Tonya Brito

Associate Dean for Research & Faculty Development ; Burrus-Bascom Professor of Law

Telephone: 608-265-6475
Office: Room 5211B, Law School

A.B., Barnard College, Columbia U. (Political Science)
J.D., Harvard University Law School

Teaching Areas:
Civil Procedure
Family Law

Recently Taught Courses
714 Civil Procedure I
822 Family Law: Marriage & Divorce (formerly Family Law I)
823 Family Law II
939 SP Family Law: Adoption Law & Policy
939 SP Family Law: Children, Law & Society
949 Adv. Civil Procedure: Complex Litigation
950 Lawyering Skills: Family Law I skills

Research Interests:
Family Law
Poverty Law
Critical Race Empiricism
Law and Society


Tonya L. Brito is a Professor of Law at the University of Wisconsin Law School and a Faculty Affiliate with the Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP) at the University of Wisconsin.  She is a recipient of both the University of Wisconsin-Madison's 2012 Outstanding Women of Color in Education Award and the University of Wisconsin System's 2012 Outstanding Women of Color in Education Award.  Through these prestigious awards, Professor Brito was recognized at both the campus and system-wide level for her scholarly research and writing on issues of race and poverty, community service, community building on- and off-campus for an inclusive and respectful environment, and her longstanding commitment to working towards social justice for disadvantaged populations.

Professor Brito's scholarship critically examines the intersection of family law and poverty law, focusing on how the welfare state regulates the family relationships of the poor.  She has written on welfare law and policy's impact on the development of family law, the experience of poor families in the child support system, and the image of motherhood in poverty discourse.  Professor Brito's most recent publication in this area, Fathers Behind Bars:  Rethinking Child Support Policy Towards Low-Income Noncustodial Fathers and their Families, was published in the Spring 2012 issue of the Journal of Gender, Race and Justice.  Additionally, she is currently working on a project that examines and compares the legal treatment and gender dynamics of both poor and middle-class families experiencing financial hardship in economic downturns.

Professor Brito is a member of the executive committee of the Institute for Research on Poverty and has collaborated with colleagues across campus as part of IRP's Child Support Demonstration Evaluation. Her scholarship here has examined how the child support rules apply in cases of multiple partner fertility and how the child support rules treat situations of shared parenting.  Continuing scholarly work in the area of child support includes two current ongoing projects.  In the first project, Professor Brito serves as lead researcher of a multidisciplinary team exploring the role and impact of counsel in the context of child support enforcement proceedings.  This multi-method, empirical project examines the relationship between the availability of legal counsel and outcomes for indigent individuals involved in the civil justice system.  In addition, Professor Brito is drafting an article for publication that proposes reform of child support rules governing situations of shared parenting.

Professor Brito's professional service focuses on advancing the interests of poor children and their families.  She serves on the boards of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families and the Center for Family Policy and Practice (CFFPP).  On behalf of CFFPP, Professor Brito drafted an amicus brief in 2011 in the Turner v. Rogers case pending before the United States Supreme Court.  Her brief analyzed the child support enforcement system's treatment of indigent noncustodial fathers and their families.

Professor Brito received her A.B with honors Barnard College and her J.D. cum laude from Harvard Law School, where she served as Executive Editor of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, and was a student attorney with the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau.  Prior to joining the UW faculty, Professor Brito was a judicial law clerk for Judge John Garrett Penn of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, practiced complex civil litigation with the law firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering in Washington, D.C., and served on the law faculty at Arizona State University College of Law.

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