Anybody in the legal process of divorce in Oklahoma on grounds of incompatibility with a child younger than 18 years of age must seek marriage counseling, according to state law.
House Bill 2249 went into effect Nov. 1. The law states, “the adult parties shall attend an educational program concerning the impact of divorce on children.”
Edmond Family Counseling (EFC) has been offering the course since January, said Darcy McConnell, EFC licensed professional counselor and licensed drug and alcohol counselor.
Divorce rates in Oklahoma are among the highest in the nation, McConnell added. But fewer recently married couples are seeking divorce, added said John Goetz, also a licensed professional counselor.
“Our legislature has been looking at the divorce rate in Oklahoma for quite some time,” Goetz said.
Marriage is a serious event and state lawmakers want Oklahomans to think twice before proceeding with divorce. Any Oklahoman may attend the group, Goetz said.
“The concern is for minor children. I think as a group, that’s our focus,” Goetz continued. “The two adults are divorcing each other. They are not divorcing the children.”
He projects that more people will be getting married now that gay marriage is protected by the United States Supreme Court.
“The way I understand the law, if you are a gay couple with adopted children, you would have to go through this class, too,” Goetz said. “It just says if you’re getting a divorce. It doesn’t say anything else.”
Children have two parents and the two adults need to work together to be the best two parents they can be for their children with the least negative impact, Goetz and McConnell said.
So far McConnell has not seen any couples attending the divorce session change their minds about the finality of divorce, she said.
“I’ve never seen that, even in couples counseling,” she said.
McConnell said she and Goetz have experience with custody issues regarding divorced parents and blended families trying to work together.
“We can offer scenarios or circumstances that we’ve seen in families, that these families are going to be in the future,” McConnell said. “And so I think it’s incredibly helpful to just simply put out there, ‘Hey, these are things that happen we see all the time. How would you deal with it if this came up?’”
The classes occur Wednesdays for one week for an hour. Four sessions are necessary to complete the state’s requirements.
Classes begin at any point and the divorcing partners do not attend the sessions together, McConnell said.
“This was not their first choice,” Goetz said. “They come to it for various reasons and a lot of times there is a lot of hurt. And those emotions of hurt interfere with being able to communicate with each other.”
The divorce process is well along it’s way through the court by the time these couples come to the sessions, McConnell said.
“This is just one more thing they have to do before they appear in court for the last time,” she said.
The state set the cost of the counseling session at no more than $30 per person and no less than $15 per person.
Topics to be included in these programs are:
• Short-term and longitudinal effects of divorce on a child’s well being
• Reconciliation as an optional outcome
• Potential child behaviors and emotional states during and after divorce, including information on how to respond to the child’s needs
• Effects of family violence
• Communication strategies to reduce conflict and facilitate cooperative co-parenting
• Provide information on area resources, including but not limited to nonprofit organizations, religious organizations, etc. to address issues of substance abuse or other addictions, family violence, behavioral health, individual and couples counseling and financial planning.
VISIT to http://edmondfamilycounseling.org for more information about state mandated divorce counseling at Edmond Family Counseling.