Parenting classes are fairly par for the course during a divorce with children involved. According to The Washington Post, a 2008 study by the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts showed that 48 states offer such classes in some form or another, while 27 required them. Some judges will refuse to grant a divorce until both parents complete such a course and fines can even be issued for refusal.
However, even if you are not ordered by the court to take a post-divorce parenting class, the widespread availability and potential benefits to your children make such classes well worth consideration. With courses frequently offered online, like those through Putting Kids First, as well as many in-class environments, there really isn’t much excuse.
(Prices are generally below $75 and community mental health organizations or the local courthouse frequently offer cheap or even free programs, so cost is usually not an obstacle).
The divorce courses cover a variety of topics to help you and your spouse transition through the process into single-parenthood while keeping your children’s feelings and needs at the forefront of your decision-making. Divorce is a delicate time for children, who get caught in the middle of fighting from mom and dad, and it can be easy to lose sight of keeping their welfare as your number-one concern.
Divorcing parents often have this misguided notion that they must be against each other at all times, which inevitably means they put their child aside as a lesser priority. They spend so much time fighting they forget about their mutual obligation, their child, who needs coordinated input from both parents to thrive.
These classes help you understand the emotional issues your children face, what kind of parental behaviors are damaging, effective communication / conflict resolution skills, the importance of accepting personal responsibility, acknowledging your individual parental responsibility and how to avoid using your children as pawns in the divorce. Some of the classroom versions also offer instruction from family and mental health practitioners, as well as role-playing exercises to drive home the points.
Another (sometimes more beneficial) option is a co-parenting class, which deals with the new family dynamics of divorced parents. After the fallout of a divorce, many former spouses have been fighting for so long that they can no longer communicate without it breaking down into a petty argument. This does not foster a sustainable relationship for sharing custody.
Additionally, many parents develop a fear of driving their children away, so they change their parenting style to make the kids enjoy being around them. Children, in turn, use this to their advantage: The parent who actually parents becomes a “monster,” while the parent who allows the children to run the show becomes the “fun” parent.
These are not healthy situations, and co-parenting classes will help you learn how to create a working relationship with your former spouse to ensure your children’s needs are always put first. The intent is to create an environment where your children don’t end up with a broken home, but two separate, fully-functioning homes.
Many people who take these courses come out with the realization that how they have been acting throughout the divorce has been damaging to their children’s well-being. That is why it is recommended to take these courses as early into the divorce process as possible. You want to gain a better understanding of your children’s needs before you inadvertently make things more difficult on them through harmful interactions with your spouse.
These classes can also help to improve communication between you and your spouse by showing that instead of focusing on your disputes with each other, both of you have something far more important that needs to take precedent.
Just remember that, as with any other type of educational course, you will get out what you put in. It is easy to sit back and zone out when you are required to take a class, kind of like gen eds in college. Can you still pass and get the certificate? Most likely. Will it benefit you and your children? Probably not.
If there is even a remote chance that something will come out of the course to improve how your children handle the divorce, isn’t it worth spending a few hours of your time paying attention?
One final bit of caution is to research different classes and consult with your attorney before you commit to signing up for a particular course. If you end up in a class that is geared toward basic parenting skills, that information is discoverable and your spouse could make the claim that you are an unfit parent because you are enrolled in a course designed to teach the basics. Just ensure that any class you sign up for is focused on divorce or post-divorce parenting, and you should be fine.
It can be easy to fall into a tunnel-vision mentality during a contentious divorce, where all of your focus is on fighting what your spouse wants. When there are children involved, however, this can be very detrimental to their welfare. These classes can help parents put aside their petty squabbling and focus on the most important aspect — their children’s well-being.
Mat Camp is a former Lexicon Services Online Editor, who focused on providing a comprehensive look into all aspects of the divorce experience. On MensDivorce.com, he concentrated on issues, such as parenting time, custodial rights, mediation, the division of assets, and so much more.
Mr. Camp used the wealth of experience of Cordell & Cordell attorneys to bring tangible answers to reader questions in Ask a Lawyer articles, as well as offer a step by step process through the divorce experience with Cordell & Cordell Co-Founder and Principal Partner Joseph E. Cordell in Divorce 101: A Guide for Men.
Mr. Camp used thorough research to highlight the challenging reality that those who go through divorce or child custody issues face. He helped foster the continued success of the Men’s Divorce Survival Guide, the Men’s Divorce Podcast, and the Men’s Divorce YouTube series “Attorney Bites.”