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Mandatory attendance

Arguments in favour

10.42Salem et al suggested courts should support parent education programmes as they recognised that the adversarial system can add further hostility to the divorce process between the parents.  Such programmes also symbolise that the courts have a responsibility to help families beyond a narrow legal framework.  Salem recommended mandatory attendance as the parents who most need it will not attend voluntarily.  This will show parents that the court takes the welfare of the child seriously.  It ensures that both parents get the information and it avoids lawyers having to advise clients whether to attend for not.

Research in favour of mandatory attendance

10.43In Utah where it is not possible to obtain a divorce without attending such a programme, a research survey noted that 56% of parents reported feeling resentful at having to attend.1109  However 93% of parents, having attended the programme, thought the programme was worthwhile and 89% thought it should be mandatory.1110  92% agreed that it had increased their understanding of the importance of being co-operative with each other and 90% stated that it would strengthen their efforts to work with the other parent.

10.44Blaisure and Geasler recommended that, if a programme is mandatory, the court should provide a fee waiver and attendance waiver for parents with extenuating circumstances.1111  The mandatory programme in their research had an average of 110 parents per month compared to 20 parents per month for voluntary programmes.  They concluded that it may be easier to gain support for programmes that focused on children’s needs rather than designed for parents who are in dispute.1112

10.45Di Bias1113 encouraged lawyers to become knowledgeable about parent education programmes and encourage parents and children to attend.  She argued that the court already compel parents to participate in custody evaluation, and to attend therapy and counselling.  Parents’ rights must be considered:

“in conjunction with the best interests of the child ....  Is it not better to educate parents so that they may make family decisions themselves without the need for intervention from the court?”

1109 Utah made parent education programmes compulsory in 1994.  Loveridge 1995, reported in Blaisure and Geasler, “Results of a survey of court-connected parent education programs in US counties,” Family and Conciliation Courts Review, vol 34, No.1, January 1996, 23 at 35.  Referred to at 18 of Salem’s article supra.

1110 Idem.

1111 Ibid at 37.

1112 Ibid at 52.

1113 “Some Programs for children”, Family and Conciliation Courts Review, vol 34, No.1, January 1996, 112, at 124-5.

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