Not that long ago, international family law (IFL) referred to a series of multilateral conventions basically concerned with conflicts of law questions. It could be studied as part of a course on family law or as part of a course on conflicts of law. But IFL, or family law in which more than one State has an interest, has grown up and become a subject of its own.
This is not merely a curricular development. Rather, it reflects and reinforces two of the most powerful trends of the last fifteen years: globalization and the spread of human rights. Globalization is transforming families. The global migrations of capital, and the vast migrations of labor that have accompanied, it have torn families apart, created new families, and radically changed the meaning of family. Borders have become more porous, allowing adoptees and mail order brides to join new families and women fleeing domestic violence to escape from old ones. People of different nationalities marry, have children, and divorce, not necessarily in that order.
There are powerful trends and countertrends everywhere, and competing norms of IFL are at the core of each. International human rights law plays a growing role in mediating these competing norms. Many States have outlawed polygamy and child marriage, for example, at least in part to show the rest of the world they are “modern.” IFL is where the enormous abstract forces of globalization and human rights become real, immediate, and personal. IFL, in short, is where globalization hits home.