About Family Law
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.
Note: Whether a particular course is scheduled depends on faculty availability and student demand.
These are the entry level courses that — at a minimum — employers expect a student interested in this specialty to have:
Students interested in this practice area should consider including one or more of the following courses as electives.
Simulation & Experiential Courses
Students interested in this practice area should consider:
- Family Court Clinic
- Family Law Project (a prison-based clinical program)
- Client Counseling and Interviewing
- Lawyering Skills (8 credits; Spring Term with Prof. Viney)
- Trial Advocacy
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:
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.
- Children, Law & Society
- Directed Reading/Directed Research with a Family Law topic
- Domestic Violence
- Law & the Elderly
- Use of Trusts in Estate Planning
Additional information regarding the Family Law Concentration.
Clinics, Internships, & Externships
- 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.
- Externships: Second and third year students can earn academic credit for externship work at nonprofit organizations and government agencies, such as End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin, that handle domestic relations issues. For more information, contact Externship Director Erin McBride at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Student Organizations & 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, Professor
- Marsha Mansfield, Emeritus Professor; previous Director, EJI
- Leslie Shear, Professor; Director, Family Law Project
- Gretchen Viney, Clinical Professor; Director, Lawyering Skills
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. Filter by "Adjunct" in the Law School Directory for a full list.