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Family Law: How to Become a Family Lawyer

Have you ever thought about studying or practising family law? This page tells you what to expect from this incredibly diverse area of law.

It also includes the types of work lawyers are involved in and information on how to become a family lawyer.

Contents

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What is Family Law?

Family Law focuses on finding solutions to issues relating to often complex legal relationships. These include marriage and parenthood among others. For this reason, family law practice can involve work with varying groups from children to the elderly and any others in between. Because family law relates to some very personal aspects of a client’s life, it can be one of the most emotive areas of law to practice.

At degree level, family law often comprises an elective module in the final year of a student’s LLB degree. Modules can vary by university and may include a sociological look at the way society views family as well as a specific focus on the law’s practical application.

Family Law Topics

Family Law is incredibly diverse. This means that the topics studied at one institution are often different from those studied at another.

Most modules will feature some core topics (such as marriage, divorce and children) as well as others which will be more specifically linked to the professors’ areas of expertise.

Examples include:

How to Become a Family Lawyer

To become a family lawyer, you must demonstrate certain personal characteristics and relevant work experience. You’ll also have to indicate your passion for the subject.

What kind of personality suits a career in family law?

A career in family law may require working with both adults and children, so you must be prepared for client-facing work. These children and adults may find themselves in distressing situations, and so you muse be able to cope in those scenarios.

It also helps if you have a passion for helping people and want to work on handling relationships and interacting with your clients. Your work as a family lawyer will vary hugely from that of a tax lawyer, for example. It is also important to be able to detach yourself from the client and their problems on a personal level, as you must always stay professional.

What Work Experience do I need to become a Family Lawyer?

If you are looking to go into a career in family law, some impressive work experience includes:

What does a Family Lawyer do?

Family Lawyers exist to help clients understand their position and resolve any issues relating to any particular familial arrangement. They can draft pre-nuptial agreements before marriage to protect someone’s financial interests, advise on the grounds of divorce or civil partnership dissolution and draft separation agreements.

Family lawyers can also advise on reasonable financial settlements following divorce and make sure assets are divided reasonably and fairly between parties.

Regarding children, family lawyers negotiate arrangements such as contact, residence and access. They also facilitate the resolution of specific issues in a child’s upbringing such as who has parental responsibility to make certain decisions regarding the child.

Family lawyers are best placed to make applications for any court orders which might be relevant to the case they are working on.  If no settlement can be made, a family lawyer can also help clients through the in-court process.

On a day-to-day basis, a family lawyer might have to:

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What Should I be Aware of if I Want to Become a Family Lawyer?

There are several terms to familiarise yourself with if you want to specialise in family law. You must also be aware of the difference between private and public family law.

Private Family Law

Private Family Law cases are those brought forward by individuals. These generally include divorce, civil partnership dissolution and private disputes concerning children.

Additionally, they can involve matters such as financial applications, special guardianship orders and orders under s8 of the Children Act 1989 to decide a child’s primary residence, parental contact and other specific disputes.

On the other hand, Public Family Law cases are those brought forward by local authorities or an authorised person such as the NSPCC to protect the child.

These can include matters such as care orders regarding a child’s parental responsibility, supervision orders to put a child under the supervision of the local authority and emergency protection orders which ensure a child’s immediate safety.

Family Law Arbitration

Arbitration is an out-of-court process and an alternative way to resolve disputes. It is private, confidential and carried out by a trained arbitrator.

More often nowadays, family law practice includes a commitment to offering alternative dispute resolution such as arbitration to avoid resorting to potentially stressful court action. Some family lawyers may even have trained as mediators or arbitrators to be able to provide such services to their clients

During family law arbitration, parties enter into an agreement under which they allow the arbitrator to adjudicate a dispute regarding finances or children following a relationship breakdown. They agree to be bound by the reasoned written decision of the arbitrator.

Arbitration is often described as faster and more flexible than formal court decision making. Due to this, it is often more cost-effective than court.

However, arbitration is not suitable for everyone. For example, if one party may attempt to hide assets or if one of the parties is in fear of the other or is particularly vulnerable, arbitration may not be suitable.

Family Law Act 1996

The Family Law Act (FLA) is an Act of Parliament governing divorce law and marriage. It was brought into force in 1996. The purpose of the act was to modernise the divorce process whilst moving forward with a general goal of saving marriages and making divorce more peaceful.

Before its implementation, the new divorce procedure under this act which included compulsory information meetings before divorce was tested.

Unfortunately, despite seemingly advantageous goals, the FLA 1996 was not well received in pilot studies. For that reason, up until the governments’ recent commitment to implementing “no-fault divorce”, the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 continued to contain the relevant provisions regarding divorce.

Family Law Firms

There are many specialist Family Law firms in the UK as well as firms that have renowned family law departments. Some of which include:

Family Law Books

There are plenty of family law books available to help those studying the topic. Prices listed are for the newest editions of the books. Older editions will be cheaper and just as valuable.

NameAuthorPrice (approximate)
Family LawJonathan Herring£34
Family Law, Text, Cases and MaterialsJoanna Miles, Rob George, Sonia Harris-Short£35,99
Great Debates in Family LawJonathan Herring£27
Family Law Made Simple - Marriage, Divorce, Children, Separation and The Legal SystemSlater & Gordon£4
Family Law Concentrate: Law Revision and Study GuideSusan Heenan and Anna Heenan£9,99
Family Law A to Z: A Reference Book for Litigants and StudentsNick Langford and Ruth Langford£14,99
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Written by Alicia Gibson and Amy Cheng.

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