FACULTY MEMORANDUM ON FAMILY LAW/ DOMESTIC RELATIONS/ CHILDREN AND THE LAW
Updated September 2012
Faculty: Victoria Chase, Russell Coombs, Ann Freedman, Sally Goldfarb, Joanne Gottesman, J.C. Lore, Kimberly Mutcherson, Traci Overton, Ruth Anne Robbins, Meredith Schalick, Sandra Simkins, Carl Viniar
Adjunct Faculty: Brenda Eutsler, Herb Hinkle, Patrick Judge
Family law concerns state and federal regulation of families, other intimate relationships between adults, and adult relationships with children, as well as the resolution of disputes within such relationships, whether by litigation or alternative methods such as negotiation, mediation or arbitration. Constitutional issues play a significant role in contemporary family law, and family law issues often arise in other doctrinal contexts, for example in bankruptcy, business law, criminal law, decedents= estates, real estate and tax. In addition, the study of family law provides an opportunity for studying the complex interplay of family and state, public and private, freedom and responsibility and tradition and innovation in constituting civic life. Family law is one of the subjects on the bar exam.
Attorneys may practice family law as members of private firms or solo practitioners, as government lawyers, within the judicial system, or in various non-profit or public interest settings, such as legal services or child advocacy organizations. While attorneys may specialize in domestic relations law, for example, as a divorce or adoption specialist, most attorneys in private practice, either civil or criminal, particularly in mid-size or smaller firms, will need at least a basic understanding of family law doctrines and procedures. Conversely, students interested in family law practice as private practitioners will need exposure to a wide variety of other doctrinal areas to be successful. Both specialized family law offerings and other relevant courses and programs are discussed below.
Family Law Offerings
The foundation course for family law study is the introductory survey course, Family Law, (three course credits, sometimes with optional writing credit), which is offered at least once a year, and every other year in the evening. Family Law introduces students to selected issues and skills relevant to family law practice and decision making in various settings, with particular attention to private practice, government lawyering and legislative and judicial decision making about intimate relationships.
Subjects considered include marital relationships, their regulation and dissolution, child custody and support, alternative family structures, ethical considerations in family law practice, and selected issues in welfare policy, reproductive choice and procreation, adoption, child abuse and neglect, and abuse of one intimate partner by another. Skills introduced may include interviewing, counseling, negotiating and legislative policy analysis. The course enables students to acquire doctrinal mastery in particular areas while providing exposure to other disciplines relevant to family law and policy.
Domestic Violence Law explores the complex dynamics, pervasiveness and significance of violent behavior in intimate relationships and asks how our laws and legal institutions can protect and assist battered adults and affected children. Placing the problem of domestic violence in social, historical, and economic context, the course covers responses to victims, batterers and children within the child protective system; the family law system; the civil protective or restraining order system; the criminal justice system; the law of torts; and federal civil rights and international human rights remedies. This course is a useful complement to both family law and criminal law study, and can be taken either before or after the basic survey course in family law.
Child and Family Advocacy Clinic
Children’s Justice Clinic
Civil Practice Clinic
Domestic Violence Clinic
Other courses and programs of general relevance to family law practitioners in any setting:
During the second year, students interested in any type of family law practice should also take:
Alternative Dispute Resolution
Federal Income Tax
Family Law and Motion Practice
Interviewing and Counseling
Pretrial Advocacy (discovery issues)
Professional Responsibility *
Additional courses relevant to private family law practice:
Many family disputes are partly or wholly financial in nature, for example, as when a divorce requires the valuation and division of a small business or when a client with financial difficulties is considering both bankruptcy and divorce. In addition, many clients ask their attorneys to cross-over from one setting to another. For example, over a period of years, a client or members of a family may seek assistance in writing a will, setting up a small business, drafting a separation agreement incident to a divorce, arranging financing of care for an elderly or disabled relative, and representation in bankruptcy court. Thus attorneys planning to enter private practice or clerk for a judge sitting on family law cases should consider taking several of the following courses:
Business Organizations (partnerships and closely held corporations)
Real Estate Transactions
Trusts and Estates I; and Trusts and Estates II-Estate Planning
*Both Evidence and Professional Responsibility are prerequisites for many of the most interesting third year opportunities.