The Massachusetts Probate and Family Court just released Standing Order 3-2023. titled "Co-Parenting Education Course for Married and Unmarried Parents
as amended January 22, 2024, effective February 12, 2024". It is 3 pages but I think it can be summarized pretty easily.
Who has to take the co-parenting course?
You must take the co-parenting course if you fall into the following categories:
- If you are a parent in a new case of one of the following types:
- Complaint for Divorce (only those filed pursuant to G.L. c. 208, § 1B, AKA a contested divorce)
- Complaint for Custody / Support / Parenting Time (G.L. c. 209C, which applies to unmarried parents)
- Complaint to Establish Paternity
- Complaint for Separate Support
- Your case is filed on or after February 12, 2024
You could be ordered to take the co-parenting course if you fall into the following categories:
- If you are ordered by a judge to take the co-parenting course in any other types of cases, such as:
- Complaint for Modification of Divorce Judgment
- Complaint for Modification of Judgment on Complaint for Custody / Support / Parenting Time
- Uncontested Divorce (G.L. c. 208, § 1A)
- any other case involving minor children
What co-parenting course is required?
The co-parenting course required in Massachusetts is called "Two Families Now." There is a cost of $49.00 for each parent to attend the course. Similar to filing fees and the cost of service of process, this cost may be waived in some circumstances but requires an approved Affidavit of Indigency from the court.
Once you enroll, you have 30 days to complete the course online. According to the course website, the course should take 4 - 6 hours and does not need to be completed in one sitting, you can start and come back to it as many times as you need to.
When does the co-parenting course have to be completed?
The course has to be completed within 30 days of service of the summons for any of the case types noted above. The party filing the case (plaintiff) has a little more time to complete the course because they know about the filing and ultimate service of the complaint/summons. In many cases, the defendant won't know until they are served with the summons and complaint.
What happens after the course is completed?
Once you complete the course, you will receive a "Certificate of Completion". You need to file this certificate with the court within 14 days of completing the course.
Can the course be waived for some parents?
Standing Rule 3-2023 provides a process to request waiver of the course for some parents. It lists some scenarios when a waiver may be granted, including:
- a written agreement for custody or parenting time is filed with the court;
- a parent has previously attended the course;
- unavailability of a party (such as incarceration);
- "where justice otherwise indicates"
The last bullet is a catch-all that gives judges the discretion to waive the course if they feel it isn't necessary. It is too early to tell what types of situations judges will use their discretion to waive the requirement, but it seems like parents who have demonstrated an ability to co-parent or where the sole minor child between the parties is getting close to age 18. We will have to wait and see how judges choose to exercise their discretion, if at all.
In my experience, families that are new to co-parenting can use all the help and perspective they can get to adapt to their new situation. I am sure I will hear from some parents that they don't want to take it or that it isn't going to help them.
My advice is to take the course seriously and don't be the person that ignores the requirement or makes excuses for not taking it. I am pretty sure judges will take it seriously and expect parties appearing before them to follow the rules, even if they don't love it. This is now part of the process in some cases so make the best of it and show the judge that you respect the court and can follow rules, this might be the first impression the judge has of the parents in their courtroom.