Divorced/Separated Parents in Conflict
Results from a True Experiment
Effect of a Court Mandated Parent Education Program

by Dorothy H. Whitehurst, PhD; Stephen L. O’Keefe; Robert A. Wilson
Published in the Journal of Divorce & Remarriage
Volume 48, Issue 3 & 4 February 2008, pages 127-144

Check your library for a copy of the full article.


This experiment investigated the effect of a parenting education program on separated or divorced parents who were court ordered to attend the Cooperative Parenting and Divorce program (Boyan & Termini, 1997). This program was designed to help parents reduce parental conflict and to educate them about the factors that influence their children’s adjustment. Training consisted of six sessions lasting two hours each, one week apart. Random assignments of the parenting partners to a control or treatment group was done lottery style. Participation in the program had a significant (p < .05) positive effect on co-parenting skills as well as perceived overall parent relationships for both mothers and fathers.

More about the Study

The researchers used a Pretest-Posttest control group design to determine the effectiveness of the Cooperative Parenting and Divorce program for parents who continued to have significant conflict, even after attending a mandatory two-hour parenting education program. The parents were referred to the program by a judge who was concerned that the children of these parents were “put in the middle” of these conflicts and were likely to suffer as a result.

Twenty pairs of parents were ordered to attend the program. Eight parents were excluded due to circumstances. The study included 12 pairs of parents, two unpaired males and six unpaired females (N = 32). Half the parents received the training in the first phase, with the other half becoming a control group. The control group then received the training immediately following the conclusion of the treatment group. Both trainings were identical six-session programs held one time a week. The replication study included an additional 13 pairs of parents, plus three unpaired females (N= 29). The total of both treatment groups was 61 parents.

Seventy-seven percent of the parents had children under the age of 12. Ninety percent were Caucasian. Sixty percent reported an income of less than $20,000. Ninety-four percent had completed high school, and 39% had some college. Fifty-one percent were between 31 and 40 years old and 27.5% were between 21 and 30 years old.

Two qualified teachers shared the training procedures using the Cooperative Parenting and Divorce program. Each participant received a copy of the 210-page parent manual, Cooperative Parenting and Divorce: A Guide to Effective Co-Parenting. All sessions were held in a public school building.

The measurement instruments used were modified from those included with the curriculum. Six sets of variables were used to determine outcomes:

  1. Overall relationship assessment based on a nine-point Likert scale from extremely hostile to very friendly.
  2. A self-assessment of co-parenting skills.
  3. An assessment of how each parent rated the other parent’s ability to handle the same eight skills.
  4. A self-assessment of how each parent rated his/her skill in dealing with seven specific post-divorce behaviors (for example: Asking the child to relay messages to the other parent.) The assessment used a five-point Likert scale from always to never.
  5. An assessment by each parent about how the other parent handled these same seven skills.
  6. An assessment of how each parent rated the effectiveness of the Cooperative Parenting and Divorce program.

Reliability results for all parents were statistically significant with Cronbach Alpha scores ranging from .93 to .73.

Researchers reported significant positive changes in all variables which prompted them to write the following: “Given the unique nature of this true experiment, we can conclude that the difference in the parents’ pre and post assessments of their overall relationships, improvements in the parents’ co-parenting abilities and the decrease in their maladaptive behavior and the difference in the parent’s rating of the other parent’s ability and behavior skills was due to their participation in the Cooperative Parenting and Divorce training.”

In addition, the authors reported that the training was not only beneficial to the parents, but to the court system itself. There were 375 entries including 85 specific court orders on file for the original 32 parents prior to their training compared with 225 entries and 51 specific court orders during the 18 months following their training. Given the cost of such divorces to state and federal governments, the authors recommend more study.