Lawyers working in the area of family law, often called domestic relations, do many different types of work. The most common is divorce work, either representing the parties in court or as a mediator. However, other family lawyers represent children in custody matters involving the state or in semi-criminal juvenile courts. Others specialize in structuring family affairs for nontraditional families, in adoption or reproductive law, or in paternity and child support issues.
In addition, family law may involve contentious constitutional law issues. This can be viewed most vividly in the current debates on same-sex marriage and the definition of a family. Lawyers interested in pursuing a career in the field of civil rights can choose to focus their attention on family law.
Much of the work that family lawyers engage in involves working with clients in very emotional situations. These lawyers will frequently have strong responses to the issues at hand; recognizing and dealing with these emotions is an important part of the practice. Family law practitioners often find the work of aiding people who are in crisis to be very rewarding.
Some family lawyers engage in litigation but many do not. In areas like adoption and reproductive law, the work is aimed at structuring the transaction so as to avoid litigation. The same is also true of a good deal of what lawyers do if they are representing clients in a divorce. Issues relating to custody and property division are typically decided by negotiations between the parties’ lawyers. Similarly, lawyers draft prenuptial documents with the goal of keeping the parties out of litigation. Of course, some divorces do end up in litigation; this is also true for other areas of family law.
When selecting courses from the Family Law Pathway, use the type of practice you hope to have in guiding your course selections. For example, if you plan to focus on divorce and child custody issues, you would want to take Personal Income Tax and Mediation. If your focus will be on Elder Law, you would want to take Wills, Estates, and Trusts I. Additionally, you may also want to consider courses from other pathways, such as Trusts and Estates or Civil Litigation.
This field of law is central to the work done by many small and mid-sized general practices. Some large law firms also have departments that specialize in domestic relations. This pathway will help prepare students for all of these types of practice.