Massachusetts has done away with mandatory parenting classes for divorced parents. Some considered this process archaic, as divorce has become widely socially acceptable and is not necessarily detrimental to a child’s happiness or development.
The time when it can be appropriate is during a contested divorce, where custodial or financial decisions cannot be met without the help of the court. You can seek counseling or seek the help of child psychologists. Some lawyers are even licensed parenting coordinators, such as Talia Simonds of Amaral & Associates P.C.
Massachusetts was one of only seventeen states to require parenting classes in any sort of divorce, contested or not. In the 1990s, the classes were first instituted in Massachusetts, to show parents the effects of divorce on their children. The classes typically consist of PowerPoint presentations, informative videos, and break through discussions.
Emphasis was often given to the topics of how to improve dynamics between divorce parents and to not fight in front of children. Most of these classes were around $80 a course, and last year almost 10,000 parents took the course from one of the twenty-four private, nonprofit providers. There has been an immense increase in divorces during the Covid-19 pandemic, so numbers of those enrolled could rise in the next year or two.
Spelman College assistant professor Moon Charania’s research on these types of courses believes that these types of courses shame parents and demonstrate the idea that divorced parents “will inevitably be bad parents, by being selfish, having fewer boundaries with their children, and disregarding their children’s emotional state. But the facts are that if one is a good parent as a married individual, one will continue to be a good parent as a divorced individual. Marriage does not determine parenting.”
Poor parenting can happen whether or not parents are married. There would never be a suggestion that all married parents must take a parenting course. Legal scholar Tali Schaefer, who wrote about these kinds of parenting courses for the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, suggests this is due to the fact the law generally assumes parents who are fit will act in the best interests of their children. However, this is altered when talking about divorced parents, she says, the guiding assumption is that while they may not be legally unfit to parent, they are not “entirely fit.”
These types of courses began appearing in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until the 1980s and ’90s that they really took off. In 1993, Massachusetts state legislature authorized courts to start pilot programs, which the courts launched in select counties two years later. It was not until the year 2008, the courts themselves made the courses mandatory statewide.
There is an underlying view that children of divorced parents are worse off emotionally than their peers with married parents. Plenty of research over the past few decades contracts this, however. In a 2002 study of 2,500 children with divorced parents in the United States, conducted over the course of 30 years, found that after going through an initial period of disruption, 75 to 80 percent of children and adolescents from divorced families develop into reasonably or very well-adjusted individuals.
Parents can divorce for many reasons, very often parents come out better for their children after divorce, and divorce helps their own mental health and safety, as well as the wellbeing of their child. All of these may impact parenting, if you are not safe or happy within your relationship, it is better to be out of that relationship and to move on with your life. Being shamed with an unnecessary course is not the answer.
Massachusetts has abolished parenting courses for divorced parents and recognized that single parenting or non-traditional family structures are not harmful to a child’s development.
At Amaral & Associates P.C., we understand that dealing with these problems during and after a divorce can be challenging. If you or someone you know are thinking about getting a divorce and reside in Massachusetts, please call Amaral & Associates, P.C. at (617) 539-1010 or visit us at www.Amarallaw.com for information about what your next steps should be and whether or not mediation or a traditional divorce is the best option for you.