There’s a growing movement in Canada and the United States to provide parental divorce education programs that focus on the psychological and emotional needs of children. With an estimated 75,000 Canadian children affected by divorce annually, such programs are essential, say many lawyers, mediators, social workers, and schoolteachers. Currently, about 140 parental education programs are available across Canada through schools, churches, and other community organizations.
“We’re at the brink of an era of having responsible divorces rather than the irresponsible divorces we’ve had for the last 30 to 35 years across North America,” says Danny Guspie, a Toronto-based divorce educator, co-founder of the National Shared Parenting Association, and executive director of Fathers’ Resources International.
This new era is being ushered in by adult children of divorce because they recognize the impact of divorce on children, says
Daniel Cout, a clinical social worker at Credit Valley Psychotherapy Associates in Streetsville, agrees that there is a need for educating parents about the impact a divorce will have on children. “The transition from married to divorced is a big one, and there are so many issues down to the children,” he says. “By doing some anticipatory
Parental divorce education programs are praised by the Canadian and American justice systems, which now include mediation as an integral part of family law. Joseph James, a family court judge in Toronto for the past 20 years, encourages families to use
The Province of Alberta recently completed a pilot program for parental divorce education in Edmonton. Plans are now underway to initiate the program in Calgary and in three other
Course evaluations have been positive, and so have the results. “As a mediator, it’s much easier to work with people if they’ve gone through the course,” says Kent Taylor, founder and coordinator of the Edmonton and Northern Custody Mediation Program.
Toronto Fathers’ Resources, a pilot project of Fathers’ Resources International, has created “Divorce 101,” a parental divorce education program that teaches fathers how to use making peace as a strategy during divorce to resolve disputes. “Our research told us that people want a quick, accessible way to start dealing with the anger that they feel,” says
Since July 1992, all divorcing parents in Utah with children under 18 years old have been required to attend the “Divorce Education Course for Parents.” The Utah program was initiated by Elizabeth Hickey, director of the Mediation and Divorce Centre in Salt Lake City and author of Healing
“I asked kids what they would wish for if they had three wishes. Over 90% of the kids said they wished their parents would stop fighting,” Hickey says. “The stress is so hard on kids.”
The goals of the Utah course include:
- giving parents information that will help them support their children’s emotional well-
being creatingan understanding of how and why conflict between parents creates stress for children
- encouraging parents to cooperate with each other in order to minimize the impact of conflict on their children
- encouraging parents to understand that children need a continued and meaningful relationship with both parents.
The program began as a free, voluntary, two-hour class for divorcing parents. Initially, about 30 people attended each month. Then a state senator who was a child advocate attended the class, and soon after led a legislative task force on child-custody, turning the course into an 18-month mandatory pilot program. At first, there was resistance to the course — 76% of the participants resented having to be there — but after four years, only 24% felt the same way. Ninety-three percent of the parents felt it was worthwhile, and more than 90% of the participants said the course increased their understanding of why parents should get
People working in the divorce, mediation, and