Mandatory Parenting Classes for Florida Divorces
If you are considering filing for divorce in Florida, you may have heard about the four-hour mandatory parenting classes that are required of divorcing couples with children before a court will allow a divorce to be finalized. Some see this as an intrusion and an inconvenience, but it is simply one of the realities of the divorce process that must be met. An experienced Jacksonville divorce attorney can help you meet all obligations, including making sure that you are in compliance with the parenting course requirement.
Why Does Florida Require a Parenting Class?
According to Florida law, children often suffer from painful negative impacts of divorce, including unintended financial, educational, and emotional outcomes. The law was written to assist parents in making better parenting choices in the context of divorce. The program is designed to provide support and guidance on key issues thought to be most likely to lead to problems for children.
How is the Program Governed?
The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) oversees the program, and each course is referred to as a “Parent Education and Family Stabilization Course.” DCF maintains a list of eligible and approved providers who are allowed to certify the attendance of individuals who are required to complete the course.
Providers are limited in what they can discuss in training. Program providers are strictly prohibited from soliciting divorcing parents to become their private clients. Courses can be as affordable as just $25. Providers cannot give medical, psychological, or legal advice.
What Issues are Covered by the Course?
- Handling legal issues between divorced parents
- The emotional and psychological impact of divorce on parents and children
- Family and relationship goals and challenges
- Financial issues of parenting
- Child abuse, neglect, and general child welfare
- Work-life balance and childcare responsibilities
How Long do I Have to Take the Course?
Petitioners filing a new divorce or paternity case in Florida have 45 days from the date of filing in order to complete a parenting course. The responding party has 45 days from the date served with the petition.
Can I be Excused From Taking the Course?
Yes, but given the tight deadline for completing the course, you should contact an attorney right away. The court can only excuse the course requirement for “good cause.” This is determined by the presiding judge in your case.
Can Things I Say in the Course be Used Against Me?
Generally, no. Of course, specific questions should be addressed with your attorney well before attending a course. However, the law says specifically that “information obtained or statements made by the parties at any educational session required under this statute shall not be considered in the adjudication of a pending or subsequent action, nor shall any report resulting from such educational session become part of the record of the case unless the parties have stipulated in writing to the contrary.” See Fla. Stat. 61.21.(8).
What Happens if I Fail to Take the Course? Is there a Penalty?
Unless excused by the court, the judge can levy serious penalties for refusing to take the course or failing to meet the requirement within the time period allowed. While you may be entitled to an exception, you can be held in contempt of court if you fail to comply with the requirement. In addition to contempt, a judge can restrict parenting access, deny joint parenting in the final order, or even apply financial sanctions, as he or she deems appropriate.
Do I Have to See My Spouse at the Classes?
No. The law is clear that divorcing spouses shall not be required to attend together. In fact, even if they want to attend together, the court can actually prohibit couples from attending together if there is a history of domestic violence. In short, the court has broad power to limit, excuse, or restrict the manner in which couples comply with the course requirement.
Talk to an Attorney
If you are considering filing for divorce or initiating a paternity case in Florida, you should contact an experienced family law attorney. The Judy-Ann Smith Law Firm is available to assist with divorces, custody, and support modification or enforcement throughout the Jacksonville area. Call (904) 562-1369 to get the guidance you need today.