Puerto Rico Legal System

The Puerto Rico legal system differs greatly from the legal system utilized throughout the Continental United States (with some exceptions).

First of all, Puerto Rico’s legal system operates in Spanish. It is the only U.S. possession whose legal system operates in a language other than English. (Although Federal District Court and the Bankruptcy Court does operate in English).

Before becoming part of the United States, Puerto Rico was a Spanish colony for more than 400 years. It’s legal system was developed and modeled under the Spanish civil code, known as civil law. The primary source of law of the civil law system is based on laws and codes. In contrast, the common law system used in the United States is based on the doctrine of judicial precedent (decisions made by the court) originated in the United Kingdom.

When Puerto Rico became a US territory, it incorporated the common law system. This created a mixed legal system in which common law and civil law are blended. This system is what prevails today.

Civil law is applied for family law, divorce, child custody, real property law, and contractual law, among others. Common law is applied to constitutional law, bankruptcy law, federal criminal procedures, etc.