The “Helping Children Succeed After Divorce” program was created in 1991 through the concerted efforts of the Children’s Hospital Guidance Centers Divorce Services, the Franklin County Domestic Relations Court, and the Family Law Committee of the Columbus (Ohio) Bar Association. The three (3) hour seminar was designed to provide parents with information to help them better understand their children’s reaction to the divorce process and to adjust to the inevitable changes that divorce brings to the family unit.
In Montgomery County, Ohio, attendance at the “Helping Children Succeed After Divorce” seminar, hereinafter sometimes referred to as “Helping Children” is not an option for divorcing parents but a requirement of the Domestic Relations Court. If a parent fails to attend the seminar, the assigned Judge can deny “parenting time” or “visitation” to that parent or refuse to file the Final Decree of Divorce or Dissolution. The program is taught by Galen Curry, Manager of the Parent Education Department of the Court, or by Margaret Leger (Beth) of the same Department. The program is offered during morning hours (9 a.m. to noon), afternoon hours (2 p.m. to 5 p.m.), and evening hours (6 p.m. to 9 p.m.) to accommodate the scheduling needs of parents going through a divorce or dissolution proceeding. The Court offers at least seven (7) presentations per month.
On February 17, 2009, I took advantage of the opportunity to attend the “Helping Children” program in order to learn firsthand about the workshop. I attended the seminar with twenty (20) other Mothers and Fathers. The educational offering is held in Classroom #113 located in Building 12 of Sinclair Community College. Complimentary refreshments including coffee, tea, soft-drinks, fruit, chips, and cookies were available in an adjacent room. Galen Curry was the presenter/teacher for this afternoon program. He utilized a power point presentation, clearly written handouts, relevant film clips, role-playing with an opportunity for dialogue and questions as teaching tools or strategies. The three (3) hour program with two short breaks went by quickly due to the interesting content and the expertise of the presenter. Also, during the breaks, participants had the opportunity to pick-up additional handouts from three tables near the classroom. There were articles about Parenting Styles, Shared Parenting, and about the five (5) stages of the Grief Process in Divorce. The five (5) stages are akin to the grieving process which one experiences with the death of a loved one:
Mr. Curry emphasized that a major difference in the grief process between the death of a loved one and a divorce is that the divorce often involves the added emotion of “rejection”.
Our presenter emphasized that the greatest problem for children of divorce or dissolution involves witnessing arguments and/or actual fighting between parents. Children perceive themselves as being a part of their parents; and if and when they hear their Mother or Father verbally or physically attack the other parent, the child also feels “hurt” and “attacked”, which can have a damaging effect on the child’s self esteem.
The best single predictor of a poor emotional outcome for children are those who live with parents who experience “ongoing” or “continuing” parental conflict–those parties who never move on to the Acceptance Stage of the grieving process. These parents are the ones who continue to harbor anger, resentment, and extreme ill will months and/or years after the divorce has been finalized. The best single predictor of a positive emotional outcome for children are those who live with parents who are able to exhibit cooperative parenting–the parents who are able to let go of anger and ill will and who place the needs of their children before their own needs. These parents should adhere to the following rules:
–Do not bring up “old” marital issues into present discussions.
–Limit communication to child-related issues.
–Focus on the present and the future, not the past.
In the third hour of the seminar, Mr. Curry discussed the developmental stages of a child’s life and explained how infants, toddlers, preschoolers, early school age children, older school age children, and adolescents react to divorce and the break-up of the family unit. Infants, children from birth to twelve months of age, are least affected by the emotional consequences of divorce as they are non-verbal and do not understand the concept of a “family”. But, even infants can sense if a parent is exhibiting symptoms of anger and tension by the way they are held and cuddled or not held and cuddled.
I thoroughly enjoyed attending the seminar and left most impressed with the educational program parents are receiving from the Court! Additionally, I learned that the program is free of charge and that parking passes are even issued to participants who park in the Sinclair Community College garage below Building 12. Persons from adjacent counties and even from out-of-state can attend the seminar without charge. Also, parents do not have to attend the same program together. Each may separately schedule attendance at a time which is convenient to them. A Certificate of Attendance is presented to all the attendees, as well as a copy to the assigned Judge.
I want to express my gratitude to the Domestic Relations Court of Montgomery County, Ohio, Galen Curry and Tina Kavy for permitting me to attend this worthwhile program. For more information about the seminar, call (937) 225-4092.
As Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert would say at the end of their reviews, this program merits “Two thumbs up”!
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Anne Shale is of counsel to Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues. She is a former registered nurse and concentrates her practice in Family Law and Divorce cases.