By Stephen Mayville, Ph.D.
Divorce classes are common throughout the United States and exist in numerous counties throughout the country. In one study, researchers found that some form of divorce education for parents going through the divorce process existed in 48% of counties across the United States (Geasler & Blaisure, 1999). Given that the estimate was calculated over ten years ago, it is reasonable to assume that the figure is now significantly higher (Pollet & Lombreglia, 2008).
Although data has been mixed on the effectiveness of some classes, programs that focus on decreasing problematic parent behaviors (Brandon, 2006) and increasing positive behavioral parenting skills (reference in child behavior therapy book), have yielded positive effects for parent and child behavioral outcomes.
A primary focus of many parenting programs is the reduction of parenting practices that place children at risk for psychological adjustment problems following a divorce. This includes placing children in the middle of parental conflict through a variety of behaviors. Some of the more common behaviors include saying disparaging things about the other parent in front of the child, having the child relay messages between parents, and disapproval of the other parent/child relationship.
Data on courses focusing on these behaviors through video modeling and other forms of direct instruction has been positive for the self-reported reduction of behavior that places children in the middle of parental conflict. Furthermore, there is also some evidence that when positive behavioral parenting strategies are taught, the utilization of these skills can contribute to significant positive changes in child well being (Wolchik, Sandler, Weiss, & Winslow, 2007). To date, programs that include components for direct education of children appear to be more limited in their effectiveness (Wolchik, et al., 2000)
It is not uncommon for there to be some resentment over court-mandated divorce classes. However, there is evidence that parents are typically satisfied with the information provided (Geasler & Blaisure, 1999). Sources of frustration for participants include resentment over instruction on a matter considered private, and frustration that the course may be limited in effectiveness because of the unwillingness of the other parent to implement the strategies taught.
If we are considering content to be included in divorce classes, it is important to consider the entire context of the divorce, and target the different domains that are representative of the divorce context. These domains include the psychological functioning of both parents, the functioning of the child, and the relationship between both parents. Future research on parenting programs that are more comprehensive in nature is needed, along with programming that may be effective in directly teaching children necessary coping skills for dealing with consequences of divorce.
Brandon, D. J. (2006). Can four hours make a difference?: Evaluation of a parent education program for divorcing parents. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 45, 171-185.
Geasler, M.J. & Blaisure, K.R. (1999). 1998 Nationwide survey of court-connected divorce education programs. Family and Concilliation Courts Review, 37, 36-63.
Pollet, S.L. & Lombreglia, M. (2008). A nationwide suvey of mandatory parent education. Family Court Review, 46, 375-394.
Wolchik, S., Sandler, I., Weiss, L., & Winslow, E. (2007). New beginnings: An empirically-based program to help divorced mothers promote resilience in their children. In Briesmeister, J.M. & Schaefer, C.E. (Eds.). Handbook of parent training (pp. 25-62). New Jersey: Wiley & Sons.
Wolchk, S.A., West, S.G., Sandler, I.N., Tein, J. Y., Coatsworth, D., Lengua, L., et al. (2000). An experimental evaluation of theory-based mother and mother-child programs for children of divorce. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68, 843-856.