Jim Briggs went through a divorce nearly 13 years ago, he didn't fully realize how his
actions and decisions would affect his three children. When you first get divorced,
you wonder about a number of things, said Briggs of Fulton, Mo. One area of
uncertainty was his relationship with his ex-wife. He admits that it took him years before
he could really communicate with her. No matter how much you hate or like someone,
you have to get along for the kids, he said.
One University Outreach and Extension program is helping divorcing parents
prepare for the unknown. Called Focus on Kids (FOK), the program teaches parents ways to
help their children through a divorce.
As a result of a legislative mandate that took
effect Aug. 29, 1998, parents who have children under 18 years and are filing for divorce
in Missouri are required to attend an educational program, like FOK, as determined by
their local circuit judge.
Jan Clark, an HES Extension associate program leader
who works with FOK, said urban areas usually offer a number of programs for divorcing
parents, but in many rural areas, such programs are not available.
We hope to fill the gaps in the more rural
areas, Clark said. We partner with the local judges for the benefit of the
parents, so they can help their kids. This way, the kids suffer the least.
During a routine FOK session, a video shows parents
difficult situations they might encounter with a former spouse or child. Situations range
from how children are caught in the middle of disputes between parents to how children
feel when they hear negative comments about a parent.
Throughout the session, participants are encouraged
to discuss difficulties and situations they have encountered personally.
Kathy Dothage and Art Schneider, University Outreach
and Extension human development specialists, facilitate a monthly FOK session in Callaway
County. They stress to the parents how important it is for them to realize the effect
their actions can have on their child's outlook and attitude towards the divorce.
Divorce affects children differently depending
on their gender and age, but the overriding factor is the parents' reaction to the
divorce, said Dothage.
She tells participants at a FOK session: It
doesn't matter whether a child is a boy or girl or what age they are. The difference is
how parents react to it. Some things we can't control, but we do have control over what
our actions are towards it. Look at what you can do, not what you can't.
In 1995, FOK began as a pilot program in Boone and
Callaway Counties. Since that time, the program has grown to include 16 counties across
the state. Seven regional human development specialists have been involved in teaching FOK
during the past year. In most areas, the sessions are offered monthly, except in Boone
County, where there are weekly sessions.
With the recent statewide mandate, Clark said she
expects to see the program grow and eventually offered in many more counties. We're
glad to have a program to meet this need that is research-based.
Although the program targets newly divorced parents,
adults undergoing a change in custody are also required to attend such an educational
Because we are focusing on kids, the
information is still applicable, said Dothage. Participants that are attending
the class because of `motion to modify' provide a reality check or on-the-job experience
for the other participants.
Briggs, who has had custody of his children for the
past six years, said the program is a good idea. Because his three oldest children will be
returning to live with their mother, he is required by the circuit court to participate in
Depending on the county, the fee for the class
ranges from $15 in McDonald County to $35 in Boone County. Briggs, who had to pay $35 for
his class in Callaway County, believes the benefits outweigh the cost.
I think it's good to just be able to exchange
ideas and stories, he said. It's hard to teach a class to fit ever scenario,
but parents need this cultural wakeup.