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The SMILE Program

SMILE = Start Making It Liveable For Everyone

Divorce is a traumatic experience, and can be as emotionally stressful as the death of a spouse or loved one. As it marks the end of a relationship, it requires grieving to recover. Tragically, at a time when children need them most, parents are often grappling with their own issues and emotions. They are sorting out finances, property, relationships with others, and parenting plans. They are struggling with their own anger, sadness, guilt, and the demise of their fantasy of living happily ever after and growing old together. Unfortunately, many parents believe that in ending their relationship as spouses, they are also dissolving their relationship as co parents. Even at the best, parents have a diminished capacity to parent when divorce occurs. Their children’s needs are often unidentified, or relegated to second place, sometimes unintentionally.

While court orders emanating from the legal process provide for custody, parenting time, and child support when minor children are involved, the legal process neither provides a means for an orderly, socially approved discharge of emotions nor a set of tools promoting a healthy adjustment. Too often parents allow their personal and interpersonal issues with their ex-spouses to erupt into destructive behaviors that are passed from generation to generation.

Children need not be scarred forever by divorce. Studies show that the extent of parental conflict is the major factor in how well a child will psychologically adjust. Children cared for in a peaceful atmosphere with cooperative parents can grow up to be well adjusted in spite of having lived in two homes. Since divorce results in every family member having to adapt to a new way of living, the more parents know about divorce, the better they and their children are able to cope.

The SMILE program is in response to a need expressed by parents, the courts, family law attorneys, and community mental health professionals. SMILE helps parents to recognize that how well their children do in a post divorce environment largely depends on their own understanding of the children’s’ needs and the impact on the children of their own attitudes and behaviors toward each other.

The SMILE program, designed as a tool to help parents deal with their children in the context of divorce, provides information about how parents can better define and attend to their children’s emotions and needs. It also gives parents tools to develop closer relationships with their children. The program promotes parental cooperation by stressing the importance of co- parenting for children’s well-being. It provides specific behavioral guidelines so parents can relate to each other more positively.

Divorce education programs work. For example, a recent study of a court-mandated, child focused class for divorcing parents, in Athens County, Georgia, both immediately after the class and six months later, produced dramatic results. Parents reported that they were less angry at their ex-spouse and were successful in dramatically lowering their children’s exposure to parental conflict. Relative to a comparison group of parents divorcing the year before the classes were initiated, parents completing the class were better able to work through how they would handle difficult child-related situations with their ex-spouses and were willing to let their children spend more time with the other parent. Eaton County’s experience mirrors these results.

Each parent in a domestic relations action is required by the Circuit Court to attend the SMILE Programs offered by Eaton County Family Court. Attendance must be documented to the Court prior to approving a final judgment. The SMILE program is held at least once every other month in the evening.

SMILE is important because:

1. It provides information to help parents better understand the effects of divorce.
2. It assists parents to understand the needs of their children.
3. It helps parents learn what they can do to create a nurturing and safe environment so that their children can recover from the divorce and feel good about themselves.
4. It provides information to prevent destructive game-playing that is so common among divorced couples and their children.
5. It helps parents gain problem solving skills.
6. It lets parents know that they are not alone.
7. It helps parents know how to be in touch with their children's pain and anguish.
8. It shows parents how to stop making children victims of the divorce.

(Reprinted, in part, with permission from Hillsdale County Circuit Court)

The SMILE Program is held on specified Monday evenings from approximately 6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m., at 551 Courthouse Drive, Charlotte, Michigan, which is located within the governmental buildings complex, just east of the Courthouse. To view a map of the location of the SMILE Program, please click here: SMILE PROGRAM

To contact the SMILE Coordinator, Karen Newman, please call (517) 543-7500 x4175, or email knewman@eatoncounty.org

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