CONSTRUCTING A LEGAL EDUCATION FOR A CAREER IN FAMILY LAWFamily law and policy are important because families matter. Most people regard family as the most essential thing in their lives, right up there with work, health, friendship, economic security and love. Families are complex and pervasively shaped by law. For decades family law cases have been the largest single category of civil filings and trials in the United State, about one third, as compared with ten percent each for torts and real property, and a bit more for contracts. Family law practice offers people a career in the law that is attractive to many students who do not want to pursue either firm practice or traditional public interest. Apart from the practical importance of family law, it is intellectually fascinating.
NYU Law has a strong program for students interested in family law. We have among the leading scholars and practitioners in the country in the areas of children and the law. Professor Peggy Cooper Davis was a Judge of the Family Court of the State of New York before joining the faculty and has written groundbreaking scholarship in the areas of child welfare and constitutional rights of family liberty. Professor Martin Guggenheim is one of the nation’s leading scholars on children’s rights and has written widely on topics relating to children and the law, including the representation of children in legal proceedings. Professor Randy Hertz is one of the leading experts in the United States in the area of juvenile delinquency and co-authored a trial manual on juvenile court practice, which is the leading work for lawyers who handle juvenile delinquency or child protection cases. Professor Sylvia Law is one of the leading feminist scholars in the United States and has written many prominent articles relating to gender discrimination and family law. She teaches the survey Family Law course. Professor Linda Silberman has written extensively on such matters as divorce mediation and has shaped path-breaking legislation in New York for the mediation of custody and related matrimonial disputes. She is also is the nation’s leading expert on international child abduction and helped successfully negotiate the 1996 Convention on Jurisdiction Applicable Law, Recognition Enforcement, and Cooperation in Respect of Parental Responsibility and Measures for the Protection of Children.
“Family law@ may be divisible into two categories - public and private. The public field usually means some form of state involvement, beyond providing a forum for individuals to resolve a private dispute. Child welfare law and juvenile delinquency are prominent examples within the public field of family law. The private field principally includes matrimonial law and divorce-related topics such as property distribution and child custody disputes. Some lawyers work across both fields during their career; others specialize in one over the other. Commonly, lawyers working in the private field work at relatively small, boutique law firms which specialize in matrimonial law. Family law practitioners in their field appear in court regularly and frequently conduct evidentiary hearings. Because family law involves working with clients who commonly are experiencing the traumatic effects of familial discord, family law practitioners are also important counselors, patiently advising clients during stressful events. Forensic experts, such as psychologists and psychiatrists are frequently engaged to evaluate children or parents and to write reports for the court. To avoid adding harmful conflict by escalating it through litigation, most family law practitioners believe that alternative dispute resolution efforts, such as mediation, should be considered in many cases. In addition, because many child custody disputes involve international litigation, some knowledge of international law is useful to family law practitioners. Finally, family law frequently requires a solid working knowledge of estate planning and tax and accounting.
Practitioners in the public field commonly are employed in legal services or public defender offices, though many also practice in small firms. These lawyers regularly appear in court and often become seasoned trial lawyers. Most also work in an interdisciplinary environment, usually with social workers. Most of the lawyers in this field represent children, a specialized areas of law practice because some of the ordinary rules of legal practice must be modified when representing clients too young to set the directives of a case. Other lawyers represent parents; many mix their practice doing both kinds of representation.
THE FAMILY LAW CORE CURRICULUMNYU Law offers three courses that should be regarded as the core of a family law curriculum. We recommend that all students take the first course and that students consider taking one of the other two.
Family Law (L08.3001). This three credit introductory course surveys the law, federal and state laws concerning familial relationships and the policies and principles that undergird them. It focuses on legal familial relations between adults, specifically: who can get married; the rights, duties, and obligations of marriage; the state’s interest in marriage; the dissolution of marriages; the distribution of property upon dissolution; various jurisdictional issues relating to marriage and divorce; and the arrangements between divorced parents regarding the custody, support and visitation of children. Specific topics include marriage, marital property regimes, divorce, child custody, non-marital cohabitation, non-traditional families, parental authority over children, support duties, child abuse and neglect, and adoption and other ways of adding children to one's family, as well as broad theoretical issues such as family privacy, alternative concepts of "family," and feminist legal perspectives.
Child, Parent & State (L08.3030). This three credit course is taught by Martin Guggenheim and focuses on the legal rights, responsibilities and disabilities of parents and children in the American legal system. Particular attention will be given to the interplay and often conflicting interests of children, parents, and the State. We will examine the historical background and development of the juvenile court, recent decisions involving due process rights of juvenile delinquents, the power of the State to intervene involuntarily into the family to protect children believed to be abused or neglected, the problems and issues involved in children in foster care, the rights of students, the rights of adolescents and “mature minors” in clashes with their parents, the right to sex-related medical treatment and the question of informed consent to medical care. Other subjects include adoption, the rights of unwed fathers, and third-party visitation (including grandparent visitation) laws. Special consideration will also be given to the role of counsel when representing children.
The Family and the State (L08.3025) is taught by Peggy Cooper Davis. It is a constitutional course which studies the role of the State in child rearing and family formation, The Family and the State is an analysis of constitutional, statutory, regulatory, and cultural frameworks within which family life is governed in the United States with an emphasis on constitutional principles that govern the regulation of sexuality, marriage, reproduction, and parenting.
SUPPLEMENTING THE FAMILY LAW CORE CURRICULUMNYU Law has a small family law core curriculum, but there are numerous courses that may be important to a career in family law. Please note that not all courses listed are offered every academic year.
Suggested courses for those primarily interested in private family law:
Accounting for Lawyers L03.3001
Advanced Mediation Clinic L02.2539
Alternate Dispute Resolution L09.3253
Civil Litigation (L09.2005)
Comparative Justice Clinic: Focus on Domestic Violence L02.2503
Estate and Gift Taxation L11.3006
Estate Planning L11.3007
Federal Courts and the Federal System (L09.2015)
Income Taxation L11.2001
International Litigation L05.3511
Mental Disability Law (L08.3535)
Sex Discrimination Law (L06.3553)
Suggested courses for those primarily interested in public family law:
Children's Rights Clinic L02.2547
Children's Rights in International Law L05.3563
Juvenile Defender Clinic L02.2565
Family Defense Clinic L02.2567