In-laws are your relatives while you’re married to their blood relatives. From a legal perspective, the more appropriate question is whether in-laws are your immediate family. Certain jurisdictions and legal contracts, e.g., some insurance policies treat in-laws as close relatives, but others exclude them.
If you’ve gone through a divorce recently, the question of whether in-laws are considered family relatives may have crossed your mind. Everything changes after such an event. The relationships I once had with my (now ex) in-laws are part of the evolution. I discovered a few interesting facts in my research.
Our relationships and family responsibilities for our in-laws are interesting and often challenging to navigate both legally and personally. There are various issues to take into account when we consider the question, regardless of whether it is for legal, cultural, or social reasons.
Related Reading: How Do I Keep My In-Laws Away From My Baby?
Origin of the Term “In-Law”
The origin of the term “in-law” is a bit of a surprise. It is not related to the legal system as we know it. Instead, it stems from canon law from as early as the 14th century. Canon law is the church’s rules and regulations. In this instance, we are referring to the catholic church. One of these laws strictly forbade individuals from marrying certain non-blood relatives if their spouse passed away. Over time, the word came to represent any spousal relative.
On a humorous note, it seems that there are many historical references to tension with in-laws too. Some of the advice from the 19th century on maintaining good in-law relations is good for a giggle. An article in an Alabama newspaper from 1896 suggested that a man should always vote the same way as his father-in-law. Another 1886 publication indicated that a woman should make herself as attractive to her mother-in-law as she does to her lover.
Which Relatives Count as In-Laws?
Blood relationships have genetic links, and relationships that are based on marriage are legally linked. In-law relationships combine marriage and a blood relationship.
Your spouse’s entire family become your in-laws once you say “I do”. Yes, even their cousins and their grandparents. Some relatives will be closer than others, so a father or mother-in-law may often be considered close or immediate family, but a cousin-in-law or an uncle-in-law will not fall into that same category.
In-Laws as Family Relatives – A Legal Perspective
In-laws become your relatives as soon as you are married to their sibling or child. As your immediate family members, your responsibility towards them differs depending on where you are and how “immediate family” is defined. For example, specific regulations in California make reference to in-laws as being immediate family. In some Missouri laws, however, in-laws are not listed at all.
The definition of immediate family has an impact on factors such as wills, inheritance, and labor law. For example, in terms of labor, some companies might prohibit the employment of immediate family members. Rules around bereavement and family responsibility leave are another example.
Insurance contracts are another area where the definition of the immediate family can vary. Some insurance policies provide cover for in-laws as immediate family members. Others specifically exclude cover or are somewhat ambiguous, and many a legal battle has been fought over this issue.
Depending on the reason for your question, it is always a good idea to do some local research around the legal definition for the term “immediate family”. And always read the fine print in your contracts.
The Cultural Perspective On In-Law Relationships
In-law relationships vary between different cultures. It is common in some cultures for a woman to move in with her new husband’s family. The concept of collectivism influences this tradition. Collectivism is a focus on the family or group goals.
In many other parts of the world, a new couple leave their family homes to start an independent life together. The focus here is on individualism – our individual needs and desires.
When two individuals from very different cultures fall in love and form a union, relationships can get very tricky. Misunderstandings in cross-cultural relationships are common, and it is essential to keep the lines of communication open and honest.
Showing interest in the rituals and traditions of your in-laws is one way to make the cross-cultural relationship easier. Inviting your in-laws to to learn about your own cultural beliefs will also be helpful. Mutual respect is essential.
Feathers are bound to get ruffled occasionally for both you and your partner. The most important thing to remember is that regardless of the input of the in-laws, you and your partner are a unit, and you need to focus on standing by each other.
The Advantages of Having a Good Relationship With The In-Laws
The in-law relationship is You’re married, and for better or worse, the in-laws will be in your life for many years to come. If you and your partner have children, you will be bound to your in-laws, even if the marriage doesn’t last.
As long as your in-laws are decent people, maintaining a good relationship with them will reduce your personal stress and improve your quality of life. It will also reduce the strain on your marriage. If you have children, they will also benefit if you have a happy relationship with your in-laws. Obviously, it is not only your responsibility to maintain a good relationship, and it helps if everyone in the family plays their part.
Sometimes, relationships with in-laws can fill gaps you may have experienced in your own family. A brother-in-law could become the brother you never had. Perhaps your dad passed away or was absent when you were growing up – your father-in-law could fill that gap for you.
Empathy and an open mind and heart will go a long way to maintaining a happy relationship with your in-laws and enjoying a more joyful life as a result.
Five Tips For Great Relationships With Your In-Laws
In-law relationships are well-known to be challenging. Mothers-in-law and fathers-in-law are the subjects of many jokes, memes, and movies. Even in the botanical world, the Mother-in-law’s tongue plant got its name from the sharpness of its sword-like leaves. The Mother-in-law spice is a fiery masala that evokes images of a sharp-tongued mother-in-law.
Things don’t need to be so spicy, though. Here are five tips for smoothing the in-law relationship.
- Between you and your partner, set boundaries for the relationships with in-laws and create your own family values. Communicate those boundaries and values, and then be sure to enforce them.
- If you have a problem with one of your in-laws, communicate directly with the person concerned without involving your partner and putting them in a difficult position.
- Be yourself. You are who you are, and trying to be a different person to make the in-laws happy or meet their expectations will only lead to stress and disappointment.
- Count to 10. We all say or do things that might upset others. Try to calm down and not fly off the handle at the first sign of conflict. Sometimes saying nothing is the best remedy for a conflict situation.
- Have a sense of humor. Being able to laugh through all the tough times goes a long way to keeping the peace with the in-laws.
Related Reading: How To Talk To In-Laws About Divorce (6 Tips)
I began exploring this subject after I went through my own divorce. Most of the time, I always enjoyed a very happy relationship with my in-laws, and I was concerned that I would lose that special bond once my ex and I moved apart. I’ve realized that even though we are no longer legally bound together, and by default, I no longer have any legal ties to my in-laws, we are still bound by years of love, memories, and children. I am happy to still call them my relatives, even though the basis of our relationship has changed.
After earning his Master of Social Work from the University of Toronto, Stuart gained experience working with families in community mental health settings and in the child protection sector. Since becoming a father himself, Stuart now works in private practice offering psychotherapy services. FatherResource is an opportunity for Stuart to share what he learns on his journey as a father with a larger audience.