Conflict of laws signifies the difference between the laws of two or more jurisdictions that are applicable to a dispute in question. The results of the case depend upon the selection of the law to resolve the dispute. The conflict can be between federal and state laws, among the state laws themselves, or between the laws of different countries.
The primary question that arises in the situation of conflicting laws is: Which law should be used in resolving the case?
Courts follow a certain process in order to determine the law it would apply in deciding a case. In legal parlance, this process is known as characterization or classification. Courts usually have two choices while determining which law to apply in the case of a conflict, which are:
Lex fori: When the conflict in laws pertains to a procedural matter, courts mostly go by lex fori or the law of the forum, and
Lex loci: When the conflict in laws pertains to a substantive matter, courts mostly go by lex loci or the law of the place where the cause of action arose.
Courts have different rules from those of state courts. That's because the jurisdiction of courts is limited by the constitution. Courts must follow a complex set of rules for determining the right law to apply in a case of conflicting laws.
Legal professionals and scholars in civil law refer to the conflict of laws as private international law. It is applied to legal disputes that have a foreign element in them.
If you look at business contracts, you'll find that most of them contain a clause in the miscellaneous section, which either excludes the principles of conflict of laws or specify the conflict of laws principles of a certain state to govern the contract. This provision is usually made to interpret the agreement outside of the state where the cause of action has occurred.
For example, let's say you have made an agreement with a company in California. This may give rise to a cause of action in California. However, you want to apply the laws of Texas to your contract and hence clearly specify that the contract would be governed by the laws of Texas.
Now, most of the states have a law saying that the state where the cause of action occurs will have a jurisdiction over the dispute. Due to this, your contract may be governed by the laws of California despite your express intention to the contrary. To avoid such unintended hardship, contracts usually contain an exclusion clause to expressly nullify the provisions of conflict of laws.
The conflict of laws is based upon the principle of choosing the most rational law to apply in a given case so as to give a fair result. It is known by different names, but none of them are accurate.
In a federal system like the United States where the conflicts are mainly between different state laws, the term “conflict of laws” is more popular since these rules are rarely applied to international issues. However, it's still a general term that also applies to international disputes. Many criticize the term as being misleading since the object of these rules is to resolve the conflicts between different laws rather than the conflict itself.
If the case contains no foreign element, the conflict of laws is irrelevant. If an Englishman and woman who are both British citizens, domiciled and resident in England, go through a ceremony of marriage in England and later, when they are both still domiciled and resident here, the wife petitions an English court for a divorce, no foreign element is involved. No problem of jurisdiction arises and any questions about the validity of the marriage or the grounds upon which a divorce can be granted, as well as any procedural or evidential matters, are all governed by English law alone. The same is true if two Englishmen in England contract here for the sale and purchase of goods to be delivered from Oxford to Cambridge with payment in sterling in London, and the seller later sues the buyer and serves him with a writ in England.