Understanding "Civil" Law

The two main categories of law are civil law and criminal law. Criminal law deals with illegal behaviour. Civil law deals mostly with people, their relationships with each other, and their property.

In Quebec, most civil law rules can be found in a very big law call the Civil Code of Québec.

Different Areas of Civil Law

Civil law is very broad and includes several different areas. Here are some examples:

  • law of persons
  • family law
  • property law
  • contract law
  • civil responsibility (responsibility for damage and injuries)

The Law of Persons

You are a person, so you have rights!

The law of persons includes rules dealing with topics such as these:

  • a person's existence (from birth to death)
  • who the person is (name, sex, where the person lives, marital status)
  • a person's ability to exercise rights
  • personality rights, such as the right to life, integrity, reputation, privacy, etc. (For example, you can exercise your legal personality rights if someone is spreading lies about you or publishes a photograph of you without your permission.)

Did you know?

In civil law, the word "person" refers to human beings as well as to "legal" persons, such as businesses and organizations.  Legal persons have rights and responsibilities too . . . just like you!

Legal persons don't have exactly the same rights and responsibilities as humans, but they can still own property, sue or be sued, change their names, etc.

Family Law

Family law deals with the legal relationships within a family, and between the family and other people. It has rules that apply to marriage, divorce, adoption, living arrangements for children when parents break up, financial support for family members, and much more.

For instance, if your parents get divorced and do not agree where you will live, a judge will decide on living arrangements based on family law rules.

Property Law

Property law has been around for a very long time and is one of the main branches of civil law. Property law deals with the relationships between people and the things they own. For example, property law concerns your rights over your bicycle or iPod, and your parents' rights over their house and car. It also determines what happens to lost or abandoned property.

Property law is very broad and covers many different types of situations.

Contract Law (or the Law of Obligations)

Contract law deals with "obligations." An obligation is something a person is required to do or not do as regards someone else. An obligation can flow from the law or a contract.

You may not realize it, but you probably encounter several contracts each day. Buying a sandwich for lunch, joining a gym or taking a taxi are all valid contracts, even if there is no written document. For example, if your neighbour asks you to babysit her kids in return for payment, this is a contract: you babysit the kids, and she has to pay you for it.

Contract law provides rules on all aspects of contracts, such as how they are made, the different types of contracts, and how they can be cancelled.

Civil Responsibility (or Civil Liability)

Civil law concerns rights as well as duties. For example, you have a duty to behave properly. This means you are not allowed to do anything that could harm other people. If you do cause harm to someone else, you might have to "repair" the damage. This general responsibility is referred to as "civil responsibility" or "civil liability."

What Happens If You Are Responsible for Damage?

As a general rule, civil law does not "punish."  It "repairs" damage instead. Therefore, people do not go to jail for being at fault under civil law.

Important !
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.