Curriculum Guide to Family Law/Divorce

Family law covers a wide range of legal issues and often involves representing clients during emotional times in their lives. Most family lawyers specialize in divorce, which generally encompasses marital dissolution, spousal and child support, legal and physical custody, and sometimes paternity issues. Family lawyers may also represent clients in drafting co-habitation, pre-nuptial, and marital property agreements. As the definition of "family" continues to evolve in America, family lawyers will be on the cutting edge, facing increasingly complex new issues and challenges.

Family lawyers need a broad set of legal skills. They must be negotiators, client counselors, and litigators. They must have good people skills, and strong oral and written communication skills, including good listening skills. Family lawyers must have a grasp of the many issues involved in family law and must also have a working knowledge of tax, estate planning, business law, and real estate law.

Family law affects many people's lives and the role of the family lawyer is an important one in our society. It can be a stressful area of practice, but it can also be a very rewarding one.

Fundamental Courses

These are the entry level courses that — at a minimum — employers expect a student interested in this specialty to have:

Advanced Principles

Students interested in this practice area should consider including one or more of the following courses as electives.

Simulation and Experiential Courses

Students interested in this practice area should consider:

Economics of Family Law

Family lawyers must have a grasp of the many issues involved in family law and must also have a working knowledge of tax, estate planning and business law:

Elective Courses

These courses deepen or broaden the skills and substantive information that a lawyer in this field needs and also provide advanced courses for students interested in a specialty within this area of practice.

(Note that whether a particular course is scheduled depends on faculty availability and student demand.)

Additional information regarding the Family Law Concentration.

Clinics, Internships, and Externships

Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence Clinical Program
The Law School offers an externship program (clinical) for students at the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WCADV). Students assist with legal inquiries and research regarding domestic violence issues.

Family Court Clinic

The Family Court Clinic is a clinical program designed to help make the legal system more accessible to low-income, unrepresented people with divorce, post-divorce, paternity, and restraining order matters. Students serve as facilitators/mediators, working with the parties to help them advance their cases for decision. In addition, students represent individuals engaged in the family court process. Students undergo in-depth skills training in interviewing, counseling, and negotiations, and learn the nuts and bolts of family law. Students may enroll in the Family Court Clinic in conjunction with the Domestic Violence class to assist persons seeking restraining orders at the Dane County Courthouse.

Family Law Project

Students in the Family Law Project represent incarcerated clients in family law issues, including divorce, paternity, child support, physical placement, and guardianship. Students gain hands-on experience in all aspects of the practice of family and civil law, including interviewing and counseling clients; examining and analyzing ethical issues; negotiating with an opposing party, opposing counsel, and/or a guardian ad litem; drafting court documents; interviewing witnesses; and preparing for and conducting court hearings. The Family Law Project is a three-semester commitment that may begin in the summer after the student's first or second year.

Student Organizations and Related Activities

Children's Justice Project

The Children's Justice Project brings together people interested in promoting justice for children and juveniles, including the rights of children and juveniles in the legal, educational, health care, and social services systems. The Project does this through interdisciplinary advocacy and study.


Tonya Brito
Room 8110
(608) 265-6475

Marsha Mansfield
Room 1348
(608) 262-9142

Elizabeth Mertz
Room 3242
(608) 263-7419

Leslie Shear
Room 4318C
(608) 262-2030

Gretchen Viney
Room 5224
(608) 262-8048

In addition to our full-time faculty, the Law School's adjunct faculty members — prominent practicing lawyers and judges — bring their specialized knowledge and experience to the classroom. Adjunct Faculty List.

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