Georgetown Law
Georgetown Law Library

Family Law Research Guide

This guide is for students conducting introductory research in the area of family law in the United States.

Getting Started with Primary Law Research

Before you begin... When researching an issue or area of law for the first time, we suggest you begin with a secondary source such as a legal encyclopedialegal treatise, or ALR rather than searching first for primary law.  This is typically much more efficient, as secondary sources will lead researchers directly to key statutes, cases, and regulations and will provide plain language explanations of the landscape of primary law to get you quickly oriented with respect to your subject matter. Select secondary sources on entertainment law issues are listed on the secondary sources page of this guide.

In addition, the following database collections collect both primary and secondary sources:

Case Law

As noted above, we suggest you begin with a secondary source before you begin searching directly for case law.  If you know what state or federal statute is relevant to your research, another good place to begin your search for case law is an annotated version of the relevant statutory code (such as on Westlaw or Lexis).  For each relevant statutory section, first reference the "Case Notes" (on Lexis)/"Notes of Decision" (on Westlaw) for a short list of cases curated by the editors and organized by topic.  Next, reference the cases listed via the citator tool ("Citing References" on Westlaw; "Shepardize" on Lexis).  

For information on researching U.S. case law generally, see Georgetown Law Library's Case Law Research Guide or the Case Law Research Tutorial.

Statutes

For information on researching U.S. statutory law, see Georgetown Law Library's Statutes Research Guide or the Statutory Research Tutorial

For information on finding pertinent statues in a specific state, begin with a state-specific legal research guide.

Multi-jurisdictional Research: 50-State Surveys

Fifty-state surveys track a single topic across the statutes (or regulations) of all 50 states.  They usually take the form of a state-by-state table or chart containing the citations to the laws on the given topic in each state, but generally contain little-to-no analysis.  A 50-State Survey will not be available for all topics, but, if there is one, it can serve as a valuable starting point when conducting multi-jurisdictional research on a topic. Check each of the below sources to see if there is a 50-state-survey already compiled for your topic. (Note the date of any 50-state-surveys you find; some updating may be required.)

Note that you can sometimes find multi-state surveys or multi-state issue-trackers online, such as on the websites of law firms or organizations that are interested in tracking specific topics across jurisdictions.  The National Conference of State Legislatures also often has multi-state bill-tracking for specific, current topics (to begin, hover over "Research" and scan for a relevant entry in the "Topics" list).

Finally, American Law Reports (ALRs) also track a single, narrow legal issue across all U.S. jurisdictions. They typically include substantive analysis and useful research tools (such as a Table of Laws and cross-references to other secondary sources and research tools). ALRs are available on both Westlaw and Lexis.