By: Amber Godfrey
Ms. Godfrey has been practicing law for 13 years. Prior to joining WhitbeckBennett, she founded her own private practice in 2016 in Oklahoma City. She focuses on family law, which includes divorce, child support, custody modifications, Guardian ad Litem, adoption, and guardianships, as well as estate law which includes estate planning, probate. To learn more about Amber Godfrey, click here.
Court Ordered Parental Education Programs
Upon filing for a divorce (“dissolution of marriage”) wherein minor children are involved, many states require parties to complete a co-parenting class before a final Decree will be entered. This is often true whether the parties are settling or trying the matter, or even if one parent has sole custody or the parties are going to operate in joint custody. The point being is that the parents—regardless of the ultimate legal custodial arrangement—will be “co-parents” of this child or children for the rest of their lives, and learning early on in their new single status how to do that in a completely different way (read: in different homes, in different relationships, in different cities or states sometimes) only stands to benefit the children.
States (and, to be sure, even different counties or parishes within a state) may differ as to the required coursework taught, the number of hours required, whether it can be taken in person or online, costs involved, and so on. In Oklahoma, the requirement to attend this class can be found in Title 43 O.S. § 107.2. Subsection A includes all matters that affect custody or visitation of a minor child, except divorces based on “incompatibility,” and, in such situations, the class is not necessarily required (please refer to the “may” provision in that Subsection). Subsection B is the pertinent section when discussing the dissolution of marriage with minor children based on incompatibility, and it includes “shall” language. Most divorces in Oklahoma (and most other jurisdictions that permit “no-fault divorces”) base their findings on the incompatibility or irreconcilable differences of the parties. Thus, nearly all divorces in Oklahoma will fall under the “shall” provision of Subsection B, and parties will have to do the required coursework in order to get a Decree entered and their divorce finalized.
Many locations and entities provide the classes required, so an inability to “get into” a particular one based on scheduling conflicts should not preclude a parent from getting accepted into another class. Previously, nearly all courts in Oklahoma required the classes to be in person, though COVID necessitated that these courses be completed online, if they were to be completed at all. Be sure to check with your local jurisdiction (and, specifically, your assigned Judge) to determine if online classes are still permitted or if only in-person classes will be accepted.
Clients often ask if they have to attend the same class if completing the program in person. I am a big proponent of “take the same course; attend a separate class.” However, I had one Judge tell me once that if the parties could not sit together in the same class, they had no business being in joint custody. I personally found that to be an unfair assessment, as one party may just want to have one last “decompression” with other similarly-situated individuals without fear that the other party will hold any potentially negative comments against them in court. My philosophy is this: attend the same course so you have the exact same education; attend a different class so you feel at ease while you are there and may be able and willing to be more open and learn more in the process. As to the coursework, you and I may attend the same company picnic, and each sign up to bring fruit salad. You bring one that is tropical in nature; mine is comprised of berries. Did we each bring a “fruit salad”? Yes. Do they look or taste anything alike? No. The components of the class may be called the same thing, but the teachings may be slightly (or more than slightly) nuanced enough to where one party will deny ever learning [concept A] and claim they only learned [concept B], and the first party would be none-the-wiser because he or she did not take the second party’s course.
Once the course is completed, the parties will be presented with (or emailed) a Certificate of Completion, which then needs to be filed with the court. This ensures that the parties have completed the required coursework and provides evidence to the Judge that a final Decree may be entered when the parties are ready (if settling) or following trial (if a settlement was not reached). It is imperative that this class be completed because, if one of the parties refuses to take the required course, some Judges refuse to permit parenting time/visitation with that parent until such class is completed and a Certificate is filed of record. Unfortunately, this is not always enough incentive to make some parents take the class, much to the detriment and disappointment of the child.
Should you find yourself needing to take such a class, please reach out to the attorneys at WhitbeckBennett, PLLC to assist you in locating a class tailored to your jurisdiction and best suited for your current litigation. It is always our goal to put your family first, and ensuring that our clients are educated to be the best parents for their children is a top priority. After all, regardless of what the parties’ relationship is like at the time of the divorce, their children want them to be able to sit on the same row at graduation, dance together at their wedding, and be in the same hospital room when that first grandbaby comes. Let’s all keep those goals in mind for one another as we traverse this major life change together.