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Family strives to assist those going through divorce

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Family strives to assist those going through divorce


Gary Blankenship
Senior Editor

Easing the pain for families that are breaking up has become a family project for a Miami lawyer, his daughter, and her husband.

As an experienced family law attorney and guardian ad litem, Stuart Markus has seen firsthand the pain of divorce and the difficulties it can cause, especially for children.

A state-mandated course for divorcing parents helps tremendously with those strains. But it can be difficult for parents, often juggling jobs, kids, and the stresses of a splitting household to find the time to travel to and take the four-hour course.

Markus talked over the challenge with his daughter, Robyn Soldevilla, a mental health counselor who also has a degree in education, and the result was ParentingChoice.com, a Web site offering the parenting course online.

“People needed something that they could do from their home,” Markus said. “The course is very vital in getting people to understand what children need in the course of a divorce. Divorce is traumatic on the parties, but it’s twice as traumatic on the children.

“Children are the foremost problem that we have. I’m a guardian ad litem. That’s one of the reasons I got involved; I saw what was involved with the children.. . . The parents are going through a traumatic period and they don’t realize what it does to the children.”

Coming out with the online course “was really a joint idea,” Robyn Soldevilla said. “My father has been in family law a long time; he’s seen the education [course], and he’s seen the need for it to be available at more than a fixed location.

“I’m a mental health counsel and I have a master’s degree in education. I have a vested interest in children. If we can educate parents, we can give them valuable information to better serve their children.”

Making the course convenient is a big part of that, she added.

For a lot of people, either their jobs or location don’t allow them to attend class conveniently, she noted. “There are certain places where the classes are not located. For people who are not near a class, they can do it in the middle of the night; they can do it a little at a time.”

The online course is also easier for parents who are out of state and might have to make a special trip, Soldevilla said. And, she added, with a laugh, “It’s good for procrastinators. A lot of people don’t realize until the last minute they have to do it and can’t go to a course. This is a good option for them.”

Markus said work on the Web site began about three years ago. Soldevilla’s husband, Mark, got in the act with his computer expertise helping design the site and on related technology issues.

The next step was getting approval from the Florida Department of Children and Families that the online course met statutory requirements for the parenting class. Once that was obtained, the course went online in September 2005, Markus said, and then it was a matter of informing judges and lawyers of its availability.

About 2,500 people used the course in 2006, he said, and its applicability has been expanded to meet similar requirements in Illinois, New York, Texas, Arizona, California, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

The site has a link where lawyers and court clerks can get more information for their clients and parties in the case, online registration for parents, and more information about the course.

Soldevilla and Markus said the course is designed to be interactive and is electronically monitored. If a parent fails to put in required inputs, the program stops and credit isn’t given.

At the same time, they said, it records progress so that a parent, if he or she can’t take the entire course at one sitting, can come back and work on it whenever time permits.

“When a person signs up, they register and pay for the course and they have immediate access,” Soldevilla said. “There’s reading, there’s audio, and there’s video. It’s multimedia. The Web site keeps track of your time, as long as you interactive with the course. You can’t just turn on the computer and leave.”

Once the course is completed, the parent immediately gets a graduation certification via e-mail, which can be printed and presented to the court as proof the course has been completed.

Participants are also asked to rate the course give feedback.

“To me, that’s the most important part. I want to help people,” Soldevilla said. “Some people say they didn’t want to have to take this kind of a course, but they found it helped them a lot how to communicate with the other parent, how to help their children, what to say and not to say.

“For me, that’s the biggest reward, getting that kind of feedback.”

For more information about the course, visit www.parentingchoice.com.