October 14, 2016 by mndivorcelawyer
Filed under The 411 on Parent Education in Minnesota Family Law
As a separated or divorcing parent in Minnesota, you may be required to take a co-parenting class. Beginning in 1998, these classes have been part of a state-wide effort to provide parents with the support and resources to help their children adjust to family changes and work together effectively.
Unfortunately, many parents don’t know about these classes, until they’ve been court-ordered to attend. Understandably so, a parent education order can be an unsettling surprise for parents. However, we’ve found that the more parents know about these programs, the more helpful they’ve found the classes to be. Therefore, we’ve dedicated an entire blog series, The 411 on Parent Education in Minnesota Family Law, so parents have the information and resources to get the most out of this experience.
The 411 on Parent Education in Minnesota Family Law
Most separated or divorcing parents find it reassuring to know that these classes aren’t “basic” parenting classes and they’re not handed out as a sort of “punishment” by the judge. To learn why you’re being court-ordered to attend and what these classes will be like, or to determine if you’ll need to attend a co-parenting class, check out our first article: Parent Education Program: Unknown Court Orders to Parents.
Next, check out our second article: 8 Tips to Navigate Court-Ordered Parenting Classes in Minnesota. The article covers frequently asked questions such as,
“What happens if I don’t attend?”
“How much is this going to cost?”
“What if I can’t afford to pay?“
“Do I have to attend the same class as my Ex?“
“Can my Ex use what I say in class against me in court?”
Now, as promised, our third article is committed to finding the best co-parenting class for you. When it comes to choosing a parent education program, your divorce lawyer or family law attorney can help. However, when it comes to the final decision, you’re the best person to decide. So to help you with the decision process, consider these 9 criteria to find the right co-parenting class for you.
What To Consider To Find the Best Co-Parenting Class for You
First and foremost, the co-parenting class needs to be court-approved in Minnesota. Specifically, the co-parenting class you choose needs to be approved and accepted within your specific county. Because counties vary, it’s essential you determine that the program is approved in your county before taking the class.
What does it mean for a Co-Parenting Class to be “Court-Approved”?
If the co-parenting class is court-approved, it means that the program has been selected because it meets the Supreme Court’s Parent Education Minimum Standards.
These 25 standards promote the quality of parent education programs in Minnesota. Although by law (Minnesota Statutes, Section 518.157, Subdivision 1 ), the county only has to offer one parenting program, most counties have a few available. Therefore, the rest of this list will help you narrow down your options.
Stay tuned to the series for more help with finding a court-approved co-parenting class in your county.
2. CLASS FORMAT/SETTING
When you choose your co-parenting class, consider how the class is taught. For example, you may be taught in-person by an instructor, guided through self-study online, or a combination of both. The format of the class may be mainly lecture-based, or geared towards discussion and skills practice. In addition, it can be helpful to know how the material is presented. For instance, you may prefer handouts and take-home worksheets or maybe you value the visual guidance of a power point presentation and slide notes. Bottom line: When it comes to class format/setting, the most important thing is that you choose the class with the format and teaching style that is most compatible with your learning style.
Additional questions to consider when evaluating Class Format/Setting include:
- Are individual questions permitted at the end of the class or 1:1 sessions available?
- What is the class size?
As a busy parent with a jam-packed schedule, convenience is a necessity these days. Finding a co-parenting class that is convenient for you to take, can reduce stress. Therefore, it may be helpful to find a co-parenting class that is close by, and has designated parking. That way you don’t have to waste time searching for a parking space (especially if you’re in rush hour traffic).
Besides location, when you’re evaluating Convenience consider the following:
- Program availability (How long before you can attend? Is there a wait list?)
- Class Schedule (Time & Dates of classes offered)
- Class Length (How long is each class?)
- Number of Classes/Sessions You’ll Need to Attend
Typically, each co-parenting class is 8 hours long. However, the class will be taught in 2 sessions on different days, with each session lasting approximately 4 hours each. Parents are then required to attend both sessions, in order to fulfill the court’s parent education order. Some of these parenting programs are organized so that the first session is an online course, and the second session is a 4 hour in-person class. In fact, in order to better accommodate parents’ busy schedules, Minnesota has approved some parenting programs that are entirely online.
If you’re interested in taking your co-parenting class with an online program, the following are additional questions to consider when evaluating Convenience:
- Is the online program available for you to take 24/7?
- Can you save the work you’ve done and come back at a different time, or do you have to do it all in one sitting?
- Do you have access to a computer, internet and the necessary software?
Most programs in the Twin Cities area cost around $50 – $90. However, when calculating the total price of the class include additional costs, such as: costs for materials and tax (if applicable), and transportation and parking fees (if not taking the class online). Knowing the total cost to take a co-parenting class makes it easier when you’re comparing several programs.
Additional questions to consider when it comes to Cost include:
- If you can’t afford the class, is there a sliding fee scale or other additional discounts?
- What happens if you’re not satisfied with the class, can you get a full/partial refund?
- What type of payment method is required?
- When is payment due for the class?
- What is the cancellation policy regarding the class or what happens if you miss a class?
5. INSTRUCTOR & COMPANY/INSTITUTION’S CREDENTIALS
It’s important that the co-parenting class you take is taught by a qualified professional. Children and family therapists with experience in mediation, family law, counseling and adult education can be helpful class instructors. In addition, some parents prefer to take a co-parenting class that is taught by two instructors, one female and one male. In return, they’ve reported that they felt more comfortable in the class and believed that they benefited by having more than one instructor’s perspective.
Besides considering who teaches the class, along with their credentials, training and experience, it can be helpful to consider the company and/or the institution’s reputation. Typically, parents tend to feel more comfortable with a company or institution that has been in business for a while and is known as a leader/expert in the field. In fact, knowing more about the company can be particularly useful when you’re taking an online-only program and you’re not being taught by a specific individual.
6. CLASS CURRICULUM
As mentioned above, the supreme court sets certain standards for the program. Although these standards guide class curriculum, they’re just the bare minimum. Meaning, the standards dictate what must be taught in the class, but the class can cover more topics. Therefore, class curriculum can be different among court-approved programs. Therefore, to determine what you’ll be learning in the program, see a class outline. As mentioned in our second article, you may want to make a list of current issues and concerns, and then use this list to compare it to each class outline. Finding a class with a curriculum that interests you, that addresses topics you’re concerned about, and teaches skills applicable to your specific situation makes a big difference.
7. CERTIFICATE OF COMPLETION
Also as mentioned in our second article, at the end of the program you should receive a certificate of completion. This completion certificate is essential because it’s your proof to the court that you followed the court’s order. Therefore, before deciding on a co-parenting class, find out how their certification process works. For instance, do you need to complete and pass an exam at the end of the program in order to earn your certificate?
If there is a final exam,
- What score do you need in order to pass?
- If you don’t pass, do you need to take the whole program over again before you can re-take the exam?
- Is the final exam timed? (If so, how long do you have to complete the exam, and how many questions is the exam?)
Additional questions to ask when learning about the Certification process include:
- How quickly do you receive your certificate after you’ve completed the program?
- How do you receive the certificate? (For instance, is it mailed to you? Are you emailed and instructed to print it out yourself? Is it handed to you at the end of the class?)
These additional questions are important because (as you learned in our second article) you’re expected to notify the judge and the other party in a certain number of days after you’ve completed the class. In order to do so, you need the certificate to show you’ve fulfilled the parent education order.
When deciding which co-parenting class is right for you, consider what individuals who’ve taken the class have to say. Reading reviews from previous attendees can provide additional insight. And because most companies publish client reviews and testimonials directly on their website, it’s easy to do. In addition, online reviews may be available through Google, Better Business Bureau, and Facebook Ratings and Reviews. However, don’t be alarmed if you can’t find several testimonials. Divorce and family law matters are a personal topic and therefore, a lack of reviews can be a result of a desire for privacy rather than an indication of the quality of a co-parenting class. Besides reading reviews from previous attendees, you can also ask for referrals and recommendations from professionals or friends and family members who have gone through the program. Lastly, online support groups and forums can be an additional source for reviews from previous attendees.
9. CUSTOMER SERVICE & SUPPORT
Although hopefully you won’t have any problems, it can be reassuring to know that someone is there to help if they do arise. For example, if you end up having trouble taking the class online or receiving your certificate of completion. Reading testimonials can give you an idea of their customer service and support, but it’s worth looking into deeper. This is especially true, if you’re taking the program online. In addition to determining if they have a customer support/help line, it can be beneficial to know the hours available. If technical difficulties arise while taking your co-parenting class online, 24/7 technical assistance may be the difference between a 10-minute delay and having to wait and finish the class another day.
Hopefully, you now have a good idea of what to consider when it comes to picking a co-parenting class and you find the right one for you. However, choosing a co-parenting class is just the beginning. Stay tuned for a “How To” guide for parent education orders to get walked through the entire process. We’ll also include a checklist to help you stay organized and on track.
Did we miss something? What else is important to consider when finding the right co-parenting class to take? Chime in below to add to our list.