New Course at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago Focuses on Guiding Domestic Violence Survivors Through Divorce

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Professor touts importance of hands-on class as Domestic Violence Awareness Month continues.

Professor touts importance of hands-on class as Domestic Violence Awareness Month continues.

Divorce cases involving domestic violence survivors pose unique challenges, and a new course at The John Marshall Law School will help prepare students to handle them.

The course, Family Law Advocacy for Survivors of Domestic Violence, will be co-taught in January by Professor Debra Pogrund Stark of John Marshall and Beth McCormack and Bryan Wilson of Kamerlink Stark McCormack & Powers.

The course will focus on the nature and dynamics of domestic violence so that students will understand, first and foremost, the phenomenon of separation assault and the importance of safety planning.

“When you’re working with survivors, if you don’t understand the underlying dynamic of this, you can, in fact, do some harm unintentionally,” Stark said.

Students will learn about the tremendous emotional and psychological harm their clients have experienced so that they can better prepare their clients for difficulties they are likely to encounter in the divorce action. Students also will learn how the motivation of power and control is often at the heart of the abusive partner’s actions, how that is likely to play out during the divorce action and steps attorneys can take to address this.

After learning about the nature of domestic violence, the students will then focus on the Illinois laws relating to several issues – including grounds for dissolution of marriage, spousal support, child custody and procedural matters, and ethical obligations – using a simulation model based on a specific case.

The course also will cover orders of protection under the Illinois Domestic Violence Act and touch on other key laws clients can benefit from, such as the Safe Housing Act and the Victim Economic Security and Safety Act.

After taking this practical, interdisciplinary approach to representing survivors seeking a divorce and related remedies, the students will have an opportunity to put what they have learned to use in the following semester.

Professor Stark has developed field placement clinical internships with the family law attorneys co-teaching the Family Law Advocacy course with her, as well as with nonprofit legal service providers such as the Legal Assistance Foundation, the Chicago Legal Clinic, and the Domestic Violence Legal Clinic.

“This is a great opportunity for our students,” Stark said. “The best form of teaching is having students actually perform the legal work, such as drafting a petition for dissolution or appearing before a judge on a contested motion or prove-up. The key is that this work be done under proper supervision and after an adequate groundwork has been laid.”

The course is a prime example of John Marshall’s focus on experiential learning. John Marshall leads the nation in the number of credits required in practice-based courses, and in fall 2013 became one of only a few American law schools requiring three credits of clinical work or an externship to graduate.

About The John Marshall Law School
The John Marshall Law School, founded in 1899, is an independent law school located in the heart of Chicago’s legal, financial and commercial districts. Through classes, clinics and special programs, students develop the strategic, analytical and transactional lawyering skills that are so valuable to employers. Its excellent curriculum, coupled with outstanding skills and experiential learning, help make John Marshall graduates practice-ready from day one. For practicing attorneys, John Marshall offers nine LLM degrees, more than any other law school in the Midwest. John Marshall is also a leader in providing distance education options in intellectual property, estate planning and employee benefits at the advanced graduate degree level. John Marshall offers six clinical experiences, including the nationally recognized Veterans Legal Support Center & Clinic and the Fair Housing Legal Clinic. U.S. News & World Report’s America’s Best Graduate Schools 2014 edition ranks John Marshall’s Lawyering Skills Program second and its Intellectual Property Law program 12th in the nation.

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Marilyn Thomas
The John Marshall Law School
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