Helping separated and divorced parents determine what's in their child's best interest
Extension's Parents Forever™ course has reached more than 40,000 parents in Minnesota and eight other states.
More than a quarter of all children will not live with both parents throughout their childhood. The stress of separation and divorce can have a profound impact on a child.
In 1998, the Minnesota Supreme Court aimed to help divorcing parents manage issues in a way that was best for children. They knew education would be needed, and the legislature agreed. Thus, Minnesota Statute 518.157 was enacted to reduce the risks a family break-up presents for children. The statute mandates co-parenting education for divorcing parents. Extension's Parents Forever™ is one course many judges count on.
"The way Parents Forever™ was structured and developed according to research made it exactly what we wanted. It set the standard," says Judy Nord, Minnesota Supreme Court staff attorney.
"It is possible for separated and divorced parents to create a new path in life and help their children get through the transition," says Ellie McCann, Extension family relations educator. That path starts with the 8-hour Parents Forever™ course delivered by Extension-trained facilitators from community-based agencies.
Extension also developed an online version of Parents Forever™, which increases participation because judges no longer need to waive the course due to travel hardships.
Moving families forward
Judge Michelle Lawson
Parents often make the situation worse by putting children in the middle of their conflict, according to Sue Quamme, Parents Forever™ coordinator and teacher in Clay County. "We teach them strategies to keep the conflict out of it when talking to the kids."
Judge Michelle Lawson, who is chambered in Clay County, sees the effect. "Parents who don't learn strategies keep having conflicts they can't resolve themselves. When they take the course and create a parenting plan, they don't have to keep coming back for modifications on custody, visitation and other issues."
Parents Forever™ teachers like Quamme, trained by Extension, work with individuals to meet their needs, whether it's their work schedule, location or what stage they are at in their family transition.
Mothers and fathers from each family usually attend classes separately, but classes include both men and women, which broadens perspectives.
"I tell parents that how you move forward as a newly defined family will be determined by how you act, interact, and react with one another," Lawson says. "And the children will take the lead from their parents."
Parents reduce effects of divorce on children when they:
- Avoid putting children in the middle of conflict
- Create a formal co-parenting plan
- Learn to communicate about parenting decisions