Define: Personal Law

Personal Law
Personal Law
Quick Summary of Personal Law

Personal law pertains to the regulations that oversee an individual’s family affairs, regardless of their location. In common-law jurisdictions, personal law is founded on the law of the person’s domicile, while in civil-law systems, it is based on the law of the individual’s nationality, also known as lex patriae. Personal law encompasses laws related to marriage, divorce, legitimacy, capacity, and succession. For example, if an individual is an Indian citizen, their personal law would be based on Indian laws, even if they reside in another country. The notion of personal law is grounded in the belief that people are social beings, and the daily transactions that impact them personally should be governed by the most appropriate and adequate legal system. Although the law of domicile is the primary criterion for personal law in common-law systems, any person of full age and capacity can establish their domicile in any country they choose, thereby making the law of that country their personal law.

What is the dictionary definition of Personal Law?
Dictionary Definition of Personal Law

Personal law refers to the regulations that oversee an individual’s family affairs, such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Regardless of location, personal law remains consistent. In certain nations, personal law is determined by an individual’s citizenship, while in others, it is determined by their place of residency. This is significant as it guarantees that individuals’ personal matters are managed in accordance with the most appropriate laws for them.

Full Definition Of Personal Law

Personal law refers to the legal framework that governs an individual’s personal status, including marriage, divorce, succession, inheritance, and family relations. In the United Kingdom, personal law is a complex interplay of various legal traditions, including common law, statutory law, and, in certain cases, religious laws. This legal overview aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of personal law in the UK, focusing on its key areas: family law, marriage and divorce, inheritance and succession, and the impact of religious and customary laws.

Family Law

Family law in the UK deals with the legal responsibilities between individuals who are connected by blood, marriage, or other significant relationships. It encompasses various issues, including parental responsibilities, child custody, and domestic violence.

Parental Responsibilities and Child Custody

Parental responsibility is a key concept in UK family law, defined under the Children Act 1989. It encompasses all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities, and authority a parent has concerning their child. Parental responsibility is automatically granted to mothers and, under certain conditions, to fathers. For instance, a father gains parental responsibility if he is married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth or if he is listed on the birth certificate.

Child custody, now more commonly referred to as “child arrangements,” involves decisions about where the child will live and how they will spend time with each parent. The paramount consideration in custody cases is the welfare of the child, with the court considering factors such as the child’s physical, emotional, and educational needs, as well as any harm the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering.

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is addressed under various statutes, including the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 and the Family Law Act 1996. These laws provide protection for victims through measures such as non-molestation orders and occupation orders, which can restrict the abuser’s actions and remove them from the family home.

Marriage and Divorce

Marriage and divorce are significant aspects of personal law, with their legal framework rooted in both common law and statutory provisions.


Marriage in the UK can be either a civil or religious ceremony, both of which must meet certain legal requirements to be valid. The Marriage Act 1949 and the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 govern the legal framework for marriages. Key requirements include:

  1. Age: Individuals must be at least 16 years old to marry, with those under 18 requiring parental consent.
  2. Consent: Both parties must freely consent to the marriage.
  3. Prohibited Degrees of Relationship: Marriages between certain relatives are prohibited.
  4. Formalities: The marriage must be conducted by an authorised person and in an authorised place, with appropriate notice given.


Divorce laws in the UK have evolved to reflect societal changes, with the most recent significant reform being the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, which introduced ‘no-fault’ divorce. This allows couples to divorce without the need to assign blame, simplifying the process and reducing conflict.

The key stages in the divorce process include:

  1. Filing for Divorce: One party files a petition for divorce, stating that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.
  2. Responding: The other party responds to the petition.
  3. Decree Nisi: The court issues a decree nisi, indicating that the court sees no reason why the divorce cannot proceed.
  4. Decree Absolute: After a mandatory waiting period, the decree absolute is issued, legally ending the marriage.

Financial settlements and arrangements for children are also critical aspects of divorce proceedings, requiring careful negotiation and, if necessary, judicial determination.

Inheritance and Succession

Inheritance and succession laws determine the distribution of a person’s estate upon their death. These laws are primarily governed by the Wills Act 1837, the Administration of Estates Act 1925, and the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975.


A will is a legal document that sets out an individual’s wishes regarding the distribution of their estate after death. For a will to be valid, it must be:

  1. In writing, oral wills are generally not recognised.
  2. Signed and Witnessed: The will must be signed by the testator in the presence of two witnesses, who must also sign the document.
  3. Testamentary Capacity: The testator must have the mental capacity to understand the implications of making a will.
  4. Free from Undue Influence: The testator must make the will voluntarily, without coercion.


When a person dies without a valid will, their estate is distributed according to the rules of intestacy, as set out in the Administration of Estates Act 1925. These rules prioritise spouses, civil partners, and close relatives. For example, a surviving spouse may receive the first £270,000 of the estate and half of the remainder, with the other half going to the deceased’s children.

Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975

This Act allows certain individuals, such as spouses, children, and dependents, to apply to the court for reasonable financial provision if they believe the deceased’s will or the rules of intestacy do not provide adequately for them. The court considers various factors, including the applicant’s financial needs and resources, the size and nature of the estate, and the deceased’s obligations and responsibilities.

Religious and Customary Laws

In the UK, personal law can intersect with religious and customary laws, particularly in the context of marriage and divorce. While the state recognises religious marriages, these must comply with civil legal requirements to be valid under English law.

Islamic Law

Islamic law (Sharia) influences the personal status of many British Muslims. While the state does not recognise Sharia courts as having legal authority, they often play a role in resolving family disputes and offering mediation. However, any decisions made by these courts must align with British law to be enforceable.

Jewish Law

Jewish law (Halacha) also impacts personal status matters within the Jewish community. The Beth Din, a rabbinical court, deals with issues such as marriage, divorce, and dietary laws. While Beth Din’s rulings on religious matters are respected, they must not conflict with UK civil law.

Hindu and Sikh Law

Hindu and Sikh communities may follow traditional customs in personal matters. These customs are respected within the community, but they must comply with UK law. For instance, Hindu and Sikh marriages must be registered with the civil authorities to be legally recognised.


Personal law in the UK is a multifaceted domain that addresses the intimate aspects of individuals’ lives, balancing statutory law, common law, and, to some extent, religious and customary laws. The legal framework aims to protect individuals’ rights and ensure fair and just outcomes in family relations, marriage and divorce, and inheritance and succession. As societal values and norms evolve, personal law continues to adapt, reflecting changes in family structures, gender roles, and cultural diversity. Understanding this dynamic legal landscape is essential for navigating the complexities of personal status and ensuring that legal protections and obligations are met.

Personal Law FAQ'S

Personal law refers to the legal rules and regulations that govern the rights and obligations of individuals in their personal lives, such as marriage, divorce, child custody, and property ownership.

Civil law deals with disputes between individuals or organisations, while criminal law deals with offenses against the state.

The statute of limitations for personal injury claims varies by state, but it is typically between one and three years from the date of the injury.

The process for filing for divorce varies by state, but generally involves filing a petition with the court, serving the other party with the petition, and attending a court hearing.

Joint custody means that both parents share legal and physical custody of the child, while sole custody means that one parent has primary custody and the other has visitation rights.

A prenuptial agreement is a legal document that outlines how assets and debts will be divided in the event of a divorce.

The process for adopting a child varies by state and type of adoption, but generally involves completing a home study, attending adoption classes, and obtaining legal approval from the court.

A will is a legal document that outlines how a person’s assets will be distributed after their death, while a trust is a legal arrangement in which a trustee manages assets for the benefit of a beneficiary.

The process for filing a personal injury lawsuit involves hiring an attorney, gathering evidence, filing a complaint with the court, and attending a trial or settlement negotiation.

A misdemeanor is a less serious criminal offense that is punishable by up to one year in jail, while a felony is a more serious offense that is punishable by more than one year in prison.

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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: 8th June 2024.

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