Family Law and Policy

The Family Law & Policy Program at the University of Illinois College of Law is the place for creative and innovative thinking about challenges facing the modern family.  The public discussions hosted by the Program range from the New ART of Family and questions raised by assisted conception, to the status of polygamy, end-of-life decision making in families, and conversations on the linkages between family, work, healthcare, and poverty.  

In addition to introducing students to family law as a practice area, these explorations advance our understanding of the importance of families and the legal regulation of them. They also stimulate new scholarship in family law and children and the law by emerging scholars and international scholars and residents, as well as by the many thinkers and practitioners who participate in periodic conversations on the family, conversations with the author, and our large-scale symposia.


Robin Fretwell Wilson – Mildred Van Voorhis Jones Chair in Law

Affiliated Faculty

Yulanda Curtis – Associate Clinical Professor, Veterans Legal Clinic Director
Margareth Etienne – Senior Associate Dean for Graduate and International Programs and Carl L. Vacketta Professor of Law
Richard L. Kaplan – Guy Raymond Jones Chair in Law
Robin B. Kar – Professor of Law and Philosophy
Colleen Murphy – Associate Dean for Academic Affairs; Professor of Law, Philosophy, and Political Science; and Director, Women and Gender in Global Perspectives Program
Lesley Wexler – John D. Colombo Professor of Law
Jennifer Hardesty – Professor of Human Development and Family Studies
Brian Ogolsky – Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies
Ruby Mendenhall – Professor in Sociology, African American Studies, Urban and Regional Planning, and Social Work

Advisory Board

Jay P. Dahlin – Partner, Schiller DuCanto & Fleck LLP
Robert E. Jacobson – Partner, Flynn, Palmer, Tague & Jacobson
Stephanie Tang – Attorney, Kogut & Wilson, LLC
The Honorable Debra B. Walker – Cook County Circuit Court
Michael Strauss – Partner, Schlesinger & Strauss, LLC
Brian Blitz – Principal, Berger Schatz
The Honorable Arnold F. Blockman – Adjunct Professor of Family Law, University of Illinois College of Law

Student Opportunities

There are a wide variety of opportunities available to students interested in the practice of family law, including student organizations, targeted coursework, clinics, legal externships, and many more.

Program Hosted Events

Annual Lecture by the Lifetime Achievement in Family Law Award Winner

This annual lecture is delivered by the recipient of the Family Law and Policy Program’s Lifetime Achievement in Family Law Award. This award recognizes great scholarly contributions to our understanding of the family and family law by individuals who have made a felt impact on the contours of the law and honors scholars who have shaped family law through their writing, advocacy, or public service, as well as mentoring of younger colleagues in the field.

Professor Robin Wilson presents Naomi Cahn with the 2017 Lifetime Achievement in Family Law Award.

Lifetime Achievement in Family Law Award recipients:

  • 2019: Baroness Ruth Deech, MP, House of Lords. Her lecture “Brexit: The Implications for Human Welfare” was delivered on September 16, 2019. 
  • 2017: Naomi Cahn, Harold H. Greene Professor of Law at The George Washington University Law School. Her lecture “The New ART of Family: Developments in the Law of Assisted Reproductive Technologies,” occurred on September 14, 2017.
  • 2016: John Witte Jr., Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law, McDonald Distinguished Professor, and Director, Center for the Study of Law & Religion at Emory University School of Law. His lecture “Why No Polygamy” was delivered on Constitution Day, September 16, 2016.
  • 2015: Harry Krause, Max L. Rowe Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois College of Law, and William Eskridge, John A. Garver Professor of Jurisprudence at Yale Law School, received the Inaugural Awards for Lifetime Achievement in Family Law. Professor Eskridge delivered the lecture “Latter-Day Constitutionalism” on September 10, 2015.

Better Angels Award

On March 14, 2018 Judge Jane Waller was honored as the second recipient of the Better Angels Award for her commitment and service to families.

On October 18, 2016 the Family Law & Policy Program and Family Law Society presented Judge Arnold Blockman with the inaugural Better Angels Award for his steadfast compassion for the family.

Harry Krause Emerging Family Law Scholars Workshop

Named for Professor Harry D. Krause, who joined the University of Illinois law faculty in 1963 as an assistant professor and rose to become the Max. L Rowe Professor of Law, this annual workshop is designed to assist and mentor emerging scholars in family law and related fields – such as reproductive rights, biomedical ethics, law and aging, children and the law, law and gender, and law and sexuality – to hone draft papers and works in progress for submission to journals for publication. The workshop provides not only a mechanism for senior scholars to mentor emerging scholars, but also is an opportunity for emerging scholars writing in these fields to connect with one another.

Conversations on the Family

The Family Law & Policy Program regularly sponsors conversations with scholars in the field of family law and children and the law. These conversations center on tough issues that face families across the world, ranging from socio-economic challenges to the effect of gun violence on maternal health and family functioning. Our inaugural Conversation on the Family focused on When Economic Struggles Constrain Family Choices. It featured national and state thought leaders, ranging from William Galston of The Brookings Institute to state authorities like Janet Ahern, Chief Deputy Counsel for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, judges including Helaine L. Berger, Associate Judge on the Circuit Court of Cook County, Domestic Relations Division, and scholars including June Carbone and Naomi Cahn, authors of “Marriage Markets: How Inequality is Remaking the American Family.”

Conversations With the Author

The Family Law & Policy Program regularly hosts conversations with the authors of works that focus on the modern family on the occasion of the publication of their new book. Our featured authors have topped the New York Times bestseller list, been featured in the book review section of the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and other national pages. These authors spotlight issues ranging from women’s reproductive health to elder care to the interplay between modern medicine and religious beliefs.

International Family Law Scholar in Residence

The Family Law & Policy Program periodically hosts international scholars, who lecture to law school classes on family law and children and the law, give public lectures, and do faculty workshops. Past scholars have come from the University of Padua, the second oldest university in the world (Professor Federica Giardini) and Universitat Internacional de Catalunya (Professor Montserrat Gas). Spending time in residence opens our world class libraries to visiting faculty and has fostered countless professional interactions internationally. We hope that scholars spending time in the United States will reach out to Professor Robin Wilson, the director, about the possibility of spending time with the Family Law & Policy Program while they are in the United States.

Partnerships to Explore Pressing Issues in Family Law

In addition to these annual programs, the Family Law and Policy program will partner with other programs, colleges and units at the University Illinois, and outside groups to enrich the discussion of pressing issues in family law. Together with the Family Law Society, the program will periodically host the Breakfast and Learn series.

  • “Gay Rights, Nondiscrimination, and Religious Liberty: Can We Avoid a Train Wreck?” – Breakfast Conversation with Jonathan Rauch (October 18, 2016)
  • “Law, Religion and the Family Unit After Hobby Lobby: A Tribute to Professor Harry Krause” (September 10-11, 2015)
  • “Footprints of Canon Law in American Family Law” – Montserrat Gas, Universitat Internacional de Catalunya (September 9, 2014)

Tolerance Means Dialogues

  • Religion and Gay Marriage: Do They Have to Be at Odds? A dialogue between William Eskridge, Jr. (Yale Law School) and Robin Fretwell Wilson (University of Illinois College of Law), March 16, 2017 at University of Pittsburgh School of Law
  • Religion and Child Welfare: Do They Have to Be at Odds? A dialogue between Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, Shaakirrah Sanders (University of Idaho College of Law), and Robin Fretwell Wilson (University of Illinois College of Law), April 4, 2017 at Idaho State Capitol Building

Additional information on upcoming and past Tolerance Means Dialogues is available at