Chancery Judge Jaye Bradley sends divorcing parents to counseling classes

March 1, 2002

Chancery Judge Jaye Bradley recently began ordering divorcing parents and their children in George County to attend counseling classes.

Authorities in Jackson County are seeking a grant to allow them to soon implement a similar counseling program for families in divorce, Bradley said. The Jackson County Children's Services Coalition is seeking a grant.

Bradley outlined the Focus on Children in Separation (FOCIS) program at a meeting of the Judicial Advisory Study Committee in Jackson on Friday.

Bradley said, "Children are sometimes the forgotten by-product of the divorce. The parents are going through this horrible time, and the children are too."

Bradley said she requires parents and their children to attend four hours of counseling, which are broken into two sessions. Separate classes are conducted for parents and for children ages 6-12 and 13-17.

For parents, Bradley said, "It makes them aware of how the hostility is affecting the children."

"It teaches skills to children that can lessen the stress of divorce," Bradley said. "It teaches them skills to cope with the stress of their family breakup."

During the second class, the children prepare a newsletter, anonymously, to express their feelings."It's always an eye-opening experience for the parents when they read that newsletter," Bradley said.

The counseling in George County is provided free of charge to participants by the private, non-profit George County Families First.

Bradley said she hopes the that the service can also be provided free in Jackson County.

Bradley is enthusiastic about pending legislation that could require counseling for families in divorce across the state. Senate Bill 2644, introduced by Sen. Barbara Blackmon of Canton, passed the Senate and is awaiting action in the House.

Bradley said, "It is a topic that is important to me. The children are our future. It is a very worthwhile investment in our future."

Judicial Advisory Study Committee member Les Lampton, a Jackson businessman, said during the meeting, "It seems like it wouldn't take too much money to keep a program like that going, for the benefit it would provide."

In addition to Bradley, at least five other chancellors across the state already require some form of counseling before they will grant a divorce.

Rankin County Chancery Judge Thomas L. Zebert started a FOCIS program in Rankin County Chancery Court two years ago. Zebert will not grant a divorce to parents of minor children until the parents and the children have completed counseling. Each parent pays $30 to cover the cost of two classes. Bradley's program is modeled on the one started by Zebert.

Chancellor William Lutz requires parents, but not children, to receive counseling before he will grant a divorce in Madison County. He started the program about three years ago. It is free.

Lutz said, "Every parent with children under 18 who get divorced in Madison County has to attend."

Lutz said the only expense to the court is $40 a month to pay a bailiff to provide security at the two-hour class once a month. Psychologist Angela Herzog donates her time to conduct the classes, Lutz said.

Chancellors Sebe Dale, James H.C. Thomas Jr. and Johnny Lee Williams also send divorcing parents in Forrest and Pearl River counties to one four-hour counseling class. Dale, as senior judge, signs the orders sending all divorcing parents to counseling in his cases as well as in cases pending before the other two chancellors in the district. Classes are for parents but not children.

Dale said, "If it's a case for divorce and there are children involved, we will not set it for trial unless the clerk has certified that they have been through the classes."

The classes in Forrest and Pearl River counties cost each parent $10. Psychologist John Pat Galloway, who has offices in New Orleans and Slidell, La., offered to do the classes for free as a community service, Dale said. Galloway conducts a class once a month in both counties.

Dale, who started the program in October 2000, said, "It's been helpful. It cuts out some of the contests between parents. It is lessening the number of contested custody issues that we have."

Bradley said she hopes to see a similar result in her court. Eight families have completed the program so far in George County. Two of those cases involved parents who had already gotten divorced but had come back to court with disputes.

Bradley said, "I think in the end it will lessen the number of contempt hearings that come into chancery court."

For more information, contact Beverly Pettigrew Kraft, court public information officer, at 601-354-7452.