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Family law is one of the most commonly taken elective courses in law school. Since it is not a required course, students generally take it in their second or third year of law school. Family law is not tested by the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), but is typically found on the unique essay portions of state bar exams. Family law largely focuses on legal issues surrounding marriage and children. When family law is avoided by law students, it is frequently because the class has a negative reputation as an unsavory divorce law course. While the dissolution of marriage is an important aspect of family law, the class is much more diverse and complex than many law students give it credit for.
Family law includes elements of both contract law and constitutional law; in particular, the Fourteenth Amendment. Much of the analysis focuses on when state laws that circumscribe individuals' ability to marry or raise their children are permissible. The constitutional issues that are presented in family law classes tend to give many law students great difficulty. This is because constitutional law is one of the more complex classes in law school. Additionally, the Fourteenth Amendment is usually the focus of its own, more advanced class, and not all students choose to study it. Thus, family law students often have only had limited exposure to the most difficult materials in the class. This can make the analyses that are used by the Supreme Court difficult to follow. What is a fundamental right? Do people have a fundamental right to marry and to raise their children? Where are the limits to those rights? What is a compelling state interest? Should the court apply strict scrutiny to a law? If not, which test should the court use?