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.
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.
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