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Separation Anxiety

Proposed divorce class aimed at protecting children

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A proposed new law is aimed at developing classes in Rhode Island to teach divorced parents how to protect their children in the process of separation.

Right now, the Ocean State is one of the few states in the country that has no mandatory classes for divorcing parents. As of 2008, 46 states had some type of law, according to a survey by the Family Court Review. Some states require the classes only for contested divorces. Some, like Massachusetts, mandate classes regardless of the circumstances of the divorce.

Tim Lemire, a local writer and editor, discovered that Rhode Island is behind the curve on the issue when he started his own divorce proceedings. His experience led him to push for legislation.

“I want to see a robust marketplace of educational offerings to help children and parents,” Lemire says. “I want to see Rhode Island not just keep pace with other states but lead in this area. Why not? We have an Ivy League school. We have strong hospitals and facilities to help children and adolescents. Why shouldn’t we be a leader in this area?”

The classes are not therapy, nor do they push particular styles of parenting, according to Lemire. Classes vary from state to state, but the general idea, he says, is to give parents tips on how to prevent their divorce from adversely affecting their children.

He says clients of his divorce attorney who are from Massachusetts are grateful for the classes. Lemire adds that the cost and time—$50 to $75 for a class that takes five hours to complete—are a small price to pay, given what’s at stake. “How much is your child’s sanity and well-being worth to you?” he asks.

The bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Jean Philippe Barros, D-Pawtucket, would direct the chief judge of the family court to start a pilot program, before making it statewide. As of this writing, the bill was postponed. Regardless of the outcome this year, Lemire isn’t giving up: “They will push me in a wheelchair up the hill – until this bill gets passed.”