Updated: 03/30/2013 6:41 PM KSTP.com By: Mark Saxenmeyer
All divorcing couples with minor children in Minnesota may soon have to take mandatory parenting classes.
There's bipartisan support in the legislature for a bill that would upgrade the current law.
Right now, only parents in contested divorces have to take the class, though many of them can obtain waivers to get out of it.
According to Bill Doherty, a University of Minnesota professor of family social science, "In the divorce it's easy to leak out the negativity you have toward your ex and put it on your children. What these courses do is help parents realize that their children are very vulnerable to being put in the middle."
Doherty has been working with state lawmakers for several years trying to improve the existing parenting classes. Among the developments: a new on-line class option, making the education far easier to access.
The bill making its way through the legislature also calls for keeping class time to just four hours, down from eight. And it strives to improve and standardize the content of the classes. "So that there be research evidence," Doherty explained, "ensuring that whatever courses are taught have been proven to be effective in reducing parental conflict and improving children's well being."
No taxpayer money will be spent on the program. But participant fees that can now top $90 dollars could drop to as low as $40. Even lawyers' associations and domestic violence prevention groups who felt the law put up unnecessary barriers for divorcing couples now seem to be behind it.
Minneapolis Family law attorney Kathy Newman said, "I have actually never had a client ever tell me that they didn't think that the classes weren't good. When people realize they're not expected to share their own story, but just to learn general principles about parenting, I think most people would be willing to go."
The current bill to upgrade the law just passed a house committee unanimously but it didn't make a committee deadline in the state senate. Still, there appears to be no opposition to it at this point, and supporters are predicting it'll pass in the next legislative session.
Mark Saxenmeyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org