Co-Parenting After Divorce

Co-Parenting After Divorce

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Updated on May 21, 2014

"For Kids' Sake", "Parents and Children Together", "Healing Hearts", "Putting Kids First"...The names may differ from state to state and the curriculum may vary from program to program, but all over the nation parents facing divorce are also facing the prospect of attending co-parenting classes. And many are not there voluntarily. By 2001, 28 states had passed legislation creating divorce education programs, and the number of states with programs continues to grow. Of those initial states, 15 mandate attendance while the rest put the decision in the hands of the court on a case-by-case basis.

To some it's a slippery slope. Why single out divorced parents for parent education when there are plenty of intact couples who could benefit from learning parenting skills? To others it makes perfect sense: if a couple can't get along well enough to stay married, how can they be expected to communicate well enough to co-parent children?

Some of the indignation in being mandated to go to parenting classes lies in the implication that if a couple has children, then any unresolved disputes in their divorce involve custody concerns. Dianna Gould-Saltman, a Certified Family Law Specialist and a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, practices matrimonial law in Los Angeles and is an expert in child custody issues. She remembers this implication being an issue when California introduced legislation mandating a 3-hour "Parents and Children Together" class. "Initially there was talk that if there were children involved at all then you should send these people to the PACT program," recalls Gould-Saltman. However it didn't end up that way, she says. Now simply filing for divorce doesn't automatically mean attendance at PACT; it's only required if the involved parties are asking the court to make a decision regarding custody.

Some of the indignation arises from what may be a simple semantic misunderstanding. When people hear they are being ordered to attend parenting classes, they tend to assume that their parenting skills are being questioned. While in some high-conflict situations this may be true, most co-parenting classes are designed to help parents understand how divorce affects their children.  "We initially called them parenting classes and then switched to co-parenting so that it wouldn't be insulting," explains Risa Garon, a social worker, family life therapist and Executive Director of the National Family Resiliency Center, Inc. (NFRC) "It's really co-parenting after family transitions."

"I would say," explains Gould-Saltman, "that what the intention of it is here is to give the parents better communication skills because the current communication methods and style are not working and it's impacting the children." It's that impact on children that the legislated classes are trying to minimize. The NFRC, in fact, was developed to fill the gap in services that existed for children and families in transition. "There was very little multi-disciplinary communication among judges, attorneys, mediators and mental health professionals," says Garon. The NFRC aids that communication by offering a number of services, including classes that fulfill court-mandates.

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