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Special court offers alternative solutions to co-parenting

In Michigan, as well as nationwide, an increasing number of parents are unmarried. It is estimated that approximately four out of 10 children in the U.S. are born to parents who were never wed. In one state, authorities are experimenting with a new specialized court designed to assist unmarried parents with their unique challenges. That includes a heightened focus on fathers' rights.

Traditionally, much of the focus of the court system has been targeted on simply helping to ensure that child support obligations were enforced. The specialized court, however, is trying to do more for unmarried parents. It is supporting a system that encourages parents, mothers and fathers alike, to remain involved in their child's life, whether or not they are the custodial parent.

In some instances of unmarried parents, the couple may not have had a long shared history together, like married couples. Fathers are being encouraged to do more than simply accept paternity determinations and mail a monthly check. The court encourages the two new parents to cooperate together in raising the child over the long haul to adulthood, which can be a rich and rewarding experience for both the parents and the children.

Single parents often also have their own personal obstacles to overcome as a result of youth and low income. The specialized court works to connect them with available agency assistance in addressing issues concerning finding work, or dealing with substance abuse, domestic violence, or the need for counseling or therapy.

It also mandates participation in discussions about co-parenting to help the new parents cooperate and communicate on things impacting the child, ranging from visitation and holidays to education and medical concerns. Parents are urged not to disparage each other to the child and to share responsibility for their upbringing.

Alternative solutions to co-parenting are becoming more popular recently. With family dynamics shifting so significantly, finding a way to maintain and foster these strong parent-child relationships is as important as ever.

Source: NPR, "Never-Married Parents Get Help From Special Court," Sasha Aslanian, May 7, 2012

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