Statutes (laws that have been passed by Congress or state legislatures) are the most obvious source of the many kinds of laws that regulate conduct. Criminal laws describe and define illegal conduct. Civil laws provide a framework for actions that affect other individuals.

For example, laws concerning the family relationship are the civil laws that control the marriage, divorce and adoption processes. Likewise, there are statutes directed at certain businesses and occupations, real estate matters and contracts between individuals. Although there are a great many statutes, both federal and state, not every potential legal issue can possibly be addressed by a statute. In those situations, common law applies.

Sidebar: Federal laws are enacted in the U.S. Congress and apply to all persons living in the United States, regardless of their state of residence. State laws are enacted in state legislatures and apply to citizens of those states or any dispute that occurs there.

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