Family Law Degree Program Options

Family law is offered as a certificate within a J.D. program, as a dual J.D.-Master of Social Work program or as a major in a Master of Law, post-J.D. program.

Essential Information

Family law is a general practice field that encompasses child custody, divorce, abuse, partnerships and contracts, in addition to child psychology. Like other U.S. attorneys, family lawyers must have a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree, be members in good standing of their state Bar and hold current licenses. In addition to the formal education requirement of an undergraduate degree, applicants may need to submit letters of recommendations, short-answer questions, and/or proof of previous work and extracurricular experience. For the dual degree, admission to both law school and school of social work may be needed.

Juris Doctor with a Family Law Certificate

The United States requires all practicing lawyers to have a J.D. degree, obtained after successful graduation from an accredited law school. The broad scope of family law leads many lawyers to pursue a family law certificate, which typically requires four courses in a child and family law curriculum. Students who are enrolled in a J.D. program and are interested in specializing in family law must complete practical courses that relate to both regular criminal law and aspects of family law. These programs typically last three years. Some of the family law specific classes include:

  • Adoption law
  • Legal rights of children
  • Comparative family law
  • Non-traditional family law
  • Tax and financial implications of divorce

Juris Doctor / Master of Social Work (MSW) Dual-Degree Program

The dual J.D./MSW degree program is designed for students who plan to a take a more activist approach practicing family law. This program gives lawyers a broad understanding of the complex nature of the interaction of human behavior and public policy that helps them to advocate for victims. The combined social work and law program includes a social work practicum in addition to legal coursework. These programs usually take 4 years to complete. Besides general law courses, students also enroll in classes such as:

  • Clinical social work and family violence
  • Crisis intervention
  • Social work and social justice
  • Domestic violence
  • Substance abuse

Master of Law (LL.M.) in Family Law - Post Juris Doctor (J.D.)

This degree program is designed for those who already possess a J.D. and either desire additional structured training in family law or plan to pursue it after years in another practice area. Courses included in an LL.M. in Family Law degree program typically provide students with an advanced background into specializations of the family law practice. Some examples include:

  • Advanced issues in family law
  • Children and divorce
  • Financial implications of divorce
  • Mediation and negotiation in family law
  • Family law trial advocacy
  • Litigation strategies in family law
  • Advanced family law motion practices

Popular Career Options

A J.D. degree and a certificate in family law prepare individuals for several different careers defending, representing and advocating family causes. Some potential careers are:

  • Public defender
  • Women's rights advocate, father's rights advocate
  • Adoption specialist
  • Reproductive rights specialist
  • Non-traditional family specialist

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Career options for graduates of an LL.M. in Family Law program are similar to those available for graduates of a J.D. program in family law. Graduates may add specialties in divorce, child custody, abuse, neglect and family violence to their current practice. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that employment of lawyers was predicted to grow six percent between 2014 and 2024. The job market was expected to remain competitive. As of May 2015, lawyers earned a median annual wage of $115,820 (

Continuing Education Information

All practicing lawyers must maintain a current state license in order to legally practice law. Many states also require continuing education classes that cover changes in the law as they pertain to the states in which they practice. Additionally, those who plan to actively practice clinical social work must be licensed and maintain the licensure according to state guidelines.

Aspiring lawyers wishing to work in family law can pursue subject-specific certificates within J.D. programs or family law major's within master's of law programs. Relevant coursework may cover children and divorce, domestic violence, substance abuse, and other topics through a legal perspective.

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