Skip to content


Statute Defined

A statute is a law that is established by an act initiated by a legislature. In the United States, statutes are considered a primary source of law. Legislatures create statutes, and then the courts interpret the cases through case law decisions.

How Are Statutes Typically Organized?

State statutes are generally organized by subject matter and published into books called codes. Each state has its own method of organizing statutes, which is why it is important to familiarize oneself with each state’s unique practices. Usually, states divide their statutes into the following codes:

  • Family or civil code - divorce laws can be found here.
  • Criminal code - incest, domestic violence, and bigamy laws are found here.
  • Welfare code - has laws related to public benefits.
  • Probate code - contains laws about probate proceedings, trusts, and wills.
  • Other codes - these additional books can contain missing statutes from other books created by the states.

Federal statutes are organized into a code called the United States Code where all statutes can be found in one place.

What Kinds of Statutes Exist?

Statutes usually are divided into public, private, declaratory, remedial, temporary, perpetual, affirmative, negative, personal, real or mixed statutes.

Public Statutes

Public statutes are those that are decided by judges without pleading. Public statutes usually cover issues related to trade.

Private Statutes

Private statutes are statutes where judges will not take notice without some form of pleading.


A declaratory statute is passed in order to clarify any doubts relating to common law. This usually happens for common law principles that were written a long time ago and are difficult to apply to modern cases. A remedial statute is issued to repair any defects in the common law that have been discovered.


A temporary statute is a statute created to fill a temporary void in regulations. These statutes are only enforceable during their duration dates. A perpetual statute is a statute that has no limited time or other restrictions.


An affirmative statute is a statute that does not contain negative words. Rather, an affirmative statute will contain phrases such as “shall” to give authority to a person or legislative body. A negative statute controls the common law and is expressed in negative terms. An example of these can be related to penal statutes to indicate a certain behavior is not allowed and will have a penalty.

Personal Statutes

Personal statutes usually only have a focus on people with issues such as birth, freedom, legitimacy, maturity of age, incapacity to contract, draft a will, among others.

Real Statutes

Real statutes have to do with property or objects and do not deal with people. Real statutes are confined only to their country of origin.

Mixed Statutes

Mixed statutes concern both people and property. It is quite common for many statutes to be mixed given the close connection between individuals and property disputes.

How Are Statutes Applied Differently in the United States versus Civil Law Jurisdictions?

Statutes are applied much differently in the United States and England because those two countries are common law jurisdictions. What this means is that courts look at a principal book of statutes and then interpret cases to explain those statutes in the courtroom. These court decisions set a precedent, which is binding law until another court case comes along to overturn these decisions. An example of this is when Brown v. Board of Education overturned Plessy v. Fergusson, which previously held “separate but equal” was how African Americans should be categorized prior to the Civil Rights movement.

Civil law is different because it is based on a book of statutes and codes that are applied to legal issues that arise. There is not the same role of courts in civil law jurisdictions. In the United States, Louisiana has the option for lawyers to be common law or civil law attorneys due to its former affiliations with the French legal system from the colonial era.

Statutes are a very important addition to any legal system around the world because they are written documentation of what the legal expectations are for citizens and law enforcement to observe.

Statute Glossary Definition

A statute is a written law established by a legislature that is applied to civilians within the United States. The Legislative Branch, which includes the House of Representative and the Senate, is responsible for drafting new statutes to balance the needs that arise in the 50 states within the United States.