Should Divorce and Separate Parenting Classes be Required Before Filing for Divorce?

The following is a comment I shared about an article addressing Sen. Dan Hall’s proposed legislation to require the completion of divorce education prior to being allowed to file for divorce. Divorce and separate parenting classes are a must for divorcing couples and parents. I believe the classes should be required before filing for dissolution and I fully support the new legislation.

As a Parents Forever educator, divorce mediator and post decree parenting specialist I fully support a requirement that parties be required to take a divorce education class prior to being allowed to file for divorce with the court. The current requirement only applies in contested custody cases and has limited enforcement, primarily due to limited court resources and the fact that a case often needs to be actively involved in the court process before a judge inquires about or becomes aware of the parties’ compliance. As a result, the current legislation often results in parties being court ordered to attend classes late in their divorce process, after attorneys have been retained and positions entrenched – and often after the legal battle has been fought and the children have already been caught in the cross-fire of a high-conflict divorce. Because the classes provide information about alternative dispute resolution (ADR) options – such as mediation, early neutral evaluation (ENE) and cooperative legal processes such as Collaborative or Cooperative Law – class participation early in the legal process is critical being that the goal of these classes is to educate parties about options, reduce acrimony, protect children from conflict, and increase the use of ADR (which saves court resources and the parties’ resources); more importantly, the classes help parents focus on their children and learn skills for effective separate parenting.

These classes are the best way to educate parties about the legal divorce process and common pitfalls of separate parenting. They are not therapy and they are not aimed at reconciliation. Parties are encouraged to attend classes separately and domestic abuse is a required part of the curriculum. Providers of these classes have DA safety protocols in place to ensure victims and abusers are not registered for the same class.

The current requirement applies to contested custody cases only and is for an eight hour course. Most providers offer two classes of 4 hours each: one focused on the divorce process and the other on separate parenting skills. It is important to note that divorcing couples without minor children also benefit from the information provided by these classes. The cost of a 4 hour class is generally around $40-60 – double that for the full 8 hour course. Most providers also accept IFP and offer need based reduced fee.

I have yet to meet a class participant who received no benefit from these classes. The feedback I receive is overwhelmingly positive including from those participants who were court ordered to attend and who arrive expecting drudgery. One of the most common comments received is, “I wish I had taken this class earlier.” Participants gain valuable information and understanding about the divorce process and separate parenting – and most comment that their time was (sometimes surprisingly) well spent.

Read the article at: http://hometownsource.com/2012/02/17/sen-halls-divorcee-parenting-classes-bill-on-hold/#comment-7783

Written by: Amber M. Serwat, MA

Amber is a divorce and parenting specialist in private practice in Burnsville, MN – she is also a divorced parent and step-parent of three teenage children, ages 16-13.

amber@amsmediationplus.com | 952.252.1492

 

Comments

Posted On
Jul 19, 2012
Posted By
EJ Perth

RE: As a Parents Forever educator, divorce mediator and post decree parenting specialist I fully support a requirement that parties be required to take a divorce education class prior to being allowed to file for divorce with the court.

As a mother fleeing domestic violence after being beaten up, and literally running with a backpack full of odd n’ ends and a kid in each arm, I disrespectfully disagree. Divorce saved my life, though it did not save my kids because Family Court awarded full custody to the abuser (and there have been several incidents of documented abuse since the court order, one child has attempted to run away from father’s home several times as well).

If it were mandated that an abused spouse HAD to take “Parents Forever” before divorce was granted, many abused women would see this as an obstacle (one of many they face when running for their lives, often becoming homeless & destitute in the process, as I was) and therefore, decide to stay in the abusive marriage. Further, abusers often manipulate and prolong court proceedings as a way to further hurt their partner, to gain control or further intimidate them. Children are often used as pawns in their acts of retaliation (this is called Domestic Violence By Proxy). Mandating “Parents Forever” would then become another tool of the abuser, and it actually may work to strengthen his message–intimidating the partner to return to the relationship or frightening her so she may give in rather than assert her rights.

Finally, it is very difficult to find a provider who accepts the IFP waiver or discount. When you have no money, and basically are living on the streets, and now have additional legal costs it becomes very difficult to afford any extras. The Court will mandate Parents Forever and if you don’t comply, you will get in trouble or potentially lose custody and/or parenting time. There has to be another option for clients who cannot afford this class, and can prove a financial reason why.

I think Parents Forever can be a helpful class but it’s use should be on a case by case basis, as determined by the needs of the family and their ability to pay for it.

Regards, EJ Perth

PS: Lundy Bancroft is a great source of information & insight on Family Court issues, and how the system fails abuse survivors: http://lundybancroft.blogspot.com/

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