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Monday, March 31, 2014

Mandatory Parenting Classes Proposed by New York Lawmaker

Parents in New York will have to attend mandatory, government-run parenting classes in order for their child to proceed to the seventh grade. That's if state Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., D-Bronx, is successful in his sponsorship of a law that would mandate that parents of elementary school children complete a series of parental support programs. 

These programs would provide parents with information regarding how to help children navigate difficulties like bullying, suicidal thoughts and struggles with sexual orientation. One of the courses would specifically focus on sexual, physical and emotional abuse. The bill would require employers to provide one day off work each year for parents to be able to attend. 

While the idea may not be bad in theory, our Brooklyn family law attorneys see a host of issues. Not only would non-compliance - even for legitimate reasons - unduly punish an innocent party (i.e., the child), but it could be used as a weapon against parents in subsequent matters before the family court. 

In general, parenting classes are only required in New York when deemed necessary by a judge. Even then, attendance - and therefore compliance - can be problematic. Not only are there significant costs associated with these programs (which parents usually must pay), but the time parents are required to take off work or shirk other responsibilities can create issues. 

Working closely with an experienced family court attorney can help prevent some of the traps associated with parenting courses and other stipulations that could result in non-compliance issues. (In other situations, such requirements can be used as leverage to modify support or visitation arrangements.)

However, mandating such courses for all parents seems extreme. But New York isn't the only state considering it. 

Recently in Alabama, state lawmakers have proposed a bill that would require divorcing couples with children under 16 to attend mandatory parenting courses intended to increase their sensitivity to each child's needs during divorce and separation. 

There are 19 other states that require parenting courses for divorcing couples. Alaska requires that parents either view an hour-long video or complete an online course. New Jersey and Minnesota require parenting courses if the parties can't agree on custody and visitation issues. 

There are some jurisdictions in a handful of states that require courses, but New York judges are allowed to decide these matters on a case-by-case basis. This kind of discretion is important, particularly when you consider that there are some situations in which domestic violence may come into play, making co-parenting efforts potentially dangerous. 

It is true that in some cases, parenting courses have been shown to reduce parental conflict. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports up to a 53 percent reduction in re-litigation rates among separating parents who attend these courses. 

However, on the reverse side of the coin, some have indicated that these courses may not only be unrealistic in some cases, they could serve as an additional barrier to divorce. 

The proposal in New York is unique for the fact that isn't tied to any major familial shift, but rather would be mandated simply by virtue of the fact that the child is approaching seventh grade. A similar measure was struck down by the state legislature last year. 

Contact a Brooklyn family law attorney by calling (718) 864-2011.


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