Texas Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, 1999

Overview

Families in Texas, like families elsewhere in the United States, are under increasing pressure to survive, let alone thrive.  The divorce rate has climbed to a point where almost half of all marriages end in divorce.  Unfortunately, when parents are in conflict, children are often caught in the middle.  For some of these children, the repercussions are disturbing and long-term, leading to lower educational attainment and occupational success, poorer social integration, increased behavioral difficulties and psychological distress, and more problematic marriages after reaching adulthood.

Causes for the dramatic rise in divorces and marital conflict are the subject of some debate, but many researchers believe that a decline in marital satisfaction is the primary factor.  And, while considerable work has been done on the subject of marital discord, studies on the impact of such conflict on children, and the development of practical solutions to mitigate the harm done to them, have been lacking.

Fortunately, this situation is changing.  Attention is now being focused on developing public policy that is proactive--designed to reduce marital conflict and to ensure the best possible outcomes for children.  Particular attention has been focused on reducing marital discord as a means to improve child support payment compliance, although that is by no means the only outcome desired.

The following white paper, prepared by Texas Perspectives, Inc. for the Texas Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, will:

�  provide an overview of recent research;
�  examine child support as an illustration of the need for proactive approaches in conflict reduction;
�  review relevant public policy changes in Texas and other states; and
�  develop preliminary recommendations on how Texas might proceed in enacting legislative changes.

1.0      Introduction & Review of Recent Research on Marital Conflict and Divorce
The American family has been in a period of dramatic transition over the last three decades. Remarkable transformations have occurred to alter the landscape of the family unit, including changes in economic well-being, family relationships and structure, and gender roles.  After remaining stable throughout the 1950s, the divorce rate in the United States increased in the 1960s, doubled between 1966 and 1976, then leveled off during the 1980s at an historically high level.1

Reasons for these disturbing statistics are many and varied, but most researchers believe that a perceived decline in marital quality contributed to the upward trend in divorce.2  In addition, standards for what constitutes a successful marriage have increased, thus making satisfactory marriages more difficult to attain.  Higher expectations for marriage�combined with relaxed restrictions on divorce�have worked together to erode marital satisfaction and elevate divorce to a level that is unlikely to subside in the near future.3

There is general agreement that the traditional American family is undergoing many changes. For years, scholars have argued over how children have been affected by these societal shifts.  Some claim that increases in the number of dual-earner couples (accompanied by conflicts between the demands of work and family), declining economic opportunities, and a rise in single-family households have been to blame for the deterioration of the family and the attending negative effects on youth.4  Other scholars have argued that families are becoming more diverse but not necessarily weaker.5

With publication of the 1997 book A Generation at Risk, sociologists Paul Amato and Alan Booth provided for the first time a comprehensive picture of how multiple dimensions of family change are related to a broad array of outcomes for children.  Amato and Booth conducted a 15-year longitudinal study that studied in depth the effects of three decades of domestic changes on America�s youth.  The following provides a summary of the relevant research literature, along with an overview of Amato and Booth�s findings.

To understand how a child�s family affects his or her well-being in young adulthood, it is important to examine a number of family-of-origin characteristics.  Two of the most widely studied characteristics are parents� marital quality and parents� socioeconomic resources.  Parents� marital quality includes measures of their happiness, interaction, marital conflict, willingness to divorce, and familial experience with divorce.  Socioeconomic resources include parents� education, income, employment status, reliance on government assistance, and perceptions of the family�s economic improvement or decline.6

1.1 The Impact of Parental Conflict and Divorce on Parent-Child  Relationships
A person�s well-being is influenced by many aspects of life: relations with parents, the formation, maintenance, and quality of intimate relationships, the development of appropriate social roles, educational and occupational success, and psychological well-being.

Although all of these factors are important, the primary mechanism impacting children�s outcomes is the quality of the parent-child relationship.  Research has repeatedly demonstrated that a high level of parental support is associated with a variety of positive outcomes in children and adolescents, including sound psychological adjustment, higher self-esteem, better academic achievement, and more social competence, as well as considerate and unselfish behavior.7

Parental support, expressed through affection and responsiveness, benefits children by conveying to them a basic sense of security.  Parents who praise and encourage their children reinforce self-conceptions of worth and competence.  Practical assistance and advice from parents foster the learning of everyday skills, and parental guidance promotes the formation of appropriate long-term goals.  Setting and enforcing rules teaches children the consequences of behaviors and how to take responsibility for their actions.  And, by explaining the reasons behind rules, adults help children internalize social norms.8 Unfortunately, the stresses of living in today�s society prevent many parents from achieving these goals.  For example, research has shown that serious financial pressures lead many parents to show less affection toward their children, engage in harsher forms of discipline, and provide less supervision for their children.9

A greater threat to positive outcomes for children is marital conflict, which research shows makes family life stressful for everyone in the family, not just the adults.  When there is severe marital conflict, research shows that parents discipline their children more harshly and inconsistently and they are less emotionally available for their children.10  Over time, adults who are constantly under such stress increase the risk of negative outcomes for their children, such as psychological maladjustment, behavior problems, school failure, and adolescent delinquency.

Clearly, the quality of the parents� marriage has important implications for the parent-child relationship, particularly the father-child relationship.  One study found that a decline in marital quality over a three-year period was associated with fathers becoming less supportive of their young children; there was no comparable finding for mothers, however.11

Divorce often appears to have a detrimental effect on the quality of children�s relationships with the custodial parent (usually the mother).12  A longitudinal study found that recently divorced custodial mothers exhibited many of the same problematic behaviors characteristic of parents in high-conflict families, that is more harsh discipline, less supervision, and less affection.13  Although the quality of the mothers� parenting improved after two or three years, problems persisted in their relationships with their children, particularly their sons.  When divorced and remarried mothers were compared with mothers in first marriages in the National

Survey of Families and Households, divorced and remarried mothers reported fewer enjoyable times with their children, had more disagreements with them, and were more likely to yell at or spank their children.14

With respect to fathers, research has shown that the amount of contact between non-custodial fathers and children tends to decline over time after divorce.15  This may be due to several causes.  First, when conflict between the parents remains high after the divorce, some mothers may try to restrict the father�s access to his children.  Second, some men feel �pushed out of the picture� when the custodial mother remarries, creating a new family structure with the mother and children more involved with the stepfather.16  Third, men have generally viewed fatherhood as a �package deal,� accepting emotional and financial responsibility for children only as long as they are married to the mother. 17

Conflicts in the parents� marriage can continue to haunt children as they move into adulthood, regardless of whether the parents divorce.  One study found that, among adults whose parents remained continuously married, those who recalled their parents� marriage as being unhappy had relatively little contact with parents.18  Other studies found that when parents reported greater marital unhappiness, children reported less affection for their fathers but not for mothers.19
Amato and Booth�s landmark study showed that children whose parents had a high level of conflict and unhappiness were less willing to ask either of their parents for assistance. Overall, they found that both low marital quality and divorce are problematic for children�s later relationship with their parents; an unhappy marriage weakens parent-child ties, and divorce weakens them further.

1.2 The Impact of Parental Conflict and Divorce on Intimate Relationships in  Young Adults
The formation of a satisfying, stable intimate relationship is one of the primary �tasks� of early adulthood.  An emotionally close and supportive relationship is critical for several reasons. It contributes to a person�s sense of well-being and mental health and it provides a social and economic context for raising children.  In general, research shows that spouses  provide emotional support to their partners and discourage them from engaging in risky behavior (e.g. excessive drinking).20
The process of establishing and maintaining intimate relationships is very different today than it was even a generation ago.  The postponement of marriage, the increase in cohabitation, and the rise in divorce and re-marriage have made managing an intimate relationship more complex, and the long-term outcomes less certain, than in previous decades.

Children learn a set of attitudes, social skills, and ways of handling close relationships from their families, and these traits have implications for the formation and maintenance of intimate ties.  Although relatively few studies have focused exclusively on the consequences of parents� marital conflict for adult children�s intimate relationships, those that exist yield consistent findings.  In several studies of married adults, those who report unhappiness in their parents� marriage tend to report less marital happiness and more conflict and problems in their own marriages.21

Similarly, another study found that young parents who recall positive relationships between parents are less likely than other young parents to experience declines in marital quality following the birth of a baby (an often vulnerable time in a marriage).22  Overall, these studies consistently show that people experiencing relationship problems tend to recall a relatively high level of interparental discord while growing up.

With respect to divorce, research has found that the break-up of a marriage accelerates dating and sexual activity among children, increasing the risk of teen pregnancy, and possible reliance on government assistance.  This is especially true if divorce is accompanied and/or followed by a high level of conflict.23  Additionally, children from conflict-ridden families may fail to learn communication skills useful in conflict resolution, further contributing to problems in their own intimate relationships.  Young women may be particularly vulnerable because the absence of a close father-daughter relationship limits their experience in interacting with men.24
The transmission of low marital quality and divorce from one generation to the next seems to arise from several sources.  Many children from chronic, high-conflict marriages may develop personal traits that predict poor relationship quality.25

Additionally, persistent conflict between parents may lead to a state of emotional insecurity or other problematic personality traits among offspring.  Some children may choose to marry early to escape from family conflict, which often is associated with lower educational attainment, negatively affecting future earning potential.26

1.3 The Impact of Parental Conflict and Divorce on the Development of Appropriate Social Roles
Part of becoming a successful and contributing adult is involvement in various groups, such as churches, fraternal organizations, civic clubs, or other formally defined organizations.  These groups provide social, emotional, and sometimes, financial support, for the individual both in personal life and in activities related to work and career.

In general, research shows that a high level of social participation increases longevity, buffers individuals from the effects of stressful life events, and facilitates a person�s overall sense of well-being.27  Society benefits because social networks tend to promote healthy lifestyles and discourage anti-social behavior.28  On a broader level, society is based on the ability of individuals to connect with one another and coordinate activities.  As a result, social integration not only benefits individuals but is also necessary for the smooth functioning of social institutions.
Research also has shown that children�s positive recollections of parental support during adolescence is related to church involvement, community attachment, and the number of relatives and friends to whom they feel close.29  These findings are consistent with research showing that the quality of parent-child relationships has implications for children�s later social functioning.

Children exposed to conflicted or otherwise problematic marriages often experience challenges developing appropriate relationship skills since children learn a variety of those skills from observing their parents.  If the parents cannot demonstrate sharing, taking turns, discussing problems, compromising, and resolving differences amicably, the children often have difficulty with social interactions outside the family.30  For example, studies have found a similarity of conflict styles between parents and their children, with children of conflictual parents adopting an avoidant or aggressive interactional style when dealing with peers.31

Emotionally insecure children are more likely to perceive their social environments as unpredictable and uncontrollable.  These perceptions and beliefs may interfere with a young adult�s ability to form satisfying, stable social relationships outside the family.  Indeed, research has shown that parents� marital conflict is associated with lowered social competence, fewer friendships, and more loneliness among children and adolescents.32

Divorce, in and of itself, does not necessarily lead to poorer social integration.  Children of divorce tend to have lower scores on measures of social adjustment than do children whose parents remain married.33  However, it appears that the level of parental conflict that precedes and follows the divorce is the best predictor of relationship problems for the children.34  Amato and Booth found that children whose parents had a high level of marital conflict were actually better off if their parents divorced.  In a marriage that is relatively low in conflict, however, children whose parents divorce may experience considerably more stress and, consequently, may be worse off than those whose parents remain married.

1.4 The Impact of Parental Conflict and Divorce on Educational and Occupational Success of the Children
The educational and occupational attainment of children is a topic of great interest, partly because it is a key measuring stick of success in our society.  In addition to conferring income and status, well-educated individuals (compared to poorly educated individuals), report more stimulating and enjoyable experiences at home and work.35  Education provides people with skills and information that help them cope with stressful circumstances36 , increase their sense of control37, and avoid depression.38  Education and income also are correlated with greater longevity and better health.39

On a societal level, high educational attainment among the population is essential to develop technologically and to compete in a global economy.  Well-educated parents are better able to provide for their children�s financial needs and are motivated to seek out and assimilate information on effective child-rearing techniques, thus enhancing the well-being and competence of the next generation.  For those reasons educational advancement is not only a vehicle for promoting the success of particular individuals but also a necessary investment in the well-being of the community.

Family of origin characteristics can affect socioeconomic attainment in a variety of ways. Unfortunately, research examining the effects of parents� marital quality on children�s educational and occupational success is scarce.  One longitudinal study found that parents� marital commitment was positively associated with daughters� (but not sons�) later educational and occupational attainment.40    More research directly examining this relationship is needed.

Although direct evidence is not available, parents� marital quality certainly affects aspects of life that have the potential for jeopardizing success in school and on the job.  As discussed earlier, unresolved parental conflict is a source of stress for children because it threatens feelings of attachment to both parents and generally decreases the quality of the parent-child relationship.  Poor parenting results in children who are more antisocial, anxious and depressed, and who experience difficulty in concentrating - all factors known to influence performance at school.

Research does show that, in general, parental divorce increases economic adversity for children, while lowering their educational achievement and occupational status as adults.41  Children whose parents divorce, compared with those whose parents remain married, complete one-half year less of education.  Since each year of education raises annual income by approximately $4,000, the annual gap in income associated with one-half-year of education multiplied by the number of years that a person is in the workforce amounts to a substantial lifetime difference in earnings ?? approximately $100,000 in present value terms for a someone who is in the workforce from age 22 to age 70.42

1.5     Effect of Parental Conflict and Divorce on Children�s Psychological Well-Being
Marital conflict has short- and long-term negative consequences for children.  Observational studies show that children witnessing conflict between parents react with fear, anger, or the inhibition of normal behavior.43  Preschool children (who developmentally tend to be egocentric) may blame themselves for marital conflict, resulting in feelings of guilt and lowered self-esteem.44

Children exposed to persistent conflict become insecure about the continued emotional and physical availability of parents.  Emotional insecurity, in turn, decreases children�s ability to regulate their emotions and behavior, lowers their effectiveness in coping with stress, and decreases their sense of control.45   In general, when children are drawn into conflict between parents, the result is a deterioration in the parent-child relationship.

Divorce is also associated with a number of difficulties among children, including low self-esteem, behavior problems, and psychological distress.46    The parental conflict that often precedes and sometimes follows divorce can be devastating to a child. In fact, a number of prospective studies show that child psychological problems can be present years prior to a divorce.47  Another factor contributing to the stress children feel when parents divorce is conflict between parents over custody and visitation, often negatively affects a child�s sense of security and well-being.48

Divorce can be psychologically beneficial for children when it removes them from a high conflict marriage; however, divorce can be problematic for children when it removes them from a low conflict marriage.49

1.6 Summary
Amato and Booth have provided data demonstrating that the long-term consequences of parental conflict are pervasive and consistent for children.  In particular, poor marital quality is associated with problematic relationships for children with their mothers and fathers, more difficulties achieving and maintaining intimate relationships, a greater probability of relationship dissolution, lower social integration, less education, and a lack of psychological well-being.

Although divorce clearly has negative consequences for children, it is not as influential as the effects of the parents� overall marital quality.  Simply stated, parents� unhappiness and marital discord have a broad negative effect on virtually every dimension of a child�s well-being.

Embedded in the research on the negative effects of divorce are (1) the degree to which parental conflict continues during and after divorce and (2) whether the father (or non-custodial parent) maintains support and contact with his children.  Amato and Booth agree with marriage and family therapists that it is vital to help conflicted and/or divorcing couples look at the effect of their behavior on the children.  Amato and Booth argue that it makes the most sense to develop policies that support and strengthen marriage.  Such policies would include initiatives to help prospective spouses understand marriage and its responsibilities and rewards, learn skills to resolve differences and reduce conflict, and be aware of the resources available help strengthen marriage or prevent divorce.

For these and other reasons, Amato and Booth recommend that governments, community organizations, employers, courts, and churches work together to ensure that all unhappily married couples have access to therapy that is both affordable and child-centered.  In the end, family policies should be based on creating incentives for parents to act in the best interests of their children.

2.0 Reducing the Costs of Divorce
Research clearly shows that parents� unhappiness and marital conflict have broad negative effects on virtually every dimension of children�s well-being.  However, the inverse is also true.  A reduction in conflict is beneficial in a variety of ways.  In addition to the more obvious emotional and psychological implications, reduced conflict has positive economic and fiscal consequences, especially in the context of divorce.

The fiscal impact of family dissolution is well documented; the sudden drop in income often experienced by the child�s custodial parent following a separation or divorce can foster a host of problems, financial and otherwise.  As a result, the issue of child support has received considerable attention in recent years, and an enormous volume of energy and resources are spent in an effort to enforce compliance.
The results are discouraging.

The Texas Attorney General�s Office reports that, during fiscal 1994, a total of $2.2 billion in child support was owed in Texas, of which slightly less than half (49 percent) actually was collected.  Perhaps even more telling, only 246,800 of the total of 607,600 child support cases were in compliance that year, meaning that 59 percent of those who owed child support were not paying it.

A variety of reasons contribute to this poor performance, with economic distress (typically through the loss of steady employment) the most prevalent.  Interestingly, almost as significant is the nature of the arrangements made for child support that accompany the divorce, which in many ways reflects the level of conflict between parents.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the payment of child support is heavily dependent on an agreement being in place, which is true in only 58 percent of all cases.50  Of those cases, how the agreement was reached and how the payments are made directly relate to whether the custodial parent actually receives the payment in a regular manner.

The figures show that among cases where agreements are reached voluntarily, there is a considerably greater likelihood of compliance (93 percent versus 72 percent), probably reflecting a more amicable divorce.  Similarly, those women whose payments come directly from the father are more likely to receive support (82 percent) than those whose payments are structured to flow through the courts (75 percent) or through a state welfare agency (56 percent). The following table summarizes the results.
 

The financial consequences of increasing the number of voluntary agreements would also be substantial for the state.  The figures in the table above show that the immediate effect of a ten-percent increase in voluntary child support agreements would exceed $3.6 million dollars per year; if all agreements were to become voluntary, the present value of additional child support paid over the twelve years from 1998-2010 would exceed $0.5 billion.

These figures are conservative, in that they assume no increase in the number of actual child support agreements, but merely that the character of new arrangements begins to shift toward voluntary agreements.

As noted earlier in this report, one of the most effective methods of increasing the number of voluntary agreements is to provide support at the time of divorce�i.e., through education, therapy and mediation.  By promoting a more cooperative relationship between divorcing spouses, these services can not only facilitate a voluntary divorce agreement, but may well encourage increased ongoing contact between absent fathers and their children.  This increased contact tends to have a positive effect on child support payments.  Therefore, the resources needed to provide these services should be viewed as an upfront investment rather than a cost, since the return to both the state and individuals involved (in the form of larger child support payments over time) is considerable.

Specifically, the state should be willing to spend up to $1,060 per divorce (the difference in expected voluntary vs. non-voluntary payments spread over the total number of expected divorces) to increase the number of voluntary agreements.  It is worth noting that the difference between voluntary and non-voluntary payments grows to $3,342 by the year 2020.

*

As we have seen, Amato and Booth recommend that governments, community organizations, employers, courts, and churches work together to ensure that all unhappily married couples have access to counseling that is both affordable and child-centered.

This view is echoed by the Census Bureau: �. . .to think of child support only in terms of awards and collections is too narrow a perspective.  Other measures should also be considered that would work by positive means and thereby reduce coercion.  For example, any visitation or custody arrangement that makes contact between the child and the absent parent more frequent and more ordinary is more likely to maintain commitment and, therefore, support.  Additionally, services that help the former couples mediate and reduce their conflict, especially at the time support and custody arrangements are being worked out, bode well for the payment and levels of support over the long run.�

The benefits of proactive support are clearly outlined in both the academic literature and the analysis above, and a number of states are working to develop public policy that reflects this awareness.  The following section summarizes a number of the most effective approaches.

3.0 Overview of Recent Public Policy in Other States
A growing number of states are recognizing the importance of conflict resolution and its positive effects on children.  Indeed, there has been a nationwide push, within the last few years, to enact legislation at the state level that encourages divorcing parents with minor children to seek educational programs and/or family therapy services from professionals.  Concurrent with these efforts has been a drive to promote custody and visitation dispute resolution, premarital education and/or therapy, and educational and support services for married couples, including better access to family and couple therapy.

Educational programs for divorcing parents are now offered at the county level throughout more than 40 states; in addition, a number of states offer separate courses designed to help children cope with divorce.51  Individual programs cover varying material, and are sponsored by differing entities, including family court offices, public and private mental health departments, churches, community-based agencies, private therapists and counselors, and educational institutions. At least 12 states currently offering parenting programs have enacted legislation authorizing�and in some cases, mandating�courts to implement education programs statewide.52  Thus far, preliminary evaluation of some of the more established programs has been extremely positive.

Connecticut  In Connecticut, where all separating and divorcing parents can be required to attend a six-hour parental education classes, exit interviews show that the vast majority of program participants viewed the course as a positive experience.  The $100 class provides parents information on child development, the effect of parental separation on children, dispute resolution and conflict management, guidelines for visitation, stress reduction in children, and lessons in cooperative parenting.53  Eighty-nine percent of the participants in these classes said they would recommend the program to others, while 79 percent felt that all parents entering the family court process should be required to attend the course.54  The state also has created a system of licensing local providers who conduct parenting classes.55

New York  Another program of interest is New York�s Parent Education and Custody Effectiveness, or �P.E.A.C.E  Program.� Developed by Hofstra University in 1993 under a grant from the New York State Justice Institute,  P.E.A.C.E. is an interdisciplinary program that provides divorcing parents education in three areas: 1) the legal process for determining custody and child support; 2) the effects of divorce and separation on adults; and 3) the effects of divorce and separation on children�focusing specifically on ways in which parents can help their children cope with the transition.56  The program�s aim is to �encourage parents to assume responsibility for creating a post-divorce environment in which their children are their first priority.�  Following a successful pilot study, the program has been expanded statewide.  Each branch of the P.E.A.C.E. program operates under broad general guidelines, with local advisory committees responsible for setting policies for administrating programs within their communities.57

Beyond parent education classes, many states also have enacted legislation designed to reduce conflict relating to custody and visitation issues.  A number of states, including California, Wisconsin, and Iowa, mandate either mediation or court-approved education for all custody and visitation disputes.58  Other states have moved to increase the number of couples attending premarital education and/or premarital therapy.  Incentives to encourage participation include giving couples who complete the course tax credits, reduced waiting time for marriage licenses, and/or discounts on various marriage-related fees.

Florida  One of the more comprehensive pieces of legislation to date, Florida�s �Marriage Preparation and Preservation Act� (House Bill 1019), was signed into law in May 1998.  A more detailed summary of the Florida law is attached.  The Act addresses the need for conflict management and for improved relationship skills on several fronts:

 � Required High School Course: Florida law already mandated all high school graduates to complete a life management skills course, worth one half-credit of course work.  The new law specifies that the course must include marriage and relationship-building education.

 � Premarital Preparation Class: Couples attending a four-hour, court-approved premarital preparation class are eligible to receive a marriage license discount of $32.50.  To receive the discount, they also must read a handbook prepared by the Florida Bar summarizing the legal rights and responsibilities of marital partners during marriage and upon dissolution.  If the course is not completed, the marriage license effective date is delayed three days.  In addition, all couples filing for marriage licenses are given a confidential questionnaire developed by Florida State University�s (FSU) Center for Marriage and Family.  The questionnaire will be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the educational programs.

 � Divorce Fees and Parental Education Courses: The Act adds an additional $32.50 to all divorce filing fees, and requires that all parents of minor children attend a court-approved parent education and family stabilization course prior to divorce.  In addition, couples filing for dissolution of a marriage must complete an anonymous FSU questionnaire.  The questionnaire will be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the parental education courses.

4.0 Current Texas Public Policy and Services
While family therapy, educational programs, and mediation in states such as Florida are centrally administered and available statewide, the level of development of such programs in Texas is difficult to ascertain, largely because their administration has been fragmented among the 254 counties and numerous district courts.  An overview of several noteworthy divorce-related programs in Texas follows:

4.1 Classes for Divorcing Parents
Although divorce therapy and divorce education classes are not required by law for all divorcing parents,  Texas courts have the authority to mandate them by court order, based on the discretion of individual judges.  Senate Bill 1384, sponsored by Senator Tom Haywood and enacted during the 1997 legislative session, provides that such counseling, if ordered by the courts, must include a discussion of issues confronting children of divorce.

One of the most successful divorce education programs in Texas is �For Kids� Sake,� a one-time, four-hour course now available in 37 counties across the state.  Developed by a team of legal, mental health, child development, parent education and law enforcement professionals, the program was started in 1993 by Practical Parent Education, a non-profit organization based in Plano, Texas and funded by the Texas Bar Foundation.  Topics covered in the For Kids� Sake Seminar include �How Divorce Affects Children,� �Recognizing Children At Risk,� �Common Areas of Conflict in Divorced Families,� and �Building a Co-Parent Relationship.�  The program is available in both Spanish and English, and includes a 50-page handbook for parents.59

 Participants in the For Kids Sake course usually are ordered to attend by the court, although 10-15 percent of the attendees come to the class voluntarily.  In the Plano For Kids� Sake program, 92 percent of the participants over a four-year period have consistently rated the program as either extremely helpful or very helpful�a trend that seems to be repeating itself in preliminary evaluations of similar programs throughout the state.  Many attendees go on to seek further professional help.60

4.2 Mediation
Mediation is often used to resolve issues of child custody, visitation, and child support.  The service is available in a number of Texas counties, although its use varies tremendously from court to court, even within those counties.  In Collin County, for instance, judges in some courts regularly order mediation and counseling, while other judges rarely do so.  In nearby Tarrant County, long-standing county policy dictates that all visitation (though not child support) cases are to be mediated through the domestic relations office.

Service providers also vary.  While Tarrant County courts often utilize staff therapists, social workers and attorneys61 , mediators at the Bexar County dispute resolution center are likely to be volunteers from the community who have taken a mediation training course.62

A particularly successful mediation program is the �Friend of the Court Program,� established in 1989 through sections 14.91 - 14.96 of the Texas Family Code.  Where implemented, the program requires caseworkers to monitor court orders for child support payment and for visitation.  When problems are detected, disputes are resolved through mediation whenever possible.63  According to the Harris County domestic relations office, appointment of a Friend of the Court has resulted in compliance with the court�s order for child support payment in their ten participating courts 93 percent to 100 percent of the cases.64 This compliance rate compares to a national average of approximately 30 percent.65

4.3 Family Therapy
Family therapy is increasingly being recognized as a means of supporting the transition process of divorcing families as they restructure emotionally and legally.  As an example, the Houston FIT (Families in Transition) Project has been a collaboration between Harris County family court judges, a marriage and family therapy professional association, and a local academic institution to develop creative solutions to meet two fundamental goals:  1) support family functioning by minimizing the trauma of involvement in the legal system; and 2) develop an assessment model for family mental health practitioners involved in this process.  Although more research is needed, preliminary results from this pilot program suggest that these kinds of collaborative efforts can have positive effects on divorcing families.

4.4 Other Visitation Programs
In Texas, visitation orders are often enforced by an individual county court�s child support enforcement office.  As with child support cases, visitation is often a source of considerable conflict, frustration, and relitigation between divorced parents. In fact, according to a 1995 survey of non-custodial parents� child support compliance by Southwest Texas University professor Kimberly Folse, 41 percent of non-custodial parents interviewed only see their children two to three times a year or not at all.66

Several Texas counties are developing specialized visitation pilot programs through a grant from the Texas Attorney General�s Office.67  In Tarrant County, the pilot program will allow parents to utilize on-staff mediators and therapists to assist them with modifications and visitation plans.68  In Travis County, the grant will be used to provide parenting classes, to offer free legal advice when parents have agreed on a modification of their order, and to offer access to Kids Exchange, a neutral site for divorced parents to drop off and pick up their children.69

4.5 Future Directions
While Texas, particularly at the county level, has a number of programs specializing in family conflict resolution, divorce education or mediation, there is no comprehensive and coordinated system to provide these services statewide.  The current programs are often voluntary, and, unfortunately, some of the parents who could benefit most choose not to attend.  At present, the effort is fragmented at best; some counties receive top-notch services, while others receive marginal service, and still others have no services at all.

If Texas, like Florida and New York, is to �encourage parents to assume responsibility for creating a post-divorce environment in which their children are their first priority,�70 it would seem appropriate to consider statewide legislation that:
� requires that family therapy, education, and mediation are provided at the most appropriate time in the divorce process;
� establishes a financial base for such services that is self-sustaining;
� creates a service delivery system that is statewide and of high-quality; and
� legitimizes the authority of the courts to encourage or mandate participation in family therapy, educational programs, and mediation.

5.0 Conclusion/Recommendations
Given the dramatic changes that have occurred in the American family over the last three decades, particularly with respect to the nature of marriage and family structure, it is not surprising that debates continue over how these changes have affected the lives of children. This is an issue that should be of concern to society at-large, since children who are negatively affected by a stressful family environment grow into adults who are less able, psychologically, emotionally, and even financially, to become productive citizens and effective parents in their own right.

A growing number of states are recognizing the importance of initiating policies and programs that promote marriage preparation and conflict resolution.  In light of this information, it would seem appropriate for Texas legislators to create policies and laws that support and help maintain marriages, and policies and laws that would mitigate the harmful effects of marital conflict and divorce when divorce does occur.
Aside from the obvious psychological and social impact, such laws and policies help create economic and fiscal benefits, such as increased child support.  It follows then that a proactive approach to public policy that helps improve marital quality and reduce conflict is not only the right thing to do, but makes sense from an economic and fiscal perspective.  The following general recommendations are designed to reinforce this premise.

� Effective Relationship & Marriage Skills Classes: Healthy parenting invariably begins with emotionally healthy parents.  To encourage people to establish effective relationships, classes on relationship and marriage skills should be incorporated into high school curricula and be a requirement to graduate.

� Premarital Education: Premarital education should become a prerequisite for obtaining a marriage license in the state of Texas.  As noted earlier in this report, Florida has developed a handbook for couples acquiring a marriage license; the State Bar of Texas could develop a similar guide.

� Divorce Education/Therapy/Mediation: When a couple with minor children decides to divorce, education, therapy or mediation should be required.  Or, incentives for therapy could be given in the form of reduced divorce filing fees.  Judges should be given the authority to require these services when appropriate, either when a couple is initially divorcing or when filing for modification to an original agreement.  If a non-custodial parent is delinquent with child support payments, judges could require parenting education classes in lieu of jail time.

� Tax Incentives & Accountability: State resources could be allocated to provide tax incentives to promote research and encourage the development of healthy families.  For example, a reduced corporate franchise tax could be offered to companies that include marital therapy as part of their employee benefit programs or EAPs.  For accountability purposes, funds should be allocated for an ongoing monitoring of state programs to ensure they are effective and remain true to their mission.

� Ongoing Research: More research regarding interventions and proactive programs to improve marital quality would facilitate the development of effective public policy.  In particular, future research efforts should be focused in two broad areas: the development of a database of pilot studies and programs from across the nation, and primary research using Texas-specific data.

Summary of Florida HB 1019�
The Marriage Preparation and Preservation Act
(May 1998)

MARRIAGE PREPARATION

� Provides for the creation of a half-credit life management skills course to be required for high school graduation in Florida. An integral component of the course will be �marriage and relationship skill-based education�

� Parties applying for a marriage license have the option to complete a marriage preparation course of not less than four hours.

� Course content shall include, but not be limited to:
� review of rights, responsibilities and requirements under Florida law
� conflict management
� communications skills
� financial responsibilities
� children and parenting responsibilities
� typical problems during marriage and suggested solutions

� The course shall be conducted by one or more of the following:
� a licensed psychologist
� a licensed clinical social worker
� a licensed marriage and family therapist
� a licensed mental health counselor
� an official representative of a religious institution

� Provides for the creation of a handbook containing sections of the Florida law pertaining to rights and responsibilities of marital partners to each other and any children of the marriage. Provides for review and updating of the manual. Before receiving a marriage license all couples must sign a statement that they have read the handbook and whether or not they

� Parties signing an affidavit that they have both completed the marriage preparation course and read the handbook will receive a marriage license fee reduction of $32.50. Parties not completing this requirement will have their marriage license effective date delayed three days.

� All couples filing for a marriage license will be given an anonymous questionnaire developed by Florida State University Center for Marriage and Family.

� FSU will be given $75,000 to create and research premarital preparation pilot programs
 

MARRIAGE PRESERVATION
 

� An additional $32.50 fee will be added to all divorce filing fees.

� Within 60 days of filing for a dissolution of marriage or when seeking a modification of a final judgment action involving shared parental responsibilities, custody or visitation, all parents of minor children shall complete a court-approved parent education and family stabilization course. The course is a minimum of four hours. The course must not provide therapy or legal services.

� The course shall be conducted by at least two of the following:
� a licensed psychologist
� a licensed clinical social worker
� a licensed marriage and family therapist
� a licensed mental health counselor
� an official representative of a religious institution

� Course content shall include, but not be limited to:
� ways to assist in stabilizing a family
� using mediation and/or counseling to solve marital problems
� the effects of divorce on children
� the effects of divorce on men
� the effects of divorce on women
� the effects of divorce on society
� ways to rebuild family relationships and resolve disputes
� the economic effects of divorce on the parties and any children

� Couples filing for dissolution of a marriage must complete an anonymous  questionnaire designed by Florida State University
 
 
 

References

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9.  Conger, Rand D., Katherine J. Conger, Glen H. Elder, Jr., Frederick O. Lorenz,  Ronald L. Simons, and Les B. Whitbeck, 1992.  A family process model of  economic hardship and adjustment of early adolescent boys.  Child Development  63:526-541.
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11.  Belsky, Jay, Lisa Youngblade, Michael Rovine, and Brenda Volling.  1991.  Patterns  of marital change and parent-child interaction.  Journal of Marriage and the  Family 53:487-498.

12.  Booth, Alan, and Paul R. Amato.  1992.  Divorce and psychological stress.  Journal  of Health and Social Behavior 32:396-407.
 

13.  Hetherington, E. Mavis, M. Cox, and R. Cox.  1982.  Effects of divorce on parents  and children.  Pp. 223-288 in Michael E. Lamb (ed.), Nontraditional Families:   Parenting and Child Development.  Hillsdale, N.J.:  Lawrence Erlbaum.

14.  Acock, Alan C., and David H. Demo.  1994.  Family Diversity and Well-Being.   Thousand Oaks, Calif.:  Sage.

15.  Furstenberg, Frank F., Jr., and Christine Nord.  1985.  Parenting apart:  Patterns of  childrearing after marital disruption.  Journal of Marriage and the Family 47:893- 904.
       Seltzer, Judith A.  1991.  Relationships between fathers and children who live apart:   The father's role after separation.  Journal of Marriage and the Family 50:663- 677.

16.  Seltzer, Judith A., and Suzanne M. Bianchi.  1988.  Children's contact with absent  parents.  Journal of Marriage and the Family 50:663-677.

17.  Furstenberg, Frank F., Jr., and K. Harris.  1992.  The disappearing American father?   Divorce and the waning significance of biological parenthood.  Pp. 197-223 in  Scott J. South and Stewart E. Tolnay (eds.), The Changing American Family:   Sociological and Demographic Perspectives.  Boulder, Colo.:  Westview Press.

18.  Amato, Paul R., and Alan Booth.  1991a.  Consequences of parental divorce and  marital unhappiness for adult well-being.  Social Forces 69:895-914.

19.  Rossi & Rossi, 1990

20. Amato, Paul R., and Alan Booth.  1997.  A Generation at Risk.  Cambridge, Mass:   Harvard University Press.

21. Amato, Paul R., and Alan Booth.  1991a.  Consequences of parental divorce and  marital unhappiness for adult well-being.  Social Forces 69:895-914.
       Booth, Alan, and John N. Edwards.  1985.  Age at marriage and marital instability.   Journal of Marriage and the Family 47:67-75.

22.  Belsky, Jay, and Russell A. Isabella.  1985.  Marital and parent-child relationships in  family of origin and marital change following the birth of a baby:  A retrospective  analysis.  Child Development 56:342-349.

23.  Furstenberg, Frank F., Jr., and Julien O. Teitler.  1994.  Reconsidering the effects of  marital disruption:  What happens to children of divorce in early adulthood.   Journal of Family Issues 15:173-190.
       Newcomer, Susan, and J. Richard Udry.  1987.  Parental marital status efffects on  adolescent sexual behavior.  Journal of Marriage and the Family 49:235-240.

24.  Wallerstein, Judith S., and Sandra Blakeslee.  1989.  Second Chances:  Men,  Women, and Children After Divorce.  New York:  Ticknor & Fields.

25.  Amato, Paul R.  1995a.  Explaining the intergenerational transmission of divorce.   Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Council on Family  Relations, Seattle.

26.  Bumpass, Larry L., Teresa Castro Martin, and James A. Sweet.  1991.  The impact of  family background and early marital factors on marital disruption.  Journal of  Family Issues 12:22-42.
Glenn, Norval D., and Kathryn B. Kramer.  1987.  The marriages and divorces of  the children of divorce.  Journal of Marriage and the Family 49:811-825.

27.  House, James S., Debra Umberson, and Karl R. Landis.  1988.  Structures and  processes of social support.  Annual Review of Sociology 14:293-318.
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28.  Umberson, Debra.  1987.  Family status and health behaviors:  Social control as a  dimension of social integration.  Journal of Mental Health and Social Behavior  28:306-319.

29.  Sarason, Irwin A., Barbara R. Sarason, and Edward N. Shearin.  1986.  Social  support as an individual difference variable:  Its stability, origins and relational  aspects.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 50:845-855.

30. Davies, Patrick T., and E. Mark Cummings.  1994.  Marital conflict and child  adjustment:  An emotional security hypothesis.  Psychological Bulletin 116:387- 411.
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31.  Martin, Barclay.  1990.  The transmission of relationship difficulties from one  generation to the next.  Journal of Youth and Adolescence 18:377-398.
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32.  Long, N., R. Forehand, R. Fauber, and G. H. Brody.  1987.  Self-perceived and  independently observed competence of young adolescents as a function of  parental marital conflict and recent divorce.  Journal of Abnormal Child  Psychology 15:15- 27.
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33.  Amato, Paul R., and Bruce Keith.  1991a.  Consequences of parental divorce for  children's well-being:  A meta-analysis.  Psychological Bulletin 110:26-46.

34.  Furstenberg, Frank F., Jr., and Andrew J. Cherlin.  1991.  Divided Families:  What  Happens to Children When Parents Part.  Cambridge, Mass.:  Harvard University  Press.

35.  Campbell, Angus.  1981.  The Sense of Well-Being in America:  Recent Patterns and  Trends.  New York:  McGraw-Hill.
 

36.  Ross, Catherine E., and Joan Huber.  1985.  Hardship and depression.  Journal of  Health and Social Behavior 26:312-327.

37.  Ross, Catherine E., and Chia-ling Wu.  1995.  The links between education and  health.  American Sociological Review 60:719-745.

38.  Kessler, Ronald.  1982.  A disaggregation of the relationship between socioeconomic  status and psychological distress.  American Sociological Review 47:752-764.

39. Ross, Catherine E., and Chia-ling Wu.  1995.  The links between education and  health.  American Sociological Review 60:719-745.

40.  Snarey, John.  1993.  How Fathers Care for the Next Generation.  Cambridge,  Mass.:  Harvard University Press.

41. Furstenberg, Frank F., Jr., and Julien O. Teitler.  1994.  Reconsidering the effects of  marital disruption:  What happens to children of divorce in early adulthood.   Journal of Family Issues 15:173-190.
      Zill, Nicholas, Donna R. Morrison, and Mary Jo Coiro.  1993.  Long-term effects of  parental divorce on parent-child relationships, adjustment, and achievement in  young adulthood.  Journal of Family Psychology 7:91-103.

42. Amato, Paul R., and Alan Booth.  1997.  A Generation at Risk.  Cambridge, Mass:   Harvard University Press.

43.  Cummings, E. Mark.  1987.  Coping with background anger in early childhood.   Child Development 58:976-984.
       Cummings, E. Mark, C. Zahn-Waxler, and M. Radke-Yarrow.  1981.  Young  children's reactions to expressions of anger and affection by others in the family.   Child Development 52:1274-1281.

44. Grynch, J. and Frank Fincham.  1990.  Marital conflict and children's adjustment:  A  cognitive-conceptual framework.  Psychological Bulletin 108:267-290.

45. Davies, Patrick T., and E. Mark Cummings.  1994.  Marital conflict and child  adjustment:  An emotional security hypothesis.  Psychological Bulletin 116:387- 411.

46. Amato, Paul R., and Bruce Keith.  1991a.  Consequences of parental divorce for  children's well-being:  A meta-analysis.  Psychological Bulletin 110:26-46.

47.  Cherlin, Andrew, Frank F. Furstenberg, P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, Kathleen  Kiernan, Donna Ruane Morrison, and Julien Teitler.  1991.  Longitudinal studies  of effects of divorce on children in Great Britain and the United States.  Science  252:1386-1389.
       Doherty, William, and Richard Needle.  1991.  Psychological adjustment and  substance use among adolescents before and after parental divorce.  Child  Development 62:328-337.

48.  Johnston, Janet R.  1994.  High-conflict divorce.  The Future of Children:  Children  and Divorce 4:165-182.

49.  Wallerstein, Judith S., and Joan B. Kelly.  1980.  Surviving the Breakup:  How  Children and Parents Cope with Divorce.  New York:  Basic Books.

50.   The U.S. Census Bureau, Survey of Income and Program Participation No. 102 -  The Regular Receipt of Child Support:  A Multi-Step Process. 1989.  The data on  Mean Amount of Support Received was updated to reflect current dollars, as well  as being adjusted for Texas historical patterns.Judith S., and Joan B. Kelly.  1980.   Surviving the Breakup:  How  Children and Parents Cope with Divorce.  New  York:  Basic Books.

51.   Florida State Legislature.  "Educating Divorcing Parents and Their Children."    Florida, n.d. (background research for HB1019); hereafter cited as Florida State  Legislature, n.d.

52.    ibid.

53.   State of Connecticut Judicial Department, Family Division-Superior Court.   "Specifications.  Parent Education Program."  Connecticut, n.d.

54.   State of Connecticut Judicial Department, Family Division-Superior Court.   "Executive Summary of Parenting Education Program."  Connecticut, October  1996.

55.   Florida State Legislature, n.d.

56.   Andrew Schepard.  "War and PEACE: A Preliminary Report and a Model Statute on  an Interdisciplinary Educational Program for Divorcing and Separating Parents."   27 U. Mich. J.L. Ref. 131.  1993; hereafter cited as Schepard, 1993.

57.    ibid.

58.    Karen Blaisure and Margie Geasler.  "Results of a Survey of Court-Connected  Parent  Education Programs in U.S. Counties."  34 Family and Conciliation  Courts  Review. 23.  1996.

59.   Practical Parent Education.  "Why For Kid's Sake?"  Plano, Texas.  n.d.  (pamphlet).

60.    ibid.

61.   Sandra Fultz.  Personal Interview.  Tarrant County Domestic Relations Office.   June 1998; hereafter cited as Fultz, 1998.

62.   Pat Nance.  Personal Interview.  Bexar County Dispute Resolution Center.  June  1998.

63.   Nancy Westerfeld.  "A Friend of the Court Program."  Texas Association for Court  Administration, vol. 16, no. 3.  September 1993; hereafter cited as Westerfeld,  1993.

64.   Harris County Domestic Relations Office.  "Friend of the Court Statistics."  Harris  County, Texas.  May 1998 (backgrounder).

65.   Westerfeld, 1993.

66.   Kimberly Folse.  "Factors Affecting Compliance with Orders for Support."  In  SB84 Report to the 74th Legislature.  Texas Office of the Attorney General.   Austin, Texas.  March 1995.

67.   Fran Markowski.  Personal interview.  Travis County Juvenile Court Domestic  Relations Office.  June 1998; hereafter cited as Markowski, 1998.

68.   Fultz, 1998.

69.   Markowski, 1998.

70.   Florida State Legislature, n.d.