Current Weather
The Spy FM

Never-Married Parents Get Help From Special Court

Filed by KOSU News in US News.
May 7, 2012

Across the U.S., 40-percent of children are now born to unmarried parents. This demographic shift, primarily among younger, low-income parents, can pose a challenge to a child support system designed chiefly to extract money from paychecks.

A court in Minneapolis is now trying a new approach, one that’s about more than just the money as it attempts to keep both parents involved in the lives of their kids.

Hennepin County Family Court Judge Bruce Peterson noticed a problem: young men were showing up for paternity establishment and child support hearings, but the future of their families looked shaky.

“We were telling young dads, ‘Congratulations, you’re the father legally now, here’s your child support obligation.’” Peterson says. “So it was very apparent to me there was much more work to be done to support these young parents.”

Unlike divorce cases, where the couple has a shared history, never-married parents who show up in Peterson’s courtroom may not know each other well. They now have an 18-year shared endeavor: raising a child together. The drop-off in father involvement is steep.

In 2010, Hennepin County created a Co-Parent Court modeled after problem-solving courts in the criminal system — like drug courts. The idea is that kids will do better with two involved parents, child support will be more consistent and the courts will have fewer conflicts to resolve.

On a recent afternoon, ten mothers and fathers filled the jury box in Peterson’s court room as he explained the experiment they’ll be part of.

“We understand that if you don’t have a comfortable place to live or your health isn’t good or you’ve got other problems you’re worried about, you can’t be an effective parent,” he tells the parents.

Parents are offered help from community agencies to find work or deal with domestic violence, addictions or mental health problems. They’re required to participate in four, weekly co-parenting sessions so they can write a parenting plan covering everything from holiday schedules to communicating with one another.

Navigation Co-Parenting

Maisha Giles and John Jackson are the parent navigators. Over a lunchtime buffet with six moms, they talk about some things to avoid, like bad-mouthing the other parent in front of the child.

“Y’all ever seen this?” Giles asks. “You know, one parent trying to be the favorite parent?”

Jackson jumps in with an example, “You put a punctuation on the end of it like, ‘Bet your daddy don’t do that!’ Those kind of little things, that’s what she was referring to.”

One of the moms nods and says, “It’s not a competition.”

Joseph Arrondando is a 28-year-old dad who went through Co-Parent Court last year. When Arrondando and the mother of his 2-year-old son, Nasir, broke up, he says he didn’t get to see his toddler son for six months.

“I couldn’t let that happen, that’s my son, that’s my boy,” Arrondando says. “It’s important to me that my son has his father. I grew up in a single-parent household and I don’t understand why any mother would do that to a boy.”

Arrondando and Nasir’s mom were assigned to go through Co-Parent Court and agreed to share custody. Nasir now stays with his dad three days a week and Arrondando is paying child support.

Arrondando says Co-Parent Court held in downtown Minneapolis gave him a chance to show he’s not a deadbeat dad.

“I think more men should go downtown, don’t be afraid to go downtown, regardless of if you’re afraid that the relationship is going to get even worse,” he says. “I think you need to go downtown on the strength of just your child, and ask for time with your children.”

And it is the children who court administrators will be following up with to see if Co-Parent Court pays off for them. [Copyright 2012 Minnesota Public Radio]

Leave a Reply

12AM to 5AM The Spy

The Spy

An eclectic mix of the Spy's library of more than 10,000 songs curated by Ferris O'Brien.

Listen Live Now!

5AM to 9AM Morning Edition

Morning Edition

For more than two decades, NPR's Morning Edition has prepared listeners for the day ahead with two hours of up-to-the-minute news, background analysis, commentary, and coverage of arts and sports.

View the program guide!

9AM to 10AM The Takeaway

The Takeaway

A fresh alternative in morning news, "The Takeaway" provides a breadth and depth of world, national and regional news coverage that is unprecedented in public media.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center