What is meant by family?

Cousins ​​are related to each other, son-in-law and father-in-law are not. Nor are husband and wife: with whom do you have a legal family bond?

An American aviator and writer, Richard Bach, said: “The bond that unites your real family is not that of blood, but that of respect and joy for each other’s lives”. Beautiful concept, except that the law prefers to be less romantic and more formal and chooses blood as a family bond in almost all cases (“almost”, because it also recognizes an adopted and, therefore, non-biological child as part of the family). So much so that a brother-in-law or son-in-law, contrary to what one might think, are not officially considered relatives but kindred. That what is meant by familyso?

Even the description provided by thearticle 29 of the Italian Constitution has undergone some changes over time. In the “original version”, in fact, it was written that “the Republic recognizes the rights of the family as a natural society founded on marriage”, this assumes that we are talking about a legal and social model reserved for two subjects of different sexes with a conjugal bond with or without children. Over the years, the legal system has introduced a discipline that also concerns the civil union between two people of the same sex. Just as the legal relevance of de facto coexistence is recognized, provided it is stable. Here, then, what is meant by family.

Family: spouses, members of civil unions and de facto cohabitants

To understand what is meant by familywe must start from its basic nucleus, i.e. from two subjects that can be:

  • spousesi.e. two people of different sex united in the bond of marriage: their personal and patrimonial relationships are regulated by the Civil Code and by other norms;
  • parts ofcivil union, i.e. two people of the same sex who are united in the bond of civil union; the law also regulates their personal and property rights;
  • actually cohabitingi.e. two people of different sexes or of the same sex who formalize their stable coexistence, establishing a legally recognized bond.

There is, however, no recognized legal bond between two cohabitants who do not formalize their relationship. Therefore, in this case, we cannot speak of a family unit.

Family: children

The law recognizes the equal rights to all children, whether they are born from married parents or cohabiting parents or from parents who are not united by any stable relationship. They can be:

  • brothers or sisters Germans (or carnal or bilateral) if they have both parents in common;
  • brothers or sisters unilateral if they have only one parent in common. Technically they are called “consanguineous” if they share only the father and “uterine” if they are children only of the same mother;
  • adoptivewhen they are introduced into the family after birth;
  • incestuouswhen they are born from people among whom there is a kinship bond in an infinite straight line or in a collateral line in the second degree or a bond of affinity in a straight line.

Family: relatives

When you ask what is meant by familyit is also essential to know what is meant by relationship. It is the bond that unites those who descend from the same subject, that is, those who have the same ancestor in common. This occurs both when the filiation has taken place within marriage and when it has taken place outside it, and when the child is adopted. According to the law, however, there is no kinship bond in cases of adoption of adults.

For example, grandfather and nephew, brother and sister, or even cousins ​​are related to each other, since there is a common ancestor. Contrary to popular belief, husband and wife are not related, again for the same reason: there is no common ancestor. Between the two of them there is “only” (so to speak) a conjugal bond (called conjugal).

The kinship is divided into two lines:

  • the one to which the people who are descended from each other belong, for example the great-grandfather, grandfather, parent, child, etc. they are called relatives in a straight line;
  • the one that unites people between whom there is no descent link, for example brothers and sisters, uncles, cousins, etc. they are called indirect or collateral relatives.

The degree of kinship, on the other hand, establishes the more or less close relationship that unites people related by blood ties. Here are some examples of straight line kinship:

  • between child and parent: 1st grade;
  • between grandfather and grandson (child of the child) 2nd degree;
  • between uncle and nephew (son of brother): 3rd degree;
  • between cousins: 4th degree.

Between brothers and sisters, on the other hand, there is a 2nd degree kinship in the collateral line, since, as mentioned, they are not descended from each other.

The importance of knowing what is meant by family and having this scheme clear is of fundamental importance because it places constraints in some situations, such as for example:

  • in legitimate hereditary succession;
  • in terms of the obligation of alimony;
  • on the subject of the ban on contracting marriage;
  • for legal standing purposes, for example in actions to deny paternity or to claim child status;
  • in criminal matters, for example in cases of violation of moral and material assistance obligations or domestic violence.


What is meant by family?