What is divorce education and why is there a need? As the number of family-related court filings has risen over the years, families have increasingly relied on the courts to resolve family law issues and problems including child custody, visitation, child support, paternity, emergency protective orders, and restraining orders. In our society, divorce is a common event. The National Center for Health Statistics indicated that 43 percent of first marriages end in separation or divorce within 15 years (Barnlett & Mosher, 2001). In an effort to help family members cope with divorce, judges are increasingly requiring parents to attend programs to make them more aware of the impact of divorce on children. These programs give families exposure to information and skills that may ultimately lead to a reduction in the number of disputes that require a court’s intervention. Most importantly, by requiring divorcing parents to attend these programs, the courts are making a statement to the community that “children matter”! Divorce education programs are being treated as a “first line of defense”. It is estimated that up to a million children a year across the country will experience the impact of divorce.
Divorce often creates or complicates problems for parents and children. Parents are faced with the difficulties of handling their own physical, emotional, social and financial needs while, at the same time, helping their children adjust to the changes in their life. Some parents fail to recognize just how significant and upsetting these changes may be for children. Yet, it is possible to focus on positive adjustment to divorce. Positive adjustment involves being relatively free of signs and symptoms of physical or mental illness; being able to function adequately in the daily role responsibilities of home, family, work, and leisure; and having developed an independent identity that is not tied to martial status or the ex-spouse (Kitson & Mogan, 1990).
Divorce education programs are being developed around the country to help parents assist their children through this process. There are a 1000 + such programs operating in the United States, some of these programs offer on-line courses, which meet the court approved national standard. In Kentucky, there are different styles of divorce education utilized by the court system. These programs vary in course length, cost, skills-based and information-based, but, all of which focus on reducing a child’s anxiety, depression, and behavioral problems; recognizing parental conflict and how conflict impacts a child’s development; communicating effectively; responding appropriately to children’s divorce related concerns; and changing long-term roles from ex-spouses to co-parenting relationships. Divorce education programs according to research are more effective when a children’s component has been included in the curriculum. It is essential to address issues for both the children and the parents.
Research shows divorce education programs where parents master skills are more effective in reducing litigation and feel they are better able to help their children than the didactic formatted programs (Family and Conciliation Courts Review, Arbuthnot, J, Kramer, K, & Gordon, D July 1997 PP 269-279). Several experimental studies of lengthier, research-based programs designed to facilitate children’s post-divorce adjustment have been conducted that show promising behavioral and psychological changes in both parents and children (Haine, Sandler, Wolchik, Tein, & Dawson-McClure, 2003). Program content that includes strength-based skills, rather than focusing on the weaknesses can improve the future outcomes of the children, the parents, and the family.
More than half of Kentucky’s 56 judicial circuits have some form of Divorce Education that is mandated by the local circuit courts.
Recognizing and utilizing genuine parent/family strengths to allow building onto existing skills and effectively addressing concerns.Strength based programs believe that parents have the resources to learn new skills and solve problems and therefore involve them in the process of discovery, learning, and coping with the challenges they may face.
Practical learning, engage in discussions, do home-work, and practice skills in and out of class. Parents learn communication and cooperative parenting skills that help them to resolve parenting conflicts rather than use the court system to resolve family conflict. Typically 4 to 6 hours in length.
Convey information in a didactic format setting using lecture, videotape, and handouts. Instructor communicates basic information regarding parenting, co-parenting, children concerns, and court issues. Typically 1 to 2 hours in length.
- Focused Intervention:
Designed for moderate to high conflict individuals or couples who are in high-risk situations. The focal point is group setting, using primarily experiential strategies. Program helps parents develop individualized plans for addressing their own difficult situations. Typically 8 to 12 weeks in length.
- Parental Conflict:
Any action, deed, or word that places a child between their parents or forces a child to choose one parent over the other. Parental conflict is harmful to the children because it interferes with responsible parenting necessary for healthy development.
- Loyalty Conflicts:
Children may feel pressured by one or both parents to reject the other parent. Children may feel that they are pulled in two directions. A child may think if he/she gets close to one parent they are doing something to hurt the other parent.
- Post-divorce adjustment:
“The process of adapting to the life-changes that result from divorce and achieving psychological and emotional well-being following the divorce.” This definition was inclusive of indicators of both positive adjustment and maladjustment. (Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, Vol. 46, 2007)