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New Minnesota court helps never-married couples with kids

Just like divorcing couples, never-married couples who have a child together must resolve child custody and child support issues. However, unlike divorcing couples who usually have had a prolonged relationship, many of the never-married parents have a minimal relationship, which complicates their child support issues.

These never-married couples with children have become a major issue for family law courts. Across the nation, approximately 40 percent of children are born outside of marriage.

Rather than treating these never-married parents like traditional divorcing couples, a Minneapolis court is attempting a fresh approach called the Co-Parent Court in order to better handle the new issues raised by the shift.

Hennepin County Family Court Judge Bruce Peterson says the move stemmed from what he saw as a growing problem: young men appearing for paternity establishment and child support hearings who had little to no relationship with the mother of their child. Such parents would then be faced with having to figure out how to raise a child together for the next 18 years. In these situations, the decline in father involvement in the child's life tends to be steep.

Patterned after problem-solving courts in the criminal system, the Co-Parent Court works on the premise that child support payments will be more consistent and parental conflict less if the child has two involved parents, not just one.

As part of the co-parenting experiment, parents can get aid from an array of community agencies. This may include help finding a job or dealing with domestic violence, mental health or addiction problems.

In addition, the parents must attend four co-parenting sessions. These sessions help the parents to, among other things, draft a parent plan that covers such common issues as holiday schedules or how to interpersonal communication.

Source: MPR News, "Never-married parents get help from special court," Sasha Aslanian, May 7, 2012

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