Children can take their stand at court for the right reasons
Although parents undergoing divorce have been legally required to take classes for nearly 20 years, only recently have similar classes been opened specifically for children.
In Salt Lake City, District Court Commissioner Michael S. Evans noticed that the lack of instruction for children made divorce even more difficult for them. "For many years I’ve seen some children confused by the divorce process. Some children really want to speak to the court," he said.
Seven years ago Evans hoped to find a way to help the children of divorcing parents with a class similar to the type he witnessed in New Jersey and Hawaii. In Hawaii, according to Evans, these classes are mandatory while in New Jersey one judge simply began a program on his own.
Even with these existing models, Evans had difficulty starting classes in Salt Lake City. Only in the last couple of years was he able to get the program off the ground on a shoe-string budget.
This past March, Evans finally received the funding to institutionalize the program and offer the courses on a regular basis. Money for the classes was provided by the Utah Bar Foundation and its Family Law Section. Classes are now held twice a week for two hours on Monday from 6 to 8 p.m. and on Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon.
To develop a curriculum, Evans recruited the assistance of Diane Passey and Valerie Hale. Both mental health professionals, they designed the course with the basic message to each participating child that the divorce was not their fault. "There was a great concern among many professionals in the valley about the impact of divorce on children Children sometimes do not feel empowered in their life," said Passey.
Students who take the class generally use the time as a means of making friends with other young people in the same situation. Not only do role-playing exercises convince the students to open up and talk about divorce, but they also make it easier for the students to make friends.
Aside from the role-playing, students have a chance to step into a judge’s shoes, or rather, his robe. Every child involved is taken to the court room and allowed to slip into Commissioner Evans’ formal court attire. Evans, who stands well above six feet tall, said that the picture of the children in his robe, with plenty of excess cloth, is rather funny. The students also take pictures and have a chance to ask Evans questions about the divorce process while he sits at the bench.
So far, Evans said that he is content with the progress of the class and the students that have participated, although he hopes to enroll many more in the months to come. Children and parents do not have to be residents of Salt Lake City to take the course and should contact Alissa White at (801) 578-3897.
After years of witnessing divorces, Evans also said that parents can make it easier on their children by communicating with them throughout the procedures and maintaining consistent civility. Parents, he said, should choose to work together and should not be afraid to reach a settlement.
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