What is the Parenting Education Program?

This Week’s Blog by Jaime S. Dursht

  • It is a mandatory course for any parent going through divorce with minor children.
  • The purpose is to educate parents about the impact of divorce on children.
  • The course duration is six hours and can be completed in two 3-hour sessions or three 2-hour sessions.
  • It is not necessary for parents to attend together.
  • The cost of the program is $150 per parent.

The State of Connecticut requires any party to a divorce to participate in the Parenting Education Program whenever a minor child is involved.  As set forth in Connecticut General Statutes § 46b-69b, the course must be an approved program and the topics will include the developmental stages of children, the adjustment of children to parental separation, dispute resolution and conflict management, guidelines for visitation, stress reduction in children and cooperative parenting.  The legislative history of the statute makes it clear that the purpose of the program is to protect children of divorce.

The time frame for completing the course is within the first sixty days of the return date or the filing of the action, which is mandated by the Automatic Orders that go into effect at the initiation of a marital dissolution and/or custody action.  Practice Book § 25-5(5). Your attorney should provide you with the course information and instructions, but it is up to you to locate, register for, and attend the program.  In Fairfield County, there are several approved providers including agencies in Norwalk, Greenwich, Westport, Bridgeport, and Stamford, and there are weekend options to attend as well as weekdays.  Upon completion, a certification is filed with the court.

The statute does permit a court to waive the requirement when it deems participation unnecessary. Conn. Gen. Stats. § 46b-69b(b).  For example, in Russell v. Russell, Superior Court, Judicial District of Hartford, Docket No. HHD FA165041627S (March 28, 2017; Adelman, J.), the court waived the requirement based on the high level of cooperative parenting. The statute also permits the court to waive the requirement when the parties select and attend a comparable parenting education program.  Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-69(c).  What is “comparable,” however, is not obvious.  For example, a similar curriculum offered as a course online was not acceptable in Recile v. Recile, Superior Court, Judicial District of Waterbury, Docket No. FA05-4008087S (March 31, 2006, Cutsumpas, JTR). The court found that an online program was not nearly as beneficial as the in-person program that is mandated in Connecticut. Citing legislative hearing research and articles from other states, the court noted that the purpose of the Connecticut program “is to make parents listen to experts explain what is happening to their children, what their children are feeling and offer techniques to lessen the trauma.”  The court concluded that an online course may very well risk the well-being of the child for the sake of convenience which it was unwilling to do.

The Connecticut Parenting Education Program requirement was challenged on constitutional grounds in 2008. Controversy arose over whether the State’s mandate rose to the level of governmental infringement on a parent’s fundamental right to raise his or her own children. Since the United States Supreme Court had  recognized that a parent’s interest in making decisions concerning the care, custody and control of his or her child is a fundamental right, Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 65, 120 S.Ct. 2054 (2000), a Connecticut parent challenged whether the statutory obligation was constitutional.  The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that because the course was intended to provide information to parents regarding the effects of family restructuring on children, there was no infringement on a parent’s exercise of care, custody and control over his or her children, and therefore no violation.  Dutkiewicz v. Dutkiewicz, 289 Conn. 362, 947 A.2d 821 (2008).   In fact, the court further concluded that the State has a legitimate interest in promoting the welfare of children, noting that marital dissolution and custody actions are “likely to impact the welfare of children and simultaneously are likely to present parents with extreme emotional or psychological challenges as the family is restructured.”  Id. at 382.

With offices in Westport and Greenwich, the attorneys at Broder & Orland LLC practice exclusively in the area of divorce and custody and can provide you with information about registering for the Parenting Education Program.