Hennepin County's pioneering co-parenting court has made a positive difference for hundreds of families, according to the Star Tribune. The court is considered a national model for how to help participants instead of punishing them.
Most people who show up in family court are unmarried parents. Hennepin County District Judge Bruce Peterson sought a way to turn relationships that produce children into permanent parental partnerships.
"We bring in all these young men and say, 'Congratulations, you're the father. Here's your child support amount. Next case," Peterson said.
A University of Minnesota report on the court found that 95 percent of participants didn't live together. Couples who completed the program reported an increased rate of child support payment, more paternal involvement with the child, and healthier bonds between parents.
Couples may participate if they both show up for court dates, if they both speak English, and if one has applied for public assistance. Neither can have an open child-protection or domestic-violence case.
The therapeutic court helps parents make a plan to raise their children. They learn how to resolve conflict and decide on questions big and small, from bedtimes to how the child gets places to what, if any, religion he or she will practice.
An NPR News story said 40 percent of children nationwide are now born to unmarried parents. Unlike divorced parents, they may not have a history of co-parenting.
Many men who show up in the Hennepin County Co-Parent Court were raised by single mothers and don't want their children to be fatherless.
Joseph Arradondo is one of them. After he went through Co-Parent Court, he won custody of this toddler three days a week.
"I think more men should go downtown...regardless if you're afraid the relationship is going to get even worse," he said. "I think you need to go downtown on the strength of just your child."
Supporters of the court believe a more stable home environment will help children do better in school and life, and may be an effective start to closing the achievement gap. One long-term question is whether fathers will stay involved in their childrens' lives.
Another is whether the court is sustainable financially.
For now the $450,000 annual budget is covered by the University of Minnesota and grants. The Hennepin County Board voted Tuesday to match state investment in the program for 2014.
Judge Peterson said he hopes the federal government will help expand the program. The university is working on a new report that will provide a cost-benefit analysis of the program.