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New court program teaches unmarried parents how to work together

In our last post we told the story of a single dad in Texas who did his best to fulfill the role of both a mother and father. While there are countless success stories of single parents who go the extra mile to raise their children, it's far from an easy task, and many would agree that it's not ideal, particularly when the other parent simply doesn't have the wherewithal to contribute and develop a relationship with the child.

But a new out-of-state court program is aiming to boost the level of support from those absent parents. If it proves successful, other states, including Texas, could adopt such programs of their own. The program, called Co-Parent Court, is designed specifically for unmarried parents. It was started by a family court judge who noticed that most of the unmarried men appearing in his courtroom were simply told they owed child support, rather than given any guidance on how to be a father.

Co-Parent Court, based in Hennepin County, Minnesota, summons 200 parents from the county's family court. Participants are offered help in finding employment or counseling services to curb domestic violence, addiction or mental illness. They must also attend four weekly sessions on co-parenting, each of which starts with mothers and fathers meeting separately before the pairs come back together to write a parenting plan. The judge signs off on them and asks the parents to have goodwill and good faith as they proceed.

The program's "navigators" spend eight hours of class time with the parents, many of whom are mothers resistant to the idea that they need parenting classes, since many of them have already been raising their children without a father. But the focus of the class isn't parenting -- it's co-parenting.

The instructors talk with the parents about bad habits that can crop up -- for example, bad-mouthing the other parent or competing over who the best parent is. The goal is to work together so that each child can have a good relationship with both mom and dad, even if the two have long split by the time the child was born. By encouraging both parents to foster that relationship -- particularly for the parent who doesn't have primary custody -- the focus moves from just making payments to making sure the child knows he or she has two loving parents to count on for life.

Source: Christian Science Monitor, "Judge creates unique problem-solving court to help unwed parents," The Associated Press, May 11, 2012

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