Alternative court for unmarried parents

When an unmarried new father is hailed into court, the rulings usually involve financial determinations, not the role he will play in the child’s life. One judge in Minnesota found that too often, even men who contributed financially faded from their children’s lives. The same judge found that additional efforts need to be made to ensure that unmarried fathers uphold parenting obligations.

Working collaboratively with mothers and the courts, a new system is paving the way for family courts nationwide. The new arrangement could possibly serve as a model for family courts in Missouri, pursuing a better alternative to resolve paternity, custody and support disputes. It is also one court’s solution to create a more sustainable relationship for fathers and their children in unmarried families.

Despite the fact that unmarried parents have not made a commitment to each other, they will share a similar goal for at least 18 years: raising their        child. According to statistics, the role of the unmarried father declines in a child’s life over time. Over one-third of children with unmarried parents have no or limited contact with their fathers.

The new “Co-Parent” court was established in 2010 using federal, county and foundation money to support its efforts. Considered a “problem solving court” similar to drug and DWI courts, those who gain eligibility will work through the Co-Parent court instead of family court. Participants are given assistance form community agencies to find employment, combat domestic abuse, and work collaboratively as parents.

The results of working through this kind of court remain to be seen. Experts in family law hope that the ongoing involvement with fathers creates an incentive and obligation toward the child.

Source: Associated Press, “Judge creates unique problem-solving court for unwed parents,” May 11, 2012.

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