As a noun, a common law is a body of legal rules that has been made by a judge through their issuance of rulings on cases and which will govern future decisions on similar cases. Even though the word common is in the term, people may be more familiar with the kinds of laws that were legislated into being official statutes or laws by the government, and that govern our daily lives.
In the United States, the term common law is also as an adjective to describe a union between a couple who has lived together for a long enough time that for some legal purposes, they are considered to be married even though they have never had an official ceremony or obtained a marriage license. States have different laws about common law marriages but an example of this is that some states allow two people who have lived together for ten years or more, to have the right to have joint ownership of assets.
Common law typically refers to laws that are created and used for court case decisions when they are not specifically covered by existing statutes. These case specific laws are often based on the customs and principles of society. These court made decisions are supposed to set a precedent for future cases of the same subject.
Common Law System
A common law system refers to a legal system that places great importance on judicial decisions made in prior cases of a similar nature. In the United States, common law is used to try to ensure that similar results are reached in cases of a similar nature. A principle is used in the United States that comes from the Latin term stare decisis, is that when it comes to cases of similar matters, courts are bound by decisions of higher courts. When a court determines that a particular case is fundamentally different from prior cases heard by other courts, its decision is likely to create what is referred ot as a precedent for future cases of a similar nature and scope.
History of Common Law
The term and concept of common law originated in the 12th century in England. King Henry II, established secular tribunals with the goal of establishing a unified system on how to make decisions about legal matters. In these tribunals, judges appointed by the king created a unified “common” law throughout England by respecting and upholding the decisions of one another. The precedents set during the 12th and 13th century in England became known as a, common law system.
Common law was brought to and applied to life in the United States by the colonists that came from England. A few years after the American Revolution, when the colonies had become states, they formed their own forms of common law that were separate from federal law.
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