In an announcement made by the Probate and Family Court on June 25, 2021, effective September 1, 2021, divorcing parents of minor children will no longer be required to attend and complete the Parents Education Program as the Program is, at least temporarily, suspended. What does this mean for parents presently going through the divorce process? It depends on whether the complaint for divorce has already been filed or will be filed in the future. If filed on or before July 11, 2021, parents will still need to attend the Program and submit a certificate of completion before September 1, 2021. If the complaint for divorce is filed on or after July 12, 2021, the requirement is waived.
Prior to this recent suspension of the Parents Education Program, all parties to a divorce action in which there are minor children (under the age of 18) were required to attend and participate in an approved Parent Education Program pursuant to Standing Order 2-16. The purpose of Standing Order 2-16’s requirement was to provide divorcing parents guidance in understanding and addressing the challenges caused by divorce and to assist them in addressing and reducing the stress children may experience during and after their parents’ divorce. Attendance at the Program was mandatory, both for contested and uncontested divorce matters, with parties to file a certificate of attendance no later than 30 days after completion. In light of COVID-19, each parent education provider was allowed to conduct the Program via web video conferencing, or a parent was able to satisfy the attendance requirement by completing a 5-hour DVD or online program entitled “KidCare for Co-Parents: An Educational Program for Divorcing Families.”
Pursuant to the June 25, 2021 announcement, the Program is being suspended while the Probate and Family Court considers over the next several months “whether the parent education program can be restructured to offer a comprehensive, on-line, evidence-based program to parents in contested cases only.” While not specifically addressed by the announcement, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way people and the Court conduct business. The fact that the Probate and Family Court is considering a strictly online program suggests that the Court recognizes this change and that the requirement of an in-person course may no longer be necessary. The Court is expected to issue a Request for Proposals in the near future to evaluate the different options available.
The future of the Parent Education Program as we know it is unknown. It will be interesting to see whether the Program is reinstated, when it is reinstated, and in what format. Stay tuned! In the meantime, if you are considering a divorce or already in the process and have minor children, there are other resources available to assist you in limiting the impact the divorce may have on your children. You should contact an experienced Family Law attorney for further advice and guidance, particularly in high-conflict custody matters.