Family Law Curriculum

Lawyers deal with many issues that impact families. Many University of Richmond School of Law students will go into a private practice where they are likely to represent clients with family law issues including divorce, child custody and support, spousal support, adoption, and domestic violence. Other students will become public lawyers, representing state, county, and municipal entities that are responsible for enforcing child support and protective orders. Public lawyers represent departments of social services as they seek to protect children and spouses from violence and rehabilitate families so they can care for their own children. Law school alumni also become court appointed counsel for parents and guardians ad litem for children. Even students who enter fields outside the family law arena will likely confront family law issues on a regular basis. The lawyer who represents a client in a contract or other matter may well be consulted in the event that the client has a family related issue. This overview is designed to give all students at the law school information regarding opportunities in family law.

Introductory Course

In light of the importance of family law, all students should consider taking the introductory course in Family Law. This course provides students with a general overview of the law governing families, looking at formation and dissolution of marriage, pre-marital contracts, property settlement agreements, grounds and defenses for divorce, the parent child relationship, child support, custody and visitation, domestic violence, equitable distribution of marital or community property on divorce, and the role of the family lawyer.

Upper-Level Family Law Electives

After taking the introductory course, students considering a family law practice should take additional electives. The law school offers a rich variety of electives designed to broaden the student’s knowledge of the fields. These include Family Law Procedure, Domestic Violence Seminar (satisfies upper level writing requirement), Children and the Law, Collaborative Law, and Professional Responsibility - Family Law. These courses provide students with a broad base of knowledge on which to launch a family law career.

Electives in Other Areas

Additional electives that will enrich the knowledge base of any student interested in practicing family law include Estate Planning, Wills and Trusts, and Estate and Gift Tax, Federal Income Tax, Bioethics, and Education Law. The following practical skills courses are also recommended as valuable: Alternative Dispute Resolution, Negotiation, Interviewing and Counseling, and The Role of the Lawyer in Mediation.

Clinical Opportunities

In addition, the law school currently offers numerous clinical opportunities that are available to students in their second and third years of law school with an interest in families and children. Students in the Children's Defense Clinic represent adolescents accused of delinquency or status offenses, guardians seeking custody and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status orders for Central American children, and parents seeking educational services for children with disabilities. The clinic serves as a capstone experience for the Family Law Certificate.  The Elder Law practicum offers opportunities to assist residents of an assisted living facility with wills, powers of attorney, and other legal matters.  These courses provide students with an opportunity to apply the skills learned in doctrinal courses while representing indigent clients with significant legal problems. Enrollment in each of these opportunities is limited to eight students a semester.

The Externship Program offers numerous family law externship opportunities. Placements are available with the Richmond, Henrico, and Chesterfield Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Courts; the Office of the Richmond City Attorney, representing the Department of Social Services; the Legal Aid Justice Center; the Virginia Poverty Law Center; the Richmond Public Defender’s Office, Juvenile Division; and the Richmond and Chesterfield Commonwealth Attorney Offices, Juvenile Divisions.

Dual Degree Programs

In conjunction with Virginia Commonwealth University, law students can pursue a joint J.D./M.S.W degree. Applicants for the dual degree program must meet the admission standards of the law school and the graduate division of the VCU School of Social Work. Students accepted into this program will be permitted to count 12 semester hours of work in the law school toward satisfaction of the degree requirements of the M.S.W. program, and 12 semester hours of work in the M.S.W. program toward satisfaction of the degree requirements of the law school. Accordingly, students can meet the requirements for both degrees in four years.