Going through a divorce is often an emotionally challenging experience for the married couple. For partners who entered a marriage with excitement for their future together, coming to terms with a new reality, separate from the other spouse, can be difficult. When the spouses have children together, however, the emotional toll of a divorce can increase exponentially. In that case, the spouses not only have their feelings and well-being to consider, but also that of their children. To help with the task of co-parenting after a divorce, Massachusetts law requires the divorcing parties to participate in a parent education class.
What Is a Parent Education Class?
In Massachusetts, the parent education class aims to help divorcing parties understand and deal with the challenges that may result from their divorce, especially for the children of the parties. The course will give divorcing parents the tools and skills to lessen the impact of divorce on the children. This includes skills like communication, problem-solving, and managing any conflict that may arise with custody and parenting time. Other topics include information on how children may react to divorce and their developmental needs.
Although programs differ in terms of class schedule, the entire class will generally take about five hours or so. Unless the court orders otherwise, facilitating programs will make sure divorcing spouses do not attend the same session of any class.
Who Must Attend?
The law requires spouses who have filed for divorce and have children under age 18 to take a parent education class. In fact, in most cases, the court will not finalize the divorce until this requirement is met. There are, however, very limited exceptions to this requirement. For instance, the court may waive the parent education class requirement if a party is institutionalized. A party must ask the court for permission not to attend the class. Additionally, just because the court waives the requirement for one spouse, it does not mean the other spouse is excused as well.
It is also possible that a judge will require parties in other types of family law cases to attend a parent education class.
When & How to Register for the Parent Education Class
Divorcing parties must register with a court-approved program within 30 days of the completion of service of the original divorce complaint on the defendant. If a court orders parties to take the class for a different type of family law case, the parties must register within 30 days of the order. The list of court-approved programs is available online and is organized by county. Programs are available across the Commonwealth. After registration, the parties must then complete an affidavit confirming that they registered and file it with the court.
Typically, the cost of the class at this time is $80. Programs may charge nominal fees for payment processing (if you pay through a service like PayPal, for example). Divorcing parties who meet certain income qualifications and cannot pay for the course may be eligible for a reduced fee if they complete an Affidavit of Indigency with the court, and if the court approves the Affidavit.
After completing the parent education class, the program will give the divorcing parent a certificate of attendance. The parent must file this certificate with the court within 30 days of class completion.
Attending a Parent Education Class During COVID-19
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, divorcing spouses generally had to attend the parent education class in-person. Nonetheless, under some circumstances, the court permitted parties to take the course via DVD or online. This may have been the case if a spouse was in the hospital for an extended period of time, for example. To do so, a party had to seek the court’s permission. Further, if the court allowed one parent to attend the class online or via DVD, that did not necessarily mean the other parent could do the same.
Given the challenges COVID-19 presents, however, the courts have temporarily suspended the in-person requirement. Under a temporary rule, an approved parent education program may allow parents to attend the parent education session virtually. This can be done through web video conferencing. For example, the parties can take the course through Zoom or Skype. Alternatively, parents may also fulfill the class requirement by completing a 5-hour DVD or online program. The name of this program is KidCare for Co-Parents: An Educational Program for Divorcing Families. For now, parents can elect to do any of the above without the court’s permission.
The court is being more flexible regarding virtual attendance at this time. Yet, it is still important to confirm with the court that you have registered for the class. You must also still file your certificate of attendance. Again, the courts require this class. And, many judges will not allow the final divorce hearing to occur if the parties have not completed it.
Furthermore, it is likely the courts will again require in-person attendance for the class at some point in the future, when COVID-19 conditions improve. Accordingly, divorcing parties with minor children should stay up-to-date with court developments to ensure they are fulfilling all requirements for the parent education class.
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