Massachusetts Probate and Family Court Standing Order 2-16, which can be found at https://www.mass.gov/doc/probate-and-family-court-standing-order-2-16-parent-education-program-attendance/download, requires all parties to a divorce action, and at the Court’s discretion parties in other types of actions such as paternity or contempt, to participate in a Parent Education Program. The program is only required if the parties have minor children under 18.
The purpose of the program is to give parties with children some tools to help them work together for the best interest of their children post-divorce. This includes information that will help the parties with co-parenting after divorce, such as giving them some information about child development issues to help children cope with divorce and providing tools that may help the parties have more effective c-parenting communications and therefore less conflict.
The course must be taken within 30 days of service of a complaint for divorce. If there has not yet been a filing with the Court, because the parties are using out of court processes such as Mediation, Collaborative Law, or other out of Court settlement negotiations and working together to reach agreement, parties should still take the course as soon as possible. The program provider will give you a certificate of attendance to file with the court confirming that you have taken the course. The Court is very strict about the requirement for attendance at the Parent Education program, and will not grant a divorce without the parties providing proof of attendance.
The Standing Order allows for a waiver of attendance at the program but only under very limited circumstances. In addition, a party can request to take the program by DVD or online rather than in person. The party requesting DVD or online participation is generally required to file a motion, with notice to the other party, asking the Court to approve their request. The circumstances under which this may be allowed include health or financial issues, and transportation issues.
Unless the court allows otherwise, parties have to attend programs that are approved by the Court, and there are many such programs around the state. There is a small fee for attendance, which can be waived if a party is indigent or has other sufficient reasons for the fee to be waived.
In the current Coronavirus pandemic, the Court has issued a temporary amendment to Standing Order 2-16, the full text of which can be found at https://www.mass.gov/doc/temporary-amendment-to-standing-order-2-16-parent-education-program-attendance/download. This temporary amendment allows much wider access to the Parent Education Program online and by DVD than it did before. It is not known if the Court will make this temporary amendment more permanent after the pandemic is over, but for now parties can and should take advantage of the easier access to the program online