From Boston Magazine: On a Monday afternoon this summer, when I should have been working, I closed down Slack, shut my bedroom door for privacy, and joined a Zoom call with some 30 strangers. All of us had set aside two and a half hours of our workday, and the same amount of time two days later, to attend a state-ordered parenting class. What had I done to deserve this? I had never abused or neglected my children—one of two reasons the state forces people to attend parenting courses—nor necessarily had any other parents on the call. We were all here because we had decided to get divorced in Massachusetts, and that meant we didn’t have a choice.
The intervention, in my case at least, felt unnecessary at best and infuriating at worst. I’d been a parent for nearly 15 years by the time I logged into the course, and my ex and I—already separated for more than three years—had long ago agreed on the division of our possessions and assets, and on custody and visitation. My two daughters, by all accounts, are not only well adjusted, but are thriving socially, academically, and at home.
Yet in the 1990s the Massachusetts legislature and courts determined that it would be in the best interests of children for all parents who are splitting up—no matter how amicably, no matter how long they have been
living apart—to take a class about the effects of divorce on children. Using videos, PowerPoint presentations, and breakout discussion groups, the courses emphasize that it isn’t good to fight in front of children and seek to improve relations between divorcing parents. Classes with similar goals now exist nearly everywhere in the country, although in most places they are mandated only for parents in contested divorces. Massachusetts is one of just 17 states to require them in all cases. The result is a booming industry: Last year nearly 10,000 parents in the Bay State took the classes from any one of 24 private, nonprofit providers, paying $80 a pop in most cases. With COVID-19 placing unprecedented stress on marriages, and reports of a pandemic-era surge in divorce filings, that number could well increase this year and next.
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