WHAT IS FAMILY LAW?
Family law attorneys assist clients with divorce; child custody, support, and visitation; prenuptial and postnuptial agreements; guardianships for the elderly, infirm, and mentally disabled; domestic and foreign adoptions; termination of parental rights; and the establishment of paternity. They can also assist in dealing with the tax and financial aspects of these events. Family law can be a highly emotional practice as the attorney is at the center of life's most personal disputes. Client counseling that is not limited to legal discussions is often involved. Good people skills are essential as there is often a large amount of client contact.
This practice area is found almost exclusively at small firms and boutiques. However, a few large firms have small family law groups, and these groups tend to focus on the financial aspects of family events. Family law can also be practiced in public interest, legal aid, or government settings.
- Divorce: Divorce cases make up the majority of most family lawyers' practices. Divorcing spouses must decide how to divide their property, what type of custody and visitation arrangements to make for the children, and whether child support or spousal support is warranted. Family lawyers work closely with their clients, encouraging them to reach an agreement. If no agreement is reached, the case will result in a trial.
- Prenuptial Agreements: Clients who have property and/or children from a previous marriage or who have substantial personal assets may wish to protect their assets in the case of a divorce. Before marriage, they ask the future spouse to sign a prenuptial agreement that sets forth how the property will be divided if the marriage should end in a divorce or in the death of the spouse.
- Adoptions: In recent years, adoption has become a specialty in and of itself. As it has become more difficult to find American infants available for adoption, prospective parents have pursued international adoptions. Interstate and international adoptions require attorneys who are specialists in the laws of other states and countries.
- Guardianships: A court may appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the interests of a child whose parents are divorcing or for an adult who appears to be legally incompetent due to senile dementia or mental illness. The guardian ad litem talks with the individual in quest and helps the court to determine what arrangement is truly in the best interest of the child or legally incompetent adult.
Students interested in Family Law may also want to view our resources on Child Law.
IF YOU'RE CONSIDERING PURSUING A CAREER IN FAMILY LAW...
1. Take family law and business law classes during law school. Because family lawyers work with the division of assets, classes relating to business - such as tax, employee benefits, corporations and partnerships, and accounting - are extremely helpful.
2. Gain practical experience by working as a law clerk. See below for a list of Chicago area law firms with family law practices.
3. Consider working at Loyola's Civitas Child and Family Law Clinic.
4. Develop relationships within the Chicago community of family lawyers by joining the family law section of the Chicago Bar Association.
5. Sharpen your courtroom skills by taking any class that helps to get you comfortable in the courtroom or by participating in Moot Court.
6. Gain experience and sharpen your writing skills through a judicial or non-judicial externship at sites such as the Department of Children & Family Services or the Juvenile Department of the Cook County Public Defender's Office.
7. Get to know Loyola professors specializing in child and family law - Bruce Boyer, Theresa Ceko, Sacha Coupet, Diane Geraghty, Stacey Platt, and Anita Weinberg.
8. Sign up for the CSO Child/Family/Education Law TWEN Group to receive periodic email announcements about upcoming events or job opportunities related to this practice area.
FAMILY LAW RESOURCES
Illinois Legal Advocate - Legal Services Program Directory
(Search "Family Law" in the practice area search field.)
National Center for Adoption Law & Policy (via Capital University Law School)