Study Finds Divorce Education Reduces Parents' Return To Court

September 02, 1997

ATHENS, Ohio -- Divorcing parents who participate in a divorce education program are less likely to return to court on matters related to the divorce than those who don't, according to a new Ohio University study.

Psychology researchers interviewed 48 parents involved in divorce proceedings in Athens County, Ohio, who were required to take part in a divorce education class before their divorce proceedings. They also reviewed court records for 23 couples who were divorced prior to the institution of the education program.

The parents who didn't take part in the program were more than twice as likely to relitigate over issues such as child support, custody and visitation.

"The program focuses intensively on reducing the frequency with which parents involved children in loyalty conflicts, which is the most damaging aspect of divorce for children," said Jack Arbuthnot, professor of psychology at Ohio University and lead author of the study. "The treatment group demonstrated more favorable attitudes regarding child access to the other parent, showed greater knowledge of ways to keep children out of the middle of parental conflicts, and reported better adjustment regarding their relations with the other parent."

Researchers studied parents of minor children filing for divorce, legal separation or post-decree action. The parents attended a two-hour parent education class mandated by the court before their divorce hearing was scheduled. During the class, parents viewed and discussed "Children in the Middle," a videotape addressing ways to deal with family issues common to divorce.

At the end of the class, parents completed a survey, including questions that assessed their mastery of course skills, their perception of how their children were coping with the divorce and current and projected parental conflict levels.

Six months after divorces were granted, the parents were contacted and interviewed.

"Parents do indeed benefit from divorce education and the skills they learn translate into behavioral changes," Arbuthnot said. "This result should be especially comforting to judges and legislators who have mandated divorce education programs in their jurisdictions."

The program's focus on changing specific behaviors and providing materials to practice those skills proved more successful than other divorce education programs that simply sensitize parents to their children's potential problems, according to Arbuthnot.

"If parents learn to communicate more effectively, and to cooperate in their parenting efforts to reduce conflict levels for the sake of their children, there should be a decline in relitigation by parents who have attended and benefited from an effective divorce education class," Arbuthnot said.

Arbuthnot co-authored the study with Don Gordon, professor of psychology, and Kevin Kramer, a graduate student in psychology, both at Ohio University.

The study was published in a recent issue of the journal Family and Conciliation Courts Review. Through the Center for Divorce Education in Athens, Gordon and Arbuthnot have researched and developed ways to educate divorcing parents, including "Children in the Middle," which won the National Council For Children's Rights 1992 award for best parenting video. The video is used by judges in more than 700 courts and agencies in all 50 states and eight foreign countries.

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Contact: Jack Arbuthnot, 614-593-1065; arbuthno@ohiou.edu.

Written by Dwight Woodward, 614-593-1886; dwoodward1@ohiou.edu.

Ohio University

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