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Counseling for children of divorced parents

April 19, 1999
By: Jennifer Lutz
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 199, SB 329

JEFFERSON CITY - A judge would have the power to require children to attend counseling when parents file for divorce under legislation sent to the full Senate Monday.

"Some judges believe they already have the power to order children to attend counseling," said Rep. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville, sponsor of a bill awaiting action by the Senate. "Some other judges don't believe they have that authority."

The bill would let judges decide on a case-by-case basis if a child should attend counseling after their parents file for a divorce. The cost of counseling would be split between the two parties.

"What makes a judge the authority to decide whether a child should receive conseling?" said Rep. Russell Gunn, D-St. Louis County, who was the only one to vote against the measure when it was in the House. "I'm not sure of any judges on the bench who have a degree in child psychology."

"This law is a major step in the right direction," said retired State Supreme Court Judge Andrew Higgins who spoke in favor of the bill at a hearing of the Senate Aging, Families and Mental Health Committee.

Shortly after Higgins' testimony, the committee approved, without opposition, the measure for full Senate debate. It had cleared the House earlier this year.

The bill is identical to the legislation proposed in the Senate by Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia.

"A lot of kids of divorced parents would be benefited," said Sally Winters, licensed clinical social worker in Columbia. "It would also be helpful if the parents would attend the classes as well."

Winters said depending on a child's age, many children have to deal with grieving over the loss of one parent. The child also must realize they don't have to chose between parents.

"Children need to be able to stand up to parents who put them in the middle of the conflict," Winters said. "They need to be able to say, `Gee mom, don't talk about dad that way' or `No dad, tell mom that yourself.' "

The requirement of children to attend counseling sessions would be left to the discretion of the judge. Not every child in a divorce case would be ordered to attend counseling.