Of all the things to complain about during a divorce – the unnecessary contention, the frequent court appearances or the endless road of discovery – the one complaint I hear most frequesntly is about New Jersey’s mandatory Parent Education Program.
Yes, you read correctly. It is the Parent Education Program – a compulsory seminar for all parties when a Complaint or Counterclaim raises custody or child support – which is the most seemingly offensive to those going through a divorce.
The New Jersey Judiciary Website describes the Program as follows:
N.J.S.A. 2A:34-12, mandates that parents must attend a Parents’ Education Program in all divorce cases in which custody, parenting time, or child support is raised as an issue in the complaint or answer/counterclaim. The workshop is designed to inform families about their children’s needs as they move thought the difficult transitions of separation and divorce and to introduce parents to the mediation process as an alternative to traditional litigation for resolving parenting matters. Program speakers include a Family Mediator and two licensed clinical social workers.
Given all the years of complaints (I just heard the last one on Tuesday) of course, the curious cat I am needed to look more into the matter to see if the mandatory Parent Education Program is really mandatory for a reason.
I found a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research entitled Labor Market Returns to Early Childhood Stimulation: a 20-year Followup to an Experimental Intervention in Jamaica , written by Paul Gertler, James Heckman, and several others co-authors.
The paper examines the long-term effects of a Jamaican program that taught a sample of Jamaican parents better parenting skills. Here is the abstract:
We find large effects on the earnings of participants from a randomized intervention that gave psychosocial stimulation to stunted Jamaican toddlers living in poverty. The intervention consisted of one-hour weekly visits from community Jamaican health workers over a 2-year period that taught parenting skills and encouraged mothers to interact and play with their children in ways that would develop their children’s cognitive and personality skills. We re-interviewed the study participants 20 years after the intervention. Stimulation increased the average earnings of participants by 42 percent. Treatment group earnings caught up to the earnings of a matched non-stunted comparison group. These findings show that psychosocial stimulation early in childhood in disadvantaged settings can have substantial effects on labor market outcomes and reduce later life inequality.
Now certainly, I am not suggesting that New Jersey’s mandatory Parent Education Program is designed to address issues such as those the Jamaican study was designed to address.
However, the study answers in the affirmative the very fundamental question: can better parenting be taught?
Encountering a new parenting situation, such as co-parenting following a divorce, may therefore warrant the mandatory parenting programs such as those established in New Jersey and other states.
Eliana T. Baer is a frequent contributor to the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and a member of the Family Law Practice Group of Fox Rothschild LLP. Eliana practices in Fox Rothschild’s Princeton, New Jersey office and focuses her state-wide practice on representing clients on issues relating to divorce, equitable distribution, support, custody, adoption, domestic violence, premarital agreements and Appellate Practice. You can reach Eliana at (609) 895-3344, or firstname.lastname@example.org.