Perhaps the oldest of all branches of the law is that of Domestic Relations. The first step away from anarchy and towards social organization is the creation of the family. The state is evolved from the family by a process of combinations, and the government of early states is an enlarged copy of the government of the family. The position of the King is modeled on that of the father. The family organization and relations are always protected by the tribe or state. The respective rights and obligations of members of the family are clearly defined at a period when all other law is vague and uncertain.

The basis of the family is marriage. Early marriages would almost invariably arise either from capture or purchase, and the form of the marriage ceremony among all early races long retained the fiction of capture or purchase after the reality had disappeared. Even to-day, when these fictions have disappeared from the law, they are retained in our marriage customs.

Marriages which are the result either of capture or purchase bring about a high degree of authority on the part of the husband, and a corresponding degradation on that of the wife. Under the rules of nearly all ancient systems of jurisprudence the legal rights of the wife are little superior to those of a slave. The exceptions to the rule are mainly to be found among those races which continue to reckon relationship through the female line, and where a greater laxity is allowed in marital relations.

The authority of the father over his children generally continues throughout life, and is almost absolute in its extent.