The Tennessee Legislature passed a law in 1997 requiring both parents in a divorce proceeding to attend a Parent Education Seminar. The focus of the Seminar is to educate parents on how best to “protect and enhance the child’s emotional development,” and educate the parents on how the legal process works. Additionally, the Seminar will also touch upon alternative dispute resolution, marriage counseling as well as other topics related to the divorce process and the effect of divorce on families.
The courts handling divorces in each county are charged with the responsibility for approving the Seminar providers. The local Court Clerk maintains a list of approved providers and will usually have brochures or other materials from the approved Seminar providers in the local area. The Parent Education Seminars are not one-on-one counseling sessions, but are generally taught in a classroom setting. The law requires a minimum of four hours of classroom time. The courts in each county generally determine the length of the Seminars in that particular jurisdiction.
The cost of the Parent Education Seminar is determined by the Seminar provider and can vary from county to county and from provider to provider in the same county. Some providers even offer a sliding scale based upon the income of each parent. If a person cannot afford to attend the Parent Education Seminar, it is possible to have the court where the divorce is filed waive the costs, or include the cost of the Seminar as part of the court costs.
You are not required to attend the Seminar with your spouse or ex-spouse. Also, the children do not attend the Seminar. If you do not live in the same county where the divorce is filed, you can often attend a Parent Education Seminar in the county where you live. If you live outside of Tennessee or are a servicemember on active duty in the military, there are alternatives to attending the approved Seminar. You should speak to your attorney or the court clerk regarding the options in such a situation.
If you do not attend the Parent Education Seminar prior to your divorce case being finalized, the court can grant you additional time. The law provides that a court cannot deny the granting of a divorce based solely on the failure of a parent to attend the Seminar. The court can, however, consider whether a parent has attended the Seminar in making a determination regarding limitations on parenting time or decision-making responsibilities. If you do not attend the Parent Education Seminar after the court has given you additional time, you may be held in contempt of court and sentenced to up to ten days in jail.
The University of Tennessee Extension Office offers Seminars across the State. You can find out whether U.T. offers the Parent Education Seminar in your county by navigating to the U.T. Extension website and clicking on the “Local Offices” link. Also, your attorney or the court clerk should be able to direct you to the Seminar providers in your area.
Once you complete the Parent Education Seminar, you will be provided a certificate evidencing your completion. The certificate must be filed with the court where your divorce is pending. If you have an attorney, you should deliver the certificate to your attorney’s office so the attorney can file it with the court. Four hours of your time--that’s all there is to the Parent Education Seminar in Tennessee!