Substantive law

The substantive law is the set of rights and obligations for citizens in a territory for a time that are contained in rules, laws or regulations. Substantive law is commonly used as a synonym for objective law.

Substantive law

Substantive law is called that set of rights and obligations that regulate the daily life of people and that are included in legal codes as well as the civil code, criminal code or commercial code.

This right is also known as the substantive law, which establishes the true rights and obligations that govern the lives of citizens.

Characteristics of substantive law

The main characteristics of substantive law are:

  • Substantive law is classified as public or private law. Public law affects relations between the State and individuals and private law affects relationships between individuals.
  • Similarly, substantive law can be classified into mandatory law and operative law. The imperative law refers to the rules that cannot be changed by the will of the parties and are absolutely mandatory. An example of these rules are those that regulate traffic regulations. The device law refers to rules that can be modified by the parties in a specific case.
  • Substantive law regulates all areas, from civil to labor, administrative, criminal or commercial.

Substantive law and adjective law

In contrast to substantive law is the adjective law, which is a procedural law. That is, it establishes the norms that govern the activity of citizens before judicial activity.

The adjective right does not establish any substantive right or obligation. That is to say, the right to freedom, or the right to marry or the prohibition to steal is not an adjective right, but a substantive one. On the other hand, the right to appeal a judgment on appeal during a specified period is an adjective right.

The substantive law would be the civil, penal, commercial, labor codes and the adjective law would be the criminal, civil, labor or administrative procedural law.

To better understand this difference, let’s see an example. Two people want to start a divorce process where they must go before the judge to resolve the divorce lawsuit and dissolve the marriage contract and the marriage bond.

The judge will apply the substantive law to dissolve the marriage bond. Thus, family law will apply to establish the rules by which the joint patrimony of the marriage or the establishment of child custody will be divided.

Instead, the adjective right that also comes into play in this example is used by both the judge and the spouses. This right establishes terms and forms to file the divorce claim, go to trial or appeal the resolution issued by the judge.


Let’s imagine that a spouse wants to show that an asset is proprietary and should not be divided between the two. This test will be subject to the formalities included in the adjective law. It must be presented in a specific way (usually in writing) and within a specific procedural time and period. The misuse of the adjective right can make the person lose that a right is applied to him. That is, if the rules of the adjective law are not followed, the application of the relevant substantive law is lost.

In the example we had with the marriage, if the spouse who wants an asset to be declared proprietary does not present the proof in the required manner or within the specified period, they may lose the possibility of this asset being assigned to them completely only by issues. formal and not substantive.

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