THE BENEFITS OF CO-PARENT EDUCATION
In Illinois, most parents of minor children are required to complete a court-approved parent education program if they are involved in custody or visitation actions. There are few reasons why a child support lawyer would argue against this requirement, but most would agree that this mandatory requirement does benefit both parents and children. According to a recent Children’s Mental Health eReview article published by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Family Development Children, Youth & Family Consortium, co-parenting education helps ensure the emotional well-being of children after their parents’ divorce or breakup if unmarried.
Research by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggests that children whose parents have divorced or live apart are at a higher risk for health and emotional issues that could linger throughout their lifetimes. Having recognized the potential risks to children, most states now require that couples going through the divorce process must take parenting education classes that are specifically geared toward divorcing parents. However, not all states require non-married couples who are establishing paternity or going through the court for custody issues to take such classes. There has been recent attention on how to best provide programs that would benefit all children by requiring all parents, regardless if they have been married to one another or not.
What is Co-Parenting?
While each child has two biological parents, the term co-parenting refers to the relationship between two adults that share the responsibilities of parenting their child(ren). This is usually a mother and a father. Being the family structure may not always fit that description; it may be possible that co-parents could be:
- Two mothers
- Two fathers
- One parent and grandparent
- One parent and another adult relative, such as a sibling
What Does Co-Parent Education Cover?
There are several reasons why the courts mandate co-parenting education classes, also referred to as divorce education, including:
- Reducing children’s exposure to parental conflict
- Improving parenting skills
- Reducing the likelihood that co-parents will require further court appearances or intervention
Co-parenting classes focuses on strategies that help reduce these issues, by targeting four identified styles of co-parenting:
- Cooperative – Parents with this style have shown that they are consistently able to share various parental responsibilities. They avoid conflict in front of their children and belittling the other parent. Essentially, they work as a team meeting the responsibilities of providing stability for their children. This style is considered the most fulfilling for parents and children alike. Co-parenting classes aim to teach parents who share custody this style where they learn to respect the other parent, which is passed on to the child.
- Disengaged – With this style, parents do not agree on many things associated with raising their children. The good thing is that they do not disagree in front of their children. This style of parenting is common among parents with older children and least likely, where one of the children is under six years old. Disengaged parents are less involved with parenting because of their conflicts. Co-parenting classes aim to help parents disengage from the conflicts they have between one and another and focus on engaging behaviors that will be more beneficial for their children.
- Conflicted – When parents frequently display disagreements in front of their children, their parenting style is considered to be conflicted. This style occurs often in families where there are three or more children because it is then harder for some parents to avoid conflict. Non-residential fathers in conflicted co-parenting relationships often are less involved in their children’s lives. It is also possible that mothers in this type of co-parenting relationship will keep their children from their fathers. The goal of co-parenting classes is to deal with reducing conflicts and working toward a more respectful relationship.
- Mixed – The mixed co-parenting style can range between times of high cooperation and high conflict. Despite times where children are witness to their parents’ disagreements, the instances of cooperation, such as discussing their children’s schedules and the division of parental responsibilities still benefit the children. Non-residential fathers also maintain a high level of involvement with this type of co-parenting style. Co-parenting class work toward teaching parents to reduce their levels of conflict and the display in front of their children.
Trend Against Sole Custody
When deciding custody, the courts will lean toward joint custody arrangements, versus sole custody because joint can be more beneficial to the children involved. This is why a child support lawyer will advise clients to comply with the requirement of completing mandatory co-parenting classes. In Illinois, parents are advised that they will be required to complete court-authorized co-parent education programs when filing court actions, including establishing or modifying custody, visitation or removing child(ren) from the state.
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