Program helps defuse divorce conflicts
DAVE MOSIER/independent editor
For nearly 25 years, the A-OK (Assisting Our Kids) program has been providing the means for divorcing adults to find positive ways to resolve disputes for their children’s sake.
While divorce can be a negative and bitter experience for adults, it can be devastating for children, the innocent victims of their parents’ inability to get along.
“It’s not the divorce that causes damage to the kids; it’s the arguing, the bickering, the name calling, the accusations among the two most important people in the world, whether they live under the same roof or not,” said Jules Krizan, who along with fellow family counselor Susan Burchfield, created the A-OK program. “Kids can survive the divorce; they can’t survive the ongoing parental conflict.”
“That’s what we help them understand,” Burchfield added. “Stop putting your kids through those kinds of behavior and they’ll heal.”
The A-OK program began in October 1992, not long after the Ohio Supreme Court began pushing local courts to come up with a dispute resolution program for divorcing parents.
Sumner E. Walters, Van Wert County Common Pleas judge at the time, challenged Krizan and Burchfield, respected local family counselors, to come up with a program that would provide positive ways for divorcing parents to interact and resolve problems.
The program provides a number of ways for parents to focus on the effects of their divorce on the children, and to find better ways to deal with the situation.
“You think it’s a no-brainer, but, the deal is, as a divorcing parent, you’re right in the middle of this huge conflict,” Burchfield said, noting that parents caught up in that conflict often lose track of what their marital dispute may be doing to their kids.
“So many times, divorces end up in huge, bitter court battles,” she added. “The A-OK program provides ways for parents to focus on the needs of their children in the midst of the conflict.”
In Van Wert County, divorcing parents with minor children are mandated to attend the four-hour session. Cost is nominal ($25), with financial assistance available for needy parents.
As part of the A-OK program, Krizan and Burchfield, who are both certified in dispute resolution by the Ohio Supreme Court, developed a series of video role-play vignettes that provide parents with insight into how their behavior during divorce affects their children, as well as more positive ways to deal with disputes that arise during — and after — a divorce.
“We show common traps people get into, and provide solutions for those situations,” Krizan said.
Some of the issues the program deals with include children’s reaction to divorce and parental conflict, legal issues related to divorce and its aftermath, developing parenting plans, conflict resolution and problem solving, cooperative/collaborative parenting, parental communication, domestic violence issues, step-parenting, and absentee parents.
Burchfield said the videos often allow parents to step outside their own situation to see how their behavior is harming their children. Another benefit of the program, she added, is it allows divorcing parents to start their post-marital relationship on a positive note.
Krizan likens working with a former spouse following divorce to a business relationship. “You don’t have to like people you do business with, but you do have to get along,” he explains.
Both Burchfield and Krizan say response to the program has been positive overall. Although some parents can’t move beyond conflict with their spouse, most say the program has helped them create a more positive experience for their children, with several people, whose parents also divorced, saying they wished they had had the program then to help their parents better cope with the situation.
Meanwhile, the program has become so successful that it is now offered in eight other counties: Auglaize, Defiance, Fulton, Henry, Lucas, Mercer, Putnam, and Williams, as well as Van Wert County.
In addition, because fewer parents are getting married, some counties are also looking at mandating that those involved in paternity cases also go through the program.
Because of the time involved in conducting a program in nine counties, the A-OK program also has three other certified facilitators, in addition to Burchfield and Krizan, who do live presentations. Burchfield said a male and female facilitator are always on hand to provide a viewpoint for both men and women participants.
In addition to the court-ordered sessions, videos of the program are also available to grandparents and others involved in a divorce situation. Call 419.238.1000 or access the program’s website at www.assistingourkids.com for more information.