Barbara J. Katzenberg, Attorney at Law
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Judge offers never-married parents a new way to work it out

In some areas of law, Massachusetts leads the way -- same-sex marriage for example. In one area of law, Massachusetts could take a lesson from another state's playbook.

The issue at hand is that never-married parents, who may have not even had a significant relationship, are being expected to raise a child together. A Minnesota judge has developed a new way to help unwed parents co-parent their children successfully.

According to a news source, the judge noticed that unwed parents, particularly young parents, lacked the skills to parent their child or children when the parents were also faced with a lack of education, unemployment or underemployment and other issues that could affect their child-raising abilities.

The numbers are grim. By the age of five, about half of the children with unwed parents had little contact with the fathers, and about one-third had lost track of the fathers completely.

The solution the judge developed was a special problem-solving court to deal with the challenges faced by never-married parents.

It is called Co-Parenting Court and here is how it works:

  • Participants are invited from high-poverty districts.
  • Multiple community agencies are involved in the court.
  • Parents are given assistance with issues ranging from employment and domestic violence to addiction.
  • Parents must attend four weekly co-parenting sessions.
  • Parents write a co-parenting plan that they agree upon.

The sessions apparently stress co-parenting, rather than parenting. For example, each parent is shown how to refer to the other parent in a respectful way when talking to their children.

Attendance at the sessions has reportedly been 80 percent.

Co-Parenting Court is an example of how to take parenting beyond the legal obligations and into actions which have a chance of creating healthy and well-adjusted children in non-traditional never-married relationships.

Source: The Christian Science Monitor, "Judge creates unique problem-solving court to help unwed parents," Melanie Stetson Freeman, May 11, 2012

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