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Minnesota court offers unique services for unmarried parents

Child custody decisions are difficult for any couple that has decided not to continue to live together. Custody and child support often go hand-in-hand, and aside from Minnesota's payment guidelines, many parents have to make difficult decisions about how to share time and money in the best interest of the child.

The challenges of unmarried parents are often unique, since many couples may not have a longstanding relationship and are often younger than married parents. One judge in Hennepin County found that these parents were being underserved by the court, and often arrived and left in a state of confusion and worry. He reacted by creating a special court for these couples, called Co-Parent Court, which is modeled after similar programs like drug courts and DWI courts, aimed at providing people with alternative remedies.

The judge said that he saw the fathers being put in a difficult situation of being legally declared fathers and given a child support obligation, but without a roadmap for the rest of the relationship with the mother and child. "It was very apparent to me there was much more work to be done to support these young parents in their parenting obligations towards their children and to each other," he said.

Co-Parent Court is randomly assigned to parents through the county summons system and is aimed at lower income areas. The court helps couples create plans for co-parenting and supporting their child, and brings in community organizations that help them find employment, deal with additions, treat mental health problems, and other similar services.

The court is now in the second year of its three year trial period, and will soon face an evaluation of whether or not it is more effective than traditional custody proceedings.

Source: Christian Science Monitor, "Judge creates unique problem-solving court to help unwed parents," May 11, 2012.

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