In Florida divorces involving children and paternity cases involving time-sharing and parenting plans (custody/visitation), the parties must attend a course known as the Parent Education and Family Stabilization Course. Each jurisdiction may refer to the course by a different name, such as in Jacksonville, it’s Children First in Divorce, but the concept is all the same. As a Jacksonville divorce and family law attorney, I try to educate my clients on the importance of the course. These programs are mandated by Florida statute 61.21 and are developed and approved by the Department of Children and Families. The concept of the course is to teach parents the best way to communicate with each other and the children during the pendency of the divorce or paternity case.
The course program is required to be completed by both parties at the initiation of the case. The person that files the original petition has 45 days from the date the petition was filed to show completion. The person served with the petition is required to complete the course within 45 days after receiving the petition. The idea is that the course helps the parties through the divorce and paternity case better understand the emotions of the other party, but especially the children. If the class is not taken early on, then it may lead to more misunderstandings and poor parenting through the court process.
The course is required to have at least the following components taught, in accordance with Florida Statute 61.21(2)(a):
1. Legal aspects of deciding child-related issues between parents.
2. Emotional aspects of separation and divorce on adults.
3. Emotional aspects of separation and divorce on children.
4. Family relationships and family dynamics.
5. Financial responsibilities to a child or children.
6. Issues regarding spousal or child abuse and neglect.
7. Skill-based relationship education that may be generalized to parenting, workplace, school, neighborhood, and civic relationships.
These different subjects can help the parties better understand what they are fighting each other about and to help them cope with the legal process ahead. The aspects regarding emotions may sound trite to some, but the truth is that many divorces and paternity cases are dragged out due to emotions not legal matters. Overcoming those emotions and understanding them rationally can help facilitate an easier and less expensive legal path for both parties and their children. Also, understanding the financial needs of the children can help facilitate conversations regarding child support. Many times parents do not realize the expenses associated for children individually and when they see the child support calculation it often makes the paying party nervous. Understanding how money is determined for the sake of the child and what expenses should be covered with child support can help take the anxiety away. Education on these topics can assist the parties in understanding their legal case in a way that they may not otherwise have.
The course often has a fee associated with it, to help in the costs of running the course so that the State is not taking on all expenses for the education. However, there are options available for those individuals that may have financial difficulties and have filed for indigence status.