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SALT LAKE CITY — A new Utah bill would require divorced couples with children to attend an educational course when they need to change their parenting plan.
The course would remind parents of the stress high conflict post-divorce situations can have on children, said HB86 sponsor Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay.
"For example, say the mother has custody but she gets remarried and moves somewhere else, and so the dad's going to have them more often and he doesn't think he should pay as much in child support. In other words, those changes can be very contentious and cause a lot of anxiety for kids," she said during a House Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday.
"And even more than that, there's the expense of hiring attorneys and having dueling attorneys trying to deal with the parents' differences, and it's very expensive. And it ties the court up in the same way," Spackman Moss said.
The parents would need to bring a certificate to the court to show they completed it before changes could be made to their parenting plan. But if they're both already in agreement, the court can waive the course requirement, she said.
The concept isn't new to the state as couples intending to divorce need to attend a course to prepare them, Spackman noted.
She said many people who have taken those courses have said it was helpful to them in navigating the process, and some have even requested additional courses.
The course would cost no more than $35 per parent, and it would be designed to educate parents about a child's needs during and after the modification of a parenting plan. It would also provide information on the definition of a parenting plan, the process for modifying a parenting plan, the objectives of a parenting plan, how to effectively co-parent after a separation or divorce, and other related concepts.
Parents could attend the interactive course online or in person, and it would take about 60 minutes.
Brian Higginbotham, associate vice president for Utah State University Extension, said there is need for the program in the state based on court data. There are 13,000 divorces in the state per year, and 4,000 proposals to change parenting plans.
The bill would help minimize the conflict and could prevent people from needing to go to court, he said.
When the meeting opened for public comment, Rob Boudrero — who brought the idea for the bill to lawmakers — said his wife has dealt with a high-conflict situation after a divorce for the last several years.
"It has been so traumatic in that way," he said, adding that it has also caused high attorney fees.
Boudrero said he believes an educational course like the bill would require could help in situations like his family faces. He said he also previously lost a family member to another high-conflict divorce, and he thanked lawmakers for considering the bill to help prevent others from similar circumstances.
The system isn't broken, Higginbotham said, but it helps if someone can afford a lawyer or knows how to navigate the court systems on their own. For those who can't, the course would give parents that information. The course could save families thousands of dollars, he added.
"Some have questioned whether there's any value in a one-hour brief intervention," Higginbotham said. "Yet, what the research shows is that these minimal doses programs are effective, and in some cases as effective as intensive courses."
Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Herriman, questioned whether it's a good idea to require another fee for parents who are already in a stressful situation.
But Moss and Higginbotham stressed the idea that it would potentially save couples from needing to hire attorneys.
The bill received a favorable recommendation from the committee, with only Pierucci voting not to move it forward to the full House.