Q&A: Are Parenting Classes Mandatory After Divorce?

Are parenting classes mandatory in the US?

The short answer is that I don’t think parenting classes are mandatory in every state. In New York, for example, I know for a fact they are not mandatory, yet. But parenting classes are often ordered by the judge who has sole discretion to determine whether a parent’s parenting skills need to be tweaked, or not. In New York also, there is a special program for parents, the Parent Education and Awareness Program to assist parents who are separating or divorcing do a better job with co-parenting their children and they have prepared a manual for parents called The Parents Handbook: Parent Education for Separating of Divorce Parents.  Sample chapters in the manual include:

  • Children need their parents to act respectfully towards each other.
  • How to Tell Children You are Separating or Divorcing
  • Dating and your children
  • Tips for handling anger

As I said, though, parenting classes are not mandatory in New York unless ordered by the court, to my understanding.

In those states where they are mandatory, the intent is for parents to improve their parenting skills and to keep children out of the middle of their conflicts with each other.  At the moment, there are about 17 states that mandate parenting classes and per divorcewriter.com, these include:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Massachusetts
  • Missouri
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • Oklahoma
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin

According to the above mentioned site, the reason that parenting classes are mandatory is because:

As the number of family-related court filings has risen over the years, families have increasingly relied on the courts to resolve divorce issues and problems including child custody, visitation, child support, paternity, emergency protective orders, and restraining orders.

As a result, courts have found that parental conflict related to divorce is a societal concern because children suffer potential short-term and long-term detrimental economic, emotional, and educational effects during times of family transition due to divorce. To address this concern, many courts have decided to mandate parent education classes.

This makes complete sense. Research has shown that there are a number of ways that parents harm their children or inappropriately trap their children in the middle of their conflicts. For example, parents use the children to send insulting messages to each other, to put down each other or to question the children about what is going on with the other. Added to that, parenting at a distance, parallel parenting and co-parenting can present their own challenges – and this can make life difficult for children after divorce.

So the list of states that require or mandate parenting classes is growing. Even in New York, the idea of making parenting classes obligatory is being considered by the legislature. But it is not yet the law in the State and it is still up to parents to self-refer to parenting classes or wait for the judge to send them to one.

Meanwhile, if you are in New York and want more information on the Parent Education & Awareness Program, see below:

NY State Parent Education & Awareness Program
25 Beaver Street, Room 809
New York, NY 10004
nyparent-ed@courts.state.ny.us