Mandatory Parenting Classes: What to Expect
- Why some states mandate a parenting class
- What to expect
- What to do if the class makes you uncomfortable
Any person going through a divorce is bound to feel overwhelmed at least some of the time. Even if you’re the one who initiated the divorce, the changes you face are huge and life-altering. Not only that, but you must jump through a series of legal hoops to get your divorce finalized.
Divorce costs money and time, and parents may feel extra pressure because they know this life change is also affecting their kids. Add to this the fact that you have to take a court-ordered parenting class, and you may feel pushed over the edge. You are already a parent with X years of experience. Why does the state make it their business to butt in at this painful time?
Why some states require you to take a parenting course in divorce
Some states require all divorcing parents to participate in a parent education program. Some states require you to take a class only if your divorce is contested. And some leave it up to the judge presiding over your divorce case – they get to decide whether you can skip it or must attend.
If you’re a parent who must take a mandatory parenting class, you may feel offended by the requirement. You may feel judged, as though the higher-ups in government have deemed you in need of remedial support. You may feel irritated by the imposition on your time. Some classes cost parents money, and that may irk you, too. After all, you’re already spending a lot on this divorce.
We’re here to help you put it in perspective. Based on our research, we believe the following:
- Your state government is trying to do what’s best for all kids in the state, though it may not come across that way.
- Your required class can probably be completed in less than a day.
- It probably won’t cost much, if anything at all.
If you’re asked to take a class or two (sometimes there’s also a “divorce education” or “divorce orientation” class), try not to take it personally. Think of it as just one more legal hoop you must jump through.
What to expect
We did some investigating, and while we can’t speak for all states and jurisdictions, this is what we found.
Sometimes, there is a fee to take a class. If so, it’s usually (with rare exceptions) under $100. If the fee imposes a hardship, ask your court clerk if you could fill out a fee waiver application.
Virtual: Many online parenting classes are offered in a video format. That means you can complete them at your leisure, hitting the pause button to take breaks as needed. Online classes usually have “check for understanding” points that require you to enter a response on your keyboard at random times.
In-person: In-person classes may be available in your location. Dates and times may be listed on the state court website, or you may have to dial a phone number provided by the court to find out more about the time and place.
Live online: Online courses are available via Zoom in many U.S. locations. These classes are an in-person/online hybrid. Dates and times may be listed online by the court, or you may have to do a bit of investigating to find out the particulars.
Some states hire experts to create their own parenting class curriculum. Others post a list of approved providers who offer their own parenting class curriculum, and you can choose from that list.
The class may last as little as an hour or as much as eight hours. Most classes hover between the two- and three-hour mark.
Mandatory parenting classes tend to focus on the well-being of children as their parents go through a divorce. The following concepts may be explored:
- How divorce affects minor children by age group: Very young children have a different experience with divorce than tweens and teens. The course may outline what behaviors you might see. For example, little kids may have more tantrums; older kids may withdraw or engage in risky behaviors.
- How parents can minimize a child’s stress: Although you can’t prevent your kids from reacting to your divorce, there are “best practices” for handling their reactions and behavior. For example, you may be advised to invite your child to express their emotions and to empathize with and validate their feelings. You might also be advised to refrain from badmouthing your spouse and to minimize the child’s exposure to parental conflict.
- How to co-parent peacefully: For divorcing couples without children, divorce is a clean break from someone they never have to see again. But couples who share children will be tied to each other for the rest of their lives. As a co-parent, you’ll need to find a way to co-exist and parent together. Your required class may offer you some tips on conflict resolution and other issues.
- Your parental responsibility: Your class may review good parenting skills and gently (or not so gently) remind you of your obligations to your kids during these family changes. In fact, we heard one instructor tell parents that they “still need to feed the children” during their divorce. If you hear this, you might feel offended because, well, you already know you have to feed your children. Try to view it this way: The course wasn’t designed for you personally. It was designed for masses of divorcing parents, some of whom might actually need such a reminder.
Free downloadable Hello Divorce worksheet: Create Your Co-Parenting Plan
Proving you completed the class
If the class is required for you to get your divorce decree, you’ll need to provide proof that you completed it. The required proof is usually outlined on the state website. Many courses offer a certificate of completion. Find out how to get this and where to submit it for approval.
What to do if a mandatory class makes you uncomfortable
A common complaint we’ve heard from clients about these classes is that they feel judged by the teacher or the course curriculum itself. We get this. After all, divorce is a highly personal issue – and so is parenting. You’re already in a precarious and emotional position; bringing a stranger into the mix who appears to think they know more than you can be off-putting.
The thing is, if the course is required for you to get divorced, there’s no way around it. So, try to enter it with an open mind. Give it a chance. You may be pleasantly surprised. (“I agreed with everything they said, and it was great to be reminded of some best parenting practices.”) Or, you may be annoyed. (“I felt like they were trying to talk me out of my divorce. I didn’t appreciate their know-it-all stance.”)
If you get a negative vibe from the course, one option is to write down your thoughts and submit them – anonymously, if you wish – to the court. Here are some complaints clients have voiced about their required parenting course:
- I felt like the course was trying to talk me out of divorce. They don’t even know what I’ve been going through!
- I felt like the instructor judged me for getting a divorce. It came across in the things they said and the way they said them.
- I felt like the course overstressed the negatives and downplayed the potential positives of divorce. For some families, including mine, it’s the best choice.
- I wasn’t sure if all the “research” presented in the course was valid. There was a whole lot of negative, and the only divorce expert cited was a person born in the 1920s.
If you report your thoughts and concerns, they may do nothing about it. Or, they may investigate your complaint and consider revamping their curriculum or working with a different course provider. Either way, you’ve put your feelings in writing which, as you may have read in our article, Journaling to Cope with Divorce and Other Major Life Transitions, can be a great way to release stress.
At Hello Divorce, we know people don’t embark on this life change lightly. You’ve probably been wrestling with the possibility of divorce for a long time now. The last thing you want is a roadblock in the form of a state-mandated course. Approach this small hurdle in your divorce process with an open mind, and know that we’ve heard your complaints and concerns. Keep your head above water, and march on toward your goal. Your next chapter awaits, and it can be a great one for you, your ex, and your kids.