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Divorce classes begin in Pa.

February 18, 1997

By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Staff Writer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Fourteen parents going through a divorce attended the first court-ordered parenting class here Tuesday in an effort to minimize the damage to children in a divorce.

The four-hour class is designed to teach parents some basic rules to follow while going through a divorce, including not to fight in front of children and not to use children as weapons against your spouse.

People divorce and remarry but they don't stop being parents, class instructor Jennifer A. Mastrofski said. They still need to work together as their children grow up, and to be there for the special occasions in their children's lives.

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"Your children need both parents," Mastrofski said. "Let them have you. Allow the other parent to be a parent."

The parenting classes were mandated by the 39th Judicial District Court of Common Pleas. No divorce decrees will be granted to Franklin County or Fulton County, Pa., residents who have children under age 18 unless the class is completed.

Mastrofski, an assistant professor at Penn State University, has taught more than 30 of the classes in Centre County, Pa., and is training two local people to teach them here.

The program is supposed to teach parents to better understand the stress and trauma their divorce causes their children.

Parents don't have to sit next to each other or even take the same class.

Classes will alternate between Franklin and Fulton counties.

The course is anchored by a 48-minute film showing children discussing their feelings and experiences about their own parents' divorce.

Several of the people in Tuesday's class praised the film, saying it covered what they needed to know about their own situations. Others declined to comment.

In the film, which begins with the birth of a baby then quickly switches to a couple in divorce court, more than a dozen children described how their parents' divorce affected their lives.

Children told of living with parents who fought openly in front of them and of blaming themselves for their parents' breakup.

The children also were not told what was happening to their families and expressed fear that they wouldn't be taken care of and felt unwanted. The children said they were being used as pawns between fighting parents.

Mastrofski said about half of all marriages end in divorce, a number that affects about 1 million children each year.

"Seventy percent of all children born will spend time in a single-family household," she said.

Mastrofski said 75 percent of women and 80 percent of men who divorce will remarry within five years. Second marriages have a greater failure rate than first marriages. Third marriages have a better success rate, she said.

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