of an intestate estate. The court had to determine the closest relatives of the deceased to distribute the estate accordingly. The decision underscored the importance of accurately calculating the degree of kinship to ensure fair and lawful distribution.
  2. Bellinger v Bellinger (2003): In this case, the House of Lords dealt with the validity of a marriage where one party had undergone gender reassignment surgery. The court examined the implications of kinship degrees in the context of marriage prohibitions and the evolving understanding of gender identity. This case highlighted the intersection of kinship degrees with contemporary social and legal issues.
  3. Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech Area Health Authority (1986): While not directly related to degrees of kinship, this case explored parental rights and the concept of “Gillick competence,” which pertains to the ability of minors to consent to medical treatment without parental involvement. The decision emphasized the importance of familial relationships and the rights of parents, which are often influenced by the degree of kinship.

International Perspectives

Different countries have varying approaches to calculating and applying degrees of kinship, reflecting cultural, legal, and social differences. Comparing the UK system with other jurisdictions provides a broader understanding of the concept’s application.

  1. United States: In the US, the degree of kinship is calculated similarly to the civil law method used in the UK. However, each state may have its own specific rules and regulations regarding kinship degrees, particularly in areas such as inheritance and marriage prohibitions.
  2. France: French law also follows the civil law method for calculating kinship degrees. Inheritance laws in France prioritize close relatives, with a strong emphasis on the nuclear family. French inheritance law, like that of the UK, restricts the ability of individuals to disinherit close relatives, ensuring that family connections are maintained.
  3. Japan: Japanese law calculates kinship degrees using the civil law method but has unique cultural and legal nuances. Inheritance laws in Japan prioritize descendants, with a focus on maintaining the family line. Japanese family law also places significant importance on the concept of ie (family household), which influences the determination of kinship degrees and legal entitlements.


Understanding the degree of kinship is crucial in various legal contexts, including inheritance, marriage, adoption, social security, and immigration. The methods of calculating kinship degrees, primarily the civil law and canon law methods, provide a framework for determining familial relationships and their legal implications. UK law predominantly follows the civil law method, which influences decisions in numerous legal scenarios.

The degree of kinship ensures that family relationships are recognized and respected in legal proceedings, promoting fairness and consistency. As societal norms and legal frameworks continue to evolve, the concept of kinship degrees will remain a fundamental aspect of family law, reflecting the importance of familial connections in the legal landscape.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 10th June 2024.

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