In Minnesota, it’s not uncommon for separated and divorcing parents to be court-ordered to attend parenting classes during a divorce or custody case. Although parents don’t need a court order to attend these classes, the law requires some parents to participate. (Minnesota Statutes, Section 518.157). Unfortunately, most parents (reasonably so) aren’t aware of the requirement until they’re staring at an intimidating parent education order from a judge. With an introduction like this, it’s no wonder why most parents’ initial reaction is a combination of anxiety, annoyance and frustration.
We’d like to improve the entire experience and guide parents through the process with this blog series, The 411 on Parent Education in Minnesota Family Law.
Are you wondering…”Will I have to take parenting classes?” or “What are these parenting classes going to be like?” Then, take a look at our first article, Parent Education Program: Unknown Court-Orders to Parents. Now, check out these 8 tips to help you navigate court-ordered parenting classes and avoid some common costly mistakes.
8 Tips for Court-Ordered Parenting Classes
Tip # 1 : Make the Most of It
These parenting classes were developed to meet the needs and concerns of separated and divorcing parents. Therefore, the class topics should be relevant, the information should be useful, and the skills should be applicable. In fact, most parents tell us that these parenting classes are helpful. However, like most things in life, “You get out, What you put in.” Therefore, to get the most from the experience, be an active student.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Parenting Classes
Being an active student throughout the entire process will help you get the most out of the experience. Before enrolling in a program, identify issues and concerns you have. Then, compare class outlines to determine if such topics are covered. Doing so, will help you select a program that’s right for you. During the program, engage in class discussion, take notes and ask questions. After the program, apply the skills you learned when working with the other parent. Incorporate the knowledge you gained when you’re developing your parenting plan, divorce decree, custody arrangement, and/or child support order. Lastly, continue reading the rest of these tips. Not only will these tips help you make the most of your experience, but they’ll decrease stress and prepare you for what’s ahead.
Tip # 2: Know Your Rights
However, with that being said, it’s hard to “make the most of it” if you fear for your privacy and/or safety during the class. Therefore, it helps to know your rights when you’ve been court-ordered to take parenting classes.
Parental Rights When Court-Ordered to Take Parenting Classes in a Divorce or Custody Case
First and foremost, unless both parties agree in writing, statements made during participation in a parent education program can’t be used later as evidence, for any reason.
In addition, class instructors can’t:
- Disclose information learned about either party because of his/her class participation;
- Make a record regarding a party’s participation (except a record of attendance and completion of the program); or
- Be subpoenaed or called as a witness. (Minnesota Statutes, Section 518.157, Subdivision 5).
Lastly, if domestic abuse in the past or present is alleged, you can’t be forced to attend the same co-parenting session as the other party. Instead, the court must establish an order that allows the parties to safely participate in a parent education program. (Minnesota Statutes, Section 518.157, Subdivision 3).
NOTE: Some parent education programs such as, the Parents Forever Program (through an extension of the University of Minnesota), require the parties to attend separate classes to minimize disruption and increase participation. Therefore, even if your court order doesn’t prohibit the other parent from attending the same session as you (or visa versa), the parent education program that you select may. Keep this in mind when you’re selecting and scheduling your parenting classes.
Tip # 3: Take it Seriously
What Happens if You Don’t Attend Court-Ordered Parenting Classes
If you’re court-ordered to attend parenting classes, you need to attend parenting classes. If you don’t follow a parent education order and participate in a parenting program, the court can impose sanctions, including contempt of court. (Minnesota Statutes, Section 518.157, Subdivision 4). In addition, if you don’t actively participate in the program, or are disruptive, the class instructor may refuse to certify your participation in the program. Lastly, there are deadlines and certain procedures you’ll be expected to follow with your parent education order. Fortunately, not only do these tips address some of these procedures, but chances are, if you’re reading this article, you’re taking the order seriously.
Don’t Want to Take Parenting Classes?
If you request, have good reason and are excused by the court, you can get out of court-ordered parenting classes. In Minnesota, the party who wants to be excused has the responsibility to request, show good cause, and obtain prior excusal from the court. (Minnesota Statutes, Section 518.157, Subdivision 3). Among other things, this would necessitate: drafting the proper documents; providing the required ‘proof’; filing with the court; and providing copies to the other party or his/her divorce lawyer or family law attorney.
Tip # 4 : Do It As Soon As Possible
The sooner you fulfill your parent education order and take the parenting classes, the better.
Fulfilling the parent education order and completing parenting classes as soon as you can is beneficial for a number of reasons:
- You’re expected to register for, participate in, and complete your parent education program within a certain amount of time.*
- It shows the judge and the other party that your children are your first priority and demonstrates your dedication and commitment to co-parenting.
- The skills you learn in the class are supposed to make you more effective and better equipped to work with the other parent. So, wouldn’t you want to be able to utilize those skills as soon as possible to help minimize conflict and settle disputes during your case?
- Similarly, the tools and knowledge you gain from the class can be incorporated into such legal documents, as your parenting plan, divorce decree, and/or custody order.
*NOTE: Parent education deadlines and procedures can differ depending on the county, previous court orders, and/or your specific situation. The court will expect you to know when you need to complete each task and follow correct procedures. If you’ve been court-ordered to attend parenting classes, your court order may be a helpful guide for such deadlines and procedures. Therefore, make sure you carefully read, understand, and follow the court order.
Tip # 5: Do Your Research
However, ‘Doing it as soon as possible’ doesn’t mean you should rush out and take any parenting class, just because there’s an immediate opening. As explained in our first post (linked at the beginning), there are several types of parenting classes. Therefore, make sure that you’re taking the correct type, i.e. a parenting class for separated and divorcing parents. In addition, as mentioned in tip #1, selecting the right class will help you get more out of the experience.
Not all Parenting Classes are Approved
In fact, to promote program quality and efficacy, the Minnesota supreme court and chief judges (or designees) of the judicial districts are involved. The Minnesota supreme court sets certain standards and requirements for the program and then each judicial district is tasked with the responsibility of finding and offering at least one co-parenting program that meets the criteria. (Minnesota Statutes, Section 518.175, Subdivision 1).
Therefore, before paying and taking any parenting program, evaluate all your options and make sure the class you select is court-approved. That way, you don’t end up taking a class that doesn’t count. In addition, because counties can differ, it’s not enough for the parenting program to be approved in the state of Minnesota. Instead, make sure that the parenting program is court-approved in your specific county.
For help with finding court-approved parenting programs in your county, Read: How to Find Court-Approved Parenting Programs in Minnesota.
Tip # 6 : Leave Yourself Enough Time
Although enrolling in a quality program increases your chances of finding this experience beneficial, if you’re racing against the clock, nothing matters. Minnesota law dictates that the parent education program and orientation process is a minimum of 8 hours. (Minnesota Statutes, Section 518.157, Subdivision 3). Not knowing any better, many separated and divorcing parents assume two days is enough time to complete a parent education order. Unfortunately, this estimate only accounts for class participation time.
Instead, for a more accurate estimate of how long it’ll take, consider all the tasks involved. Here’s a free step-by-step checklist to help you complete your Parent Education Order and plan accordingly.
Lastly, part of making and allocating enough time, includes finding and arranging child care during class. Even if you’re taking the class online, it may still be helpful to arrange child care. The benefit of planning ahead and giving yourself enough time, is that you may be able to avoid child care costs. For example, by scheduling your parenting classes when your kids are with the other parent, at school, or in an extracurricular.
Still not convinced of this tip?
Think back to a time when you felt pressured and were caught scrambling right up to the last minute. How pleasant of an experience was that for you? If it was something you typically enjoy doing, it was less enjoyable. If it was something you don’t enjoy, it was made worse. Either way, you’re better off giving yourself enough time. It’s easily one of the best strategies to reduce stress. Not to mention, if there’s an exam at the end of your program, research shows that spaced-out study (rather than cramming) is better for retention (American Psychological Association, Study Smart).
Tip # 7: Budget for It
In Minnesota, most court-approved co-parenting programs cost between $50 – 90. The court expects each parent to cover his/her own class fees. However, if you’re having difficulty paying, some parenting programs have reduced rates and sliding fees. In addition, some parenting classes offer additional discounts (such as, for veterans and military personnel).
Therefore, it can be beneficial to ask about discounts and/or reduced rates before selecting a program. Lastly, in some circumstances (when In Forma Pauperis status has been approved by the court) your program fee may be waived; so you can attend for free or at a greatly reduced price. (Minnesota Statutes, Section 518.157, Subdivision 6).
Tip # 8: Get Proof
The program provider or class instructor should give you a certificate after you’ve completed the program. Your certificate of completion is evidence for the court that you completed the program. In other words, without the certificate, you have no proof that you followed and completed the court’s order. Depending on the program, you may be handed your completion certificate, emailed a copy, or instructed to download and print the certificate yourself.
In addition, it’s important that the proper procedures and deadlines regarding the parent education certificate are followed. For example, in some counties (such as, Washington county) the certificate should be filed with the court and other party within 10 days of the completion date. Your divorce lawyer or family law attorney can guide you through the process and ensure that the proper procedures are followed.
Ideally, these parenting classes are a start to ensuring parents’ resources and support during family changes and life transitions. Hopefully, these tips make the process go more smoothly, and How to Find the Best Co-Parenting Class for you, improves your entire experience.