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Oklahoma State University

Tips for Choosing a Coparenting Class

 Dr. Ron Cox and Ms. Brittney Richey

Co-parenting refers to the support that adults provide for one another in the raising of children for whom they share responsibility”

A divorce can be one of the major challenges a family can experience. Hurt feelings and dealing with the disappointment of a failed marriage can cloud some parent’s abilities and judgments when it comes to their most important responsibility- the parenting of their children. Statistically, divorce leads to an increased risk for children to engage in several harmful behaviors such as drug use, pregnancy, school dropout, and suicide. Because of this, lawmakers in 46 states, Oklahoma now included, require most divorcing parents with a minor child to take a co-parenting class to learn how to ease the negative impacts of divorce on children.

Because these classes can come in all shapes and sizes it is important for parents, lawyers, judges, and others working with these families to understand some of the differences between classes that are effective and those that may not be. This fact sheet is designed to help parents and others know what to look for when choosing a class.

Why is a Coparenting Class Important?

No matter how agreeable and cooperative some parents may be, divorce is an emotionally charged process that often has unintended consequences. A growing body of research suggests that a brief 3 to 4 hour class can help parents learn what behaviors to avoid and other things they can do to help their children adjust more quickly and avoid common pitfalls. In fact, studies report that 92% of parents who took co-parenting classes felt that the classes increased their understanding of their child’s needs and reactions to divorce. They also felt better prepared to work through conflicts about the children including how to work together to create custody arrangements.  Even a year after they had taken the co-parenting class, over half of these parents were still using the skills and knowledge they learned in their classes.

Which Class Should Parents Take?

Unfortunately, some organizations will take advantage of this law and offer classes (particularly online classes) just to make a quick buck. Others, without knowing, may use outdated materials that are no longer “best practice.” Parents need to be careful when selecting a class to attend because not all classes provide the kind of information that will ultimately help their children, or that will be accepted by their judge when they return to court to finalize their divorce. Title 43, Section 101 of Oklahoma Statutes was amended to require that classes cover the following 6 themes to fulfill the requirements of the law and be accepted by the court:

1.) Short-term and longitudinal effects of divorce on child well-being;

2.) Reconciliation as an optional outcome;

3.) Effects of family violence;

4.) Potential child behaviors and emotional states during and after divorce including information on how to respond to the child's needs;

5.) Communication strategies to reduce conflict and facilitate cooperative co-parenting; and

6.) Area resources, including but not limited to nonprofit organizations or religious entities available to address issues of substance abuse or other addictions, family violence, behavioral health, individual and couples counseling, and financial planning.

When searching for a class, there are three basic indicators that will help parents choose an appropriate class: Transparency, Credibility, and Effectiveness.  

  • Transparency. Reputable programs will clearly state or have easily accessible information about what the class covers. If you cannot easily find what the program covers, better to steer clear.
  • Credibility. Does the program name the author (is anyone putting their name behind the program), or does a respected organization sponsor program? Is there an address or phone number to contact? Are the individuals teaching the class qualified to do so? If the answer to any of these is “no” then you are probably not dealing with a program that meets the requirements of the law.
  • Effectiveness. Has this program been shown to produce results? Although many programs will provide quotes from “satisfied customers,” it is important to dig a little deeper and look for evaluation studies that use science to assess whether the class really helps parents or not. If a program does not supply this information, it’s probably not a good choice.

Is Online just as Good as In-Person?

With the rapid growth of technology, it seems that almost everything is available online these days. Both online and in-person classes attempt to deliver the same information and to have an equally positive impact on parents and children. There are, however, advantages and disadvantages to each form of delivery

The primary advantage online classes offer to learners is convenience and privacy. Since the classes don’t depend on an instructor and are generally set within a very flexible time frame, learners can start, pause, and continue a session to make it fit to their life circumstances. Other advantages include a more standardized delivery.  That is, every time you take the class you get the same information delivered in the same way.  In more traditional face to face classes the content and quality can vary from instructor to instructor.

However, because the participant simply watches the content via the Internet or some other form of media, most online classes lack social interaction, which is important for producing changes in behavior. Hearing others’ experiences and potential solutions can be a major resource for divorcing parents as they grow in their parenting skills. Social interaction can also provide emotional support that promotes the development of coping skills, and social networking that helps people find the resources they need. Most online courses lack the capacity to promote the kind of social interaction, which has been shown to be “best practice.”

The popularity of online delivery is growing and research is showing that for academic classes in higher education online delivery is equally effective as more traditional face to face classes. However, research testing the difference between online and face to face delivery is much more limited when the content is more psychoeducational.  General conclusions suggest that a hybrid of online and face to face may be an effective format. Still, online classes may be a necessary choice for parents who are deployed in the military or have moved away and can’t feasibly take an in-person class. Faculty at OSU prefer that individuals take a face to face class whenever possible. That is, at least, until researchers have been able to study the pros and cons of online vs. in-person formats for psychoeducational classes designed to help parents change their behaviors.

 In conclusion, parents should carefully consider which class they will take to fulfill the requirement of Oklahoma law. Following these brief tips on how to choose a class will also ensure that the information you receive will serve to help your child adjust more quickly to your divorce and avoid engaging in the negative behaviors typical of children of divorce. Likewise, judges, lawyers, and other helping professionals can use these tips to guide parents to reputable programs that will accomplish the aims of the law and help reduce repeat litigations.

Sources

Bowers, J. R., Mitchell, E. T., Hardesty, J. L. and Hughes, Jr., R. (2011). A Review of Online Divorce Education Programs. Family Court Review, 49: 776–787.

Brandon, D. J. (2006). Can Four Hours Make a Difference? Evaluation of a Parent Education Program for Divorcing Parents. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 171-185.

Calix, S., & Schramm, D. (2011). Focus on Kids: Evaluation of a Research-Based Divorce Education Program. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 52: 529-549

McBroom, L. A. (2011). Understanding post- divorce co-parenting families: Integrative literature review. Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, 23: 382–388.

McConnell, M. C., Vo, E. D., & McHale, J. P. (2003). Coparenting. International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family. 375-379.