Table of Contents
- What is a Parenting Coordinator?
- The Significance of a Parenting Coordinator
- Statutory Authority of Parenting Coordinators
- How is a Parenting Coordinator Appointed?
- Continuing Jurisdiction
- Judicial Review of PC Decisions/Recommendations
- PC Proceedings
- Ex Parte Communications
- Referral for Third-Party Services
- Access to Non-Parties, Children and Privileged Information
- Submission and Exception to PC Recommendations or Reports
- Term, Removal & Resignation
- PC Immunity
- A Sample Consent Order of a Parent Coordinator
What is a Parenting Coordinator?
The “Parenting Coordinator” or “Parent Coordinator” is a newly evolving professional role, which is now being implemented in an increasing number of States, with or without the benefit of a specific Rule of Court or statutory authority’ as a means for dealing with high-conflict families involved in domestic relations proceedings before the courts.
The Significance of a Parenting Coordinator
The Parenting Coordinator role has frequently been touted for its ability to help families design, execute and review workable parenting plans, while reducing (theoretically, at least) re-litigation rates in cases where high levels of conflict may seriously compromise the family acculturation process. It is particularly useful where close attention and review of individual cases may be helpful for families who have been repeatedly or even incessantly involved in custody or parenting-related litigation. The role may likewise be useful in situations where parents have serious difficulty making important joint decisions about their children, and who therefore could well benefit from assistance coordinating their parenting efforts, or where one or both of the parents may be mentally ill to some extent, intermittently or otherwise. More extreme contexts for PC use might include potentially abusive situations where there are ongoing, albeit unsubstantiated allegations of sexual or other physical abuse of a child.
The PC can likewise be employed to help oversee parental cooperation with orders of the court and to enforce compliance with such orders, or to quickly report to the court when one or both parents fall out of compliance. In high-conflict cases, where even trivial issues are potential sources of even further contention, the PC can also serve as a rationally-balanced arbitrator, available to facilitate the resolution of regularly recurring disputes between parents, while transferring various contention management and interdependent parenting skills in the process.
What is the Statutory Authority of Parenting Coordinators?
PC statutes per se are only known to exist in a very few of our States. Other jurisdictions rely upon existing statutory authority for the appointment of guardians ad litem, mediators, special masters, or the like. When deciding whether to appoint a PC, courts must consider statutorily mandated factors where they exist, or should prudently examine similar factors in the absence of statute or case law.
How is a Parenting Coordinator Appointed?
Here are some examples of the findings some courts have been required by statute or case law to consider as a pre-condition to appointing a PC:
- Are the parents in serious conflict with one another?
- Is there continuing parental difficulty in communicating about and cooperating in the care of their children?
- Has there been gross litigiousness concerning custody or parenting issues?
- Is there a history of domestic violence, verbal abuse, anger and distrust or parental alienation by either parent?
- Do any of the children have special needs and are any of the children infants or toddlers?
- Do serious concerns exist about the behavior, mental health or substance abuse of either parent?
- Are there other compelling reasons why it would be in the children’s best interests to do so?
Purpose & Scope of Appointing a Parenting Coordinator
In very general terms, the relatively few statutes which currently exist to authorize the establishment of the PC role do so, in order to assist the court in creating parenting plans or in resolving disputes regarding parenting time, and to assist parents in designing and implementing parenting plans. Typically, PCS are appointed to provide the court with recommendations, while providing parents with problem-solving, contention management and parenting time coordination services.
However, any potentially broad delegation of judicial authority, such as the appointment of a PC in some instances, should generally require the agreement of both parties. A reasonable and classical concern is that too much authority will be conferred upon the parenting coordinator without an adequate mechanism for judicial review. There is also the worry that a parenting coordinator’s authority not expand to determine affairs typically considered the exclusive province of parents, e.g., religion, social activities of the child, and the like.
As a general rule, courts cannot delegate their decision-making powers. Parties may consent, however, to the appointment of a PC, or the court can appoint one to facilitate implementation of a temporary order (subject to modification), or to address issues raised in motions for enforcement of litigant’s rights or in applications for modification of custody and parenting time provisions of a final order.
Appointment of the Parenting Coordinator (PC)
Parenting Coordinator appointments, as the preferred practice, should be conferred exclusively by Order of the Court, either at the request of a parent, Guardian ad Litem, Counsel for the Child, or by the court, sua sponte. One frequently employed method is to seek mutual consent from both parents to the appointment. This is prudent, even in those cases where a formal Order making the appointment exists, because it removes any doubt related to issues concerning the sustainability of any court’s power to compel a party to cooperate or submit to parent coordination over that parent’s objection. That being stated, a PC appointment may nonetheless be ordered in some jurisdictions without such mutual consent or over parental objection, but only if particular factual findings are made.
Examples of such specific findings:
- The parenting issues in the case are complicated and may involve complex family dynamics problems requiring speedy resolution;
- The case involves mental health or economic issues crucial to the protection of the best interest of any minor children, whose best interests would be served by the appointment;
- The parties demonstrate a pattern of continuing high conflict;
- One or both parents are unable to work cooperatively to engage in joint decision making for their child;
- The parties persist in litigating issues involving or affecting the children;
- Due to the existing level of parental conflict, the children’s relationship with father, mother or both parents have been seriously disrupted;
- That the only way the children will be able to develop a normal relationship with and spend time with both parents is through the use of a PC with the power to coordinate parenting time, parenting exchanges, communication, and exchange of information and records; or
- Specific findings that such other conditions exist that warrant the appointment.
Some jurisdictions have chosen to employ a standard Order of Appointment to establish and specifically empower the parenting coordinator. Still others also appoint the PC as a subordinate judicial officer within their Family Court systems. The order can specifically set forth the scope of authority using an itemized menu, and provide for mechanisms for discovery, analysis of findings, decision-making (including ADR), consensual agreement, court review, and for redress of grievances concerning any aspect of the process itself. The Order should ideally state and inform all involved of important terms concerning fees, appointment, reappointment, dis-enrollment and substitution of PCs, and should likewise take care to set forth with specificity how confidentiality, releases and authorizations will be dealt with.
How Much Decision-Making Authority Does a Parent Coordinator Have?
Depending upon the jurisdiction, PCs are customarily accorded varying levels of authority over an assortment of issues involving parenting time and decision-making concerning the children. Typically, PCs cannot affect changes to a custody determination, issue removal or relocation orders, or change preexisting parenting plans to the extent that parental access to the children would be materially altered.
Some orders of appointment provide for various levels of decision-making, often defined in terms of the likely effect a particular classification of decision could have upon the relationship between children and parents, while linking those discrete levels with procedures affording greater and more immediate access to the court for review or appeal. Decisions that are about one-time or quotidian issues, for example, may be promptly enforceable and reviewed by the court under an abuse of discretion or administrative due process standard. In contrast, other more weighty decisions that would significantly change the existing parenting plan might only be recommended by the PC, necessitating the imprimatur of the court before they would actually go into effect.
Other appointment orders may provide comprehensive menus, checking off specific areas of PC authority. These adjustable standard formats allow the parties to tailor the process to meet their needs.
Common Issues the Parent Coordinator Is Typically Authorized To Address
- Methods of inter-parental communication concerning the children;
- Agreement on the children’s daily routines;
- Stipulations as to children’s education – including, but not limited to school choice, tutoring, participation in special education programs, etc.;
- Enrollment in extra-curricular activities;
- Daycare, babysitting or both;
- Settlement of certain payment issues (e.g., for the children’s extra-curricular activities, daycare services, transportation between households, etc.);
- Issues involving the children’s clothing, equipment or personal possessions;
- Discipline of children;
- Provisions for children’s medical, dental and vision care;
- Psychological testing, counseling or other assessment involving the children;
- Decisions affecting the alteration of a child’s appearance, including elective cosmetic surgery, elective orthodontia or prosthodontic procedures, haircuts and styles, ear and body piercing, tattooing, tanning, etc.;
- Timesharing arrangements, including holiday and summer planning;
- Routine transportation and exchange of children related to parenting plan (drop-off, pick-up);
- Children’s miscellaneous travel issues, including their drivers- status, whether they can travel alone, etc.;
- Implementation of any custody and visitation order;
- Resolution of any disputes not specifically governed by the order – at least until the court acts;
- Any other parenting type issues, either submitted by the parties or ordered by the court;
- Overall promotion of the children’s best interests and needs;
- All other disputed child-related issues as authorized by an order of the court.
Examples Of Exclusions from Parent Coordinator Authority
- Resolution of financial issues;
- Modification of a prior parenting plan, decree or order in a manner that would reduce the total parenting time of either parent during a calendar year, or that would change the designation of residential parent for school purposes;
- Termination of parenting plans or orders;
- Creating a limitation regarding supervised parenting time only for either parent;
- Permitting the relocation of the residence of a child;
- Deciding the formal or informal religious education of a child.
Although this last example of PC authority limitation concerning the PC not being permitted to decide which religion is to be observed by the children, at least two jurisdictions specifically included religious issues in the list of authorized issues a PC could address.
While often not specifically excluded, the modification of child support orders and awards is typically not included in the plenary lists of general functions a PC can perform in most jurisdictions. However, the Parenting Coordinator might be authorized to determine child support changes, if they were functionally related to parenting time issues, or tied-into parenting time or custody determinations in some material way.
Timing & Jurisdiction
Some States view the PC intervention as appropriate only for post-decree matters, and only after a parenting plan has already been accomplished through other processes, such as mediation or settlement conference by the court. Others appoint PCs to assist in developing initial parenting plans, as well as monitoring and enforcing them after they become incorporated into final judgments or decrees.
Timing of Parent Coodrinator Appointment Examples
In one instance, the appointment of parenting coordinators would occur after the case has progressed through a comprehensive family court process (such as mediation, parent education, and other cooperative strategies) and after the entry of an order establishing a parenting plan. In this example, the order of appointment may be one of the outcomes of mediation or motion practice. The order may also be one of the conditions of a consensual pendente lite arrangement, or even be a part of an interim recommendation by a custody evaluator, particularly where that evaluator is a joint or court-appointed expert. There is some concern, however, that bringing the PC in before entry of a final judgment would confuse parents as to the ultimate role of the court as the final legal authority in their proceedings.
In another instance, the appointment would occur after an order is in place, whether temporary or permanent, with the PC’s role limited to matters that aid in communication of the parties and the enforcement of the court’s order of custody, visitation or guardianship.
Earlier pendente lite appointments have also been implemented. These are often time-limited appointments, subject to renewal, in order to manage the case pending the outcome of the court process (usually due in such instances to the long periods of time necessary to evaluate and adjudicate high conflict cases).
Other examples include PC utilization in post-decree, high conflict parenting situations, where communication has been difficult and litigation ongoing.
It is important to note that there is no legal code in the majority of jurisdictions that accurately describes the functional role of the Parent Coordinator (PC). Currently, most jurisdictions do not sufficiently address issues of due process and very seldom outline protocols for gathering evidence or conducting “hearings”. The functional roles of the PC, which may often be an amalgam of inter-disciplinary roles are often left up for grabs.
We have defined the newly evolving role of the parenting coordinator and discussed various statutory authorities for the PC role; the role’s purpose and scope; how PCs are appointed; what decision-making authority PCs have or do not have; the timing of PC appointments; and the court’s jurisdiction to make such appointments.
In the following sections, we will cover additional PC topics including Continuing jurisdiction; judicial review of PC decisions or recommendations; PC proceedings; ex parte communications; confidentiality; referral for third-party services; access to non-parties, children and privileged information; submission and exception to PC recommendations or reports; and PC immunity.
Continuing Jurisdiction of the Parent Coordinator
Jurisdictions using the PC model find themselves grappling with the issue of whether or not judges have the authority to initiate a PC intervention destined to continue beyond the conclusion of a case, which case would then no longer be considered pending. At least one recent Appellate level decision has held that a trial court lacked authority to appoint an attorney for the children in a dissolution case post judgment, because no action was pending.
Some examples of how a Court may attempt to address continuing jurisdiction issues include:
- Any Judge having domestic relations or juvenile jurisdiction might, at the request of all parties, refer a case or a designated issue to a PC. Any PC decision might then be appealed and heard de novo by the court. Accordingly, the filing of a motion asking a court to enter judgment upon a PC’s preliminary decision or award, or an appeal of the award, could provide an acceptable procedure for invoking the trial court’s continuing jurisdiction in a post-decree parenting dispute that has been arbitrated.
- Appointment can be made pursuant to a State-specific Statute providing, for instance, that PCs may be appointed for the purpose of monitoring compliance with court orders, and of providing parents with problem solving, conflict management and parenting time coordination services or other services approved by the court, while then inferring that this authority extends to post-judgment matters.
- Appointing the parenting coordinator under State Court Rules or Codes of Civil Procedure. PCs appointed by agreement of the parties would not require that a case be open or that an action be pending before the court to function as a parenting coordinator in the case.
Judicial Review of Parent Coordinator Decisions/Recommendations
Generally speaking, the court may not absolutely delegate decision-making authority regarding children to third parties. Rather, the court must exercise its parens patriae powers by retaining the right to review such decisions, which should be more accurately referred to as “recommendations.” To be quite clear on this point, even stipulations between parents remain subject to judicial review prior to being entered as consent orders.
While negotiated agreements between the parents are certainly preferred, PCs are more often than not employed in situations where parents are not likely to come to terms on their own, with or without mainstream custody/parenting mediation. The latter scenario obviously involves a higher level of complexity. In cases where the parties have agreed to use the PC as a stop-gap measure whenever negotiations reach an impasse, the PC assumes the role of arbitrator.
Although this writer generally prefers models employing the non-binding arbitration of custody and parenting decisions, some jurisdictions permit PCs to render final decisions, per se, which cannot be overturned by the court except for relatively narrow instances where the PC acts beyond the scope of his or her authority, where there is an abuse of PC discretion, or where there is malfeasance, conflict of interest or even frank fraud by the PC. The limited grounds for such relief are typically set forth in the statutes which enable such parenting-related arbitrations.
In a more conventional version of the parenting coordinator model, a set of written recommendations or a written report is filed with the court, in which the PC sets forth various parenting time and decision-making approaches for the family. Subsequent de novo review of PC-arbitrated decisions in parental responsibility and child support matters are typically addressed in the enabling statute.
Obviously, this process is not at all like parenting mediation, where the content of the mediated sessions is confidential and where a failed mediation attempt triggers a return from ADR to litigation. In the case of an unsuccessful mediation, the court is left to determine child-related issues without the benefit of the custody mediator’s impressions and suggestions for the family. This distinction is analogous to some of the differentiations between the earlier collaborative divorce models and the more highly evolved and resource-sparing Progressive Divorce approach. In the context of collaborative divorce, in the event the collaborative law engagement does not result in settlement of the case, the baby is thrown out with the bath water in accordance with the arguably premature and mandatory entry of the parties and their attorneys into a mutual recusal pact. Within the constraints of that significantly flawed model, failure results in the immediate termination of both attorneys, as well as the disallowance of any work product, expert opinion, and discovery. These “sinking costs”, ‘are therefore contractually lost.
The fact that additional decision-making data from the PC is conserved, regardless of the parties ability to reach agreement, could well present a significant draw for the PC model to parents and judges alike. The involvement of the PC, along with the sinking costs of enlisting the PC’s services to the parents, are not sacrificed. The PC’s knowledge of the children’s needs, the family’s dynamics, the underpinnings of their continuing conflicts, as well as the PC’s suggestions for what could ostensibly work for any given family can be shared with the parents, attorneys and with the court.
Judicial Review of Parent Coordinator Decisions/Recommendations
Wide latitude is typically accorded the PC as to how sessions with family members are to proceed. For the most part, these sessions or hearings can best be described as “informal. Although the PC is not typically required to make a record of the proceedings, some jurisdictions permit the PC to videotape or record proceedings with parents at the PC’s sole discretion.
While meetings with parents may be scheduled either separately or together, in this writer’s opinion, the better practice is to refrain from the use of one-on-one caucuses between the PC and an individual parent. Experience has shown that any added candor that might be achieved from one parent through caucusing is more often than not offset by compromising the trust of the other parent. This remains the case, even where both parents are offered the opportunity to individually caucus with the PC. The same trust-rippling phenomena can be used for mediation. The PC almost invariably meets with any children seven years of age or older. If the PC is uncomfortable interviewing the children, the PC should be permitted to enlist the services of a pediatric mental health professional, much in the same manner as many guardian ad litem rules permit today.
Ex Parte Communications with Parent Coordinators
Some jurisdictions permit the PC to communicate ex parte with attorneys, while others do not. It is essential for both partie attorneys to be enrolled in the PC process for it to succeed. Most PC processes provide that parents may communicate ex parte with the PC. Many courts permit the PC, by stipulation or order, to immediately communicate with the court in emergent situations. More often than not, such emergency disclosures result in a substitution of PCs, and the re-designation of the former PC as a potential witness, subject to examination, as is the case with most guardian ad litem appointments. Other jurisdictions flatly prohibit such communication.
Some orders of appointment may permit, while at the same time discourage ex parte communication with parents and attorneys. This is particularly true where PC decisions are made on the basis of those communications. In those cases, the PC is acting as a reviewable arbitrator, and must abide by a code of conduct similar to that of the Judiciary. Naturally, these orders also prohibit ex parte communication with the judge. Other orders of appointment may specify that the PC may not communicate with attorneys ex parte, except as pertains to routine scheduling matters. They may also permit the PC, by stipulation or order, to communicate immediately with the court in emergent circumstances.
Confidentiality in the Parent Coordination Process
As a general rule, the PC process is not considered confidential. Similar to the guardian ad litem role, communications with the PC are not confidential and the PC can be called as a witness to testify to the court and to offer opinions or recommendations regarding custody or parenting time or issues or both.
Despite the fact that communications with the PC may not be confidential or privileged, the parent coordinator should typically not disclose any information about the parties or the children, except to the extent reasonably necessary to fulfill the stated duties and responsibilities specified in the order of appointment. Court rules or vicinage practices may also require that the PC maintain records of each meeting with any parent and that those records are subject to subpoena, but only by the presiding judge. In such cases, the judge would perform an in-camera review of the PC’s records in order to decide whether to release them to the parties. This is similar to the process followed in several jurisdictions in response to a request that the clinical notes of any mental health professional who is currently treating or had been treating one of the parents be reviewed for relevant content, in the best interests of any involved child.
In some jurisdictions, a client may have the privilege of refusing to disclose and of preventing a parent coordinator from disclosing any communications, observations, opinions, work product or case files maintained by the PC. Exceptions to the privilege typically obtain to the PC’s written decisions and to any written memoranda in support of any such decision. In other jurisdictions, although the order of appointment may articulate that the process is to be non-confidential, testimony may be an entirely different story, with the PC not being permitted to testify without the express mutual agreement of the PC and the parties. In still other jurisdictions, the PC may be permitted to appear and must be available to testify at any court hearing upon reasonable notice.
By and large, there is typically no confidentiality concerning communications with the PC. Parenting coordinators may usually communicate with custody evaluators, assessors, screeners, or any other individuals investigating the issues, as directed by the court. Concerning testimony, parties who want the PC to testify at a hearing, other than to report on findings, may be required to deposit a reasonable fee, in advance, to cover the hourly rate of the PC. The order of appointment may also notify the parents that the PC may be required by law to report child abuse, elder abuse, as well as any threats of abuse.
Referral for Third-Party Services
Frequently, the PC will discover that the children or parents require ancillary services provided by third parties. Such adjunct services include but are not limited to psychotherapy, psychological or physical examinations, supervised visitation or parenting time, alcohol or drug monitoring and assessments, and the appointment of a guardian ad litem for the child. The PC has authority, in the context of some models, to determine and order appropriate medical, mental health and counseling treatment for parents and children alike. The PC usually specifies whether any mandatory counseling is or is not confidential in such instances.
Other models deem referrals to third-party services as falling under the PC’s recommendation power. In those distinguishable contexts, PC referrals to third-party services are not immediately binding upon the parties. The recommendations are typically made to the court, whereupon the court may choose to set forth the recommendation or some variant of it, in an order, with or without argument or input from counsel.
Access to Non-Parties, Children and Privileged Information
The PC model typically provides access to any persons involved with family members, such as physicians, mental health providers, school officials, guardians ad litem, custody evaluators, or other professionals involved with the family. The PC nearly invariably meets with children who are seven years of age or greater. It is usually helpful for the PC to either meet with the children, or to receive input from a therapist who knows the children well and meets with them on an ongoing basis. The PC can never be the child’s therapist, however, because of the obvious role conflict and differing standards of confidentiality.
PC models often provide access to all orders and pleadings filed in the case, to school and medical records of the children, and to reports of psychological tests or evaluations which have been performed. In many jurisdictions, the standard stipulation includes detailed language to afford the PC with access to various professionals who might be involved with the family, currently or in the past, and to any other information the PC might find useful to work on the case. Additionally, provisions may be included to permit the PC to hire a consultant to assist in addressing particular issues. Parties are almost always directed to execute releases and consents to facilitate the PC’s investigation. Toward that end, orders of appointment almost invariably contain provisions to the effect that the parties will agree to execute the necessary releases and consents.
Submission and Exception to PC Recommendations or Reports
In some cases, a decision made by the PC is filed as an order of the court, is immediately binding, and subject to review and modification by the court, with the objecting party required to file a motion to bring their objection to the court. A detailed protocol, with procedural requirements and timelines for filing objections should be part of the order of appointment. The standard of review may vary according to the likely effect of the decision on the parent-child relationship.
Parent Coordinator Term, Removal & Resignation
The usual term for PC appointment is about two years. During the period of appointment, the PC may be removed or resigned by legal process. The intervention may thereupon end, or the court may arrange for a substitute PC. The reason for resignation is often the PC’s conclusion that the process is no longer or has never been productive, or simply due to the nonpayment of fees. At least one State has a fund set up to subsidize PC involvement. However, the length of the intervention is strictly limited.
PC removal may be requested by either or both parents, by application on notice. The determination of whether or not good cause for the removal exists is typically reserved by the courts. Where both parties request and agree that the PC should be removed, however, the court may grant the application without exercising its discretion in the name of good practical sense. PCs may be reappointed after term expiration by the court, sua sponte, upon application of either party, or at the request of the PC.
Examples Of Good Cause for Termination, Modification, Or Reappointment of a Parent Coordinator
In most cases, whether or not there is a fixed term of appointment, the court should be permitted to terminate or modify the PC appointment for good cause upon application by either party or by a guardian ad litem, at the request of the PC, upon the agreement of the parties and the parenting coordinator, or by the court, sua sponte. Good cause includes, but is not limited to:
- A determination that the parties no longer need the assistance of a PC;
- PC is unable or unwilling to continue to serve;
- An impairment on the part of a party which significantly interferes with participating in the PC process; or
- Lack of reasonable progress over a significant period of time despite the best efforts of the parties and/or the PC.
Some PC processes may involve a grievance procedure to disqualify a PC on any grounds applicable to a judge or arbitrator.
Parent Coordinator Immunity
In States where the PC is appointed pursuant to court order, the PC typically receives quasi-judicial immunity, notwithstanding the complaints which can nonetheless be filed with professional licensing boards by aggrieved individuals. In States where there is no statutory immunity, local rules might provide that the PC is appointed as an agent of the Court and is not liable for decisions made or information provided while serving in the capacity of PC.
Now that you have a better understanding of a parenting coordinator’s role, we will conclude by providing a comprehensive PC order of appointment, which can be modified to fit just about any desired PC situation.
A Sample Consent Order of a Parent Coordinator
ORDERED, as follows:
|1.||A Parent Coordinator shall be appointed as follows:|
|a.||_____________________________________ is hereby appointed as a Parent Coordinator to assist the parties in resolving disputes as to custody, parenting time or any related issue affecting the parties’ child.|
|b.||Expense Shared Equally. Initially, the parties shall equally share financial responsibility to pay the Parent Coordinator (the Court reserves the right to resolve any objection to the charges made and to redistribute the cost on a pro rata or other basis if appropriate.) Each party shall promptly pay one-half of any reasonable bill submitted by the Parent Coordinator. The Court shall enforce payment of any amounts owed to the Parent Coordinator by either party through contempt proceedings, if necessary.|
|c.||General Responsibilities of Parent Coordinator. The Parent Coordinator shall assist the parties and the child to promote the child’s best interest in general. The Parent Coordinator is entitled to communicate with the parties’ child, health care providers, psychological providers, teachers and any other third parties deemed necessary by the Parent Coordinator. The parties shall cooperate with the coordinator by executing any necessary releases.|
|d.||Role of Parent Coordinator. The Parent Coordinator shall:|
|i.||Make any recommendations relative to enforcing any shared parenting plan and parenting schedule and to minimize conflicts between the parties by addressing the particular patterns of behavior for the parents.|
|ii.||Minimize conflict, loyalty binds and unnecessary stress for the child.|
|iii.||The Parent coordinator has the following broad responsibilities:|
|(1)||Recommend approaches that will reduce conflict between parents;|
|(2)||Recommend compliance with any parenting plan or parenting schedule ordered by the Court;|
|(3)||Recommend outside resources as needed such as parenting classes or psychotherapy;|
|(4)||Monitor parenting plan or parenting schedule and mediate the parents’ disputes concerning parenting issues|
|(5)||Write detailed guidelines or rules recommended for communication between parents and practicing those guidelines or rules with the parents. If parenting skills are lacking, the Parent Coordinator shall work with one or both parents to teach those skills;|
|(6)||Recommend how a particular element of the parenting plan or schedule shall be implemented including, without limitation, holiday or vacation planning, logistics of pick up and drop off, issues dealing with stepparents and significant others;|
|(7)||Ensure that both parents maintain ongoing relationships with the child; and|
|(8)||Recommend a final decision on any parenting issue over which the parents reach an impasse, by submission of a written recommendation to the parties and their counsel.|
|(9)||Educate the parents with a program such as Cooperative Parenting in the area of:|
|(a)||effective communication and negotiation skills|
|(b)||effective parenting skills;|
|(c)||how to disengage from each other when it leads to conflict;|
|(d)||how to keep their child out of the middle;|
|(e)||the sources of their conflict and its effects on the child, when a loyalty bind is occurring, the Parent Coordinator shall point out and help both parents stop the behavior leading to this dilemma for the child|
|iv.||The Parent Coordinator shall maintain communication among all parties by serving, if necessary, as a conduit for information. The Parent Coordinator is not the ally of either parent and the Parent Coordinator is not a neutral mediator. The Parent Coordinator’s role is active and specifically focused on helping parents work together for the benefit of the child. The Parent Coordinator’s fundamental role is to minimize the conflict to which the child is exposed by the parties.|
|v.||The Parent Coordinator is not a custody evaluator, nor can they change the amount of custodial time either parent has with the child. Making decisions to place the child in the residence and custody of one parent would seriously compromise the Parent Coordinator’s balanced role. The Parent Coordinator does not have the power to recommend changes relevant to the primary residence of the child. The Parent Coordinator may make temporary changes to reduce conflict for the child or to better understand the needs of the child. Temporary changes are those changes that would not expand more than a few weeks and might include slight changes in the transfer location, time of phone calls and other parenting issues. The Parenting Coordinator shall also not be called as a witness in any Court proceedings regarding the change of primary residence, except by Order of the Court for good cause shown in exceptional cases such as when the Parent Coordinator has directly witnessed relevant facts.|
|vi.||Assistance provided by the Parent Coordinator is not intended to be a crisis service, except when a crisis directly impacts upon the child. Unless an emergency directly impacts upon the child, neither parent shall contact the Parent Coordinator outside normal working hours.|
|vii.||The Parent Coordinator shall not address significant financial matters.|
|e.||Meeting with the Parent Coordinator:|
|i.||The Parent Coordinator may meet with the parties, the child and significant others, jointly or separately. The Parent Coordinator shall determine if the appointments shall be joint or separate. The Parent Coordinator shall determine if the joint appointments are video or audio taped for education purposes. The tapes may be reviewed by either parent during or after their appointments.|
|ii.||Both parents shall contact the Parent Coordinator to schedule appointments. Appointments may also be scheduled when the Parent Coordinator requests.|
|iii.||Each parent should direct any disagreements or concerns regarding the child to the Parent Coordinator. The Parent Coordinator shall work with both parents to resolve the conflict and if necessary, shall recommend an appropriate resolution to the parties and their counsel.|
|f.||Written and Oral Reports and Appearance in Court:|
|i.||At the completion of the sessions, the Parent Coordinator may submit written reports to the parties and their counsel describing any conflicts and the Parent Coordinator’s recommended resolutions. The Parent Coordinator may also report to the parties and their counsel on parental compliance with and parental attitudes about any element of the parenting plan as amended by agreement or the parties or decided by the Parent Coordinator. Copies of all reports to the Court shall be sent to the parties and their attorneys, not to the Court directly.|
|ii.||If either parent wants the Parent Coordinator to testify on any matter, he or she must file a motion and show good cause in the motion and at the hearing why the Court should require the Parent Coordinator to testify. The Parent Coordinator must be given a copy of the motion. If the Parent Coordinator is required to testify, a new Parent Coordinator may be assigned by the Parent Coordinator to be available to the family after the hearing date.|
|g.||Terms of Appointment:|
|i.||The Parent Coordinator is appointed until further Order of the Court. The Parent Coordinator may be discharged by the Court, or by written agreement of the parties. The Coordinator may apply directly to the Court for a discharge, and shall provide the parties and counsel with notice of the application for discharge. The Court may discharge the Coordinator without a hearing, unless either party promptly requests a hearing on the application.|
|h.||Other: The Parent Coordinator may, by correspondence to the Court, with a copy to the parties, request clarification and/or directions of his/her role in this matter.|
|Recently, this writer was given the opportunity to address the New Jersey Supreme Court, in opposition to a proposed Rule of Court, which would have specifically provided for the role of Parenting Coordinator, had it been approved. The proposed new Rule and model order of appointment, both ultimately defeated, could have created a litany of problems, due primarily to defining an overly broad PC role, while failing to establish sufficient accountabilities and due process safeguards. The following except from this writer’s May 23, 2006 argument to the New Jersey Supreme Court is included below:|
|Good morning Madam Chief Justice, Associate Justices. May it please the Court. Respectfully, Rule 5:8-7 should not be approved.|
|First off, it is unnecessary…|
|Judges are currently appointing them. Our Judges already have the power to appoint PCs. Those who believe that having a PC in a given case is in the best interests of the children, are free to do so without being fettered by a specific rule.|
|Specific Orders of Appointment will suffice. Judges can create detailed Orders of Appointment, which clearly define the PC role in every case where they believe one is necessary. To date, there is no standard definition of PC, and no real data about PC effectiveness, its impact on families, or its effect on the volume of litigation, one way or the other.|
|Flexibility needed. This is why we must afford our Judges flexibility in selecting someone to serve as a PC, and in specifically defining that role in any given case… There is no sound reason why Judges should be forced to select PCs from the mental health care community, absent consent of the parties. Even the AFCC’s PC Guidelines specify that lawyers are appropriate candidates for these appointments. In cases where the appointment of a mental healthcare professional may be indicated, this should be the Judge’s call. Judges do not ordinarily appoint GALs or PCs who are strangers to them. This choice should be consistently left to the Jurist, unconstrained. Individual Judges, as opposed to national or regional surveys, have the advantage of being able to assess how PCs have affected their cases over time, and will take those learning experiences into account in moving forward.|
|Overuse and misuse. am also somewhat concerned, if only anecdotally, that the inclusion of a specific PC Rule will lead to overuse in inappropriate cases. To assume that PC appointments will cut down on the amount of motion practice is myopic. Conversely, I see the over-broad use of PCs as nothing but trouble…|
|[T]he proposed Rule, stating [in part] that the PC shall have authority to change or modify a Court order, if the parties consent, should be rejected. No authority should be given to a PC to modify Orders of the Court, consent of the parties notwithstanding. Parties are free to request modification of Orders by way of Consent Order, but only to the extent it is appropriate and always subject to the Court’s approval. Any Rule purporting to enable parties to confer Judicial authority upon a non-Jurist through mere mutual consent must be rejected.|
|[T]he proposed Rule has serious problems, as does the proposed Model Order. What we have [as outlined in the proposed new Rule and Model Order] is essentially a three-prong process:|
|First we attempt to mediate. Failing that, we enter into non-binding arbitration. Then, if the arbitrated recommendation is not acceptable, either party may approach the Court for a determination of the issues.|
|Well… here we are in motion practice again. Furthermore, in connection with these applications, either party may submit the PC’s recommendation (presumably to the Court). The Model Order adds that the Court may assess counsel fees in connection with these applications.|
|These provisions are problematic and coercive. Respectfully, no sanctions should be imposed for failure to abide by a recommendation (necessarily a “net opinion” in many cases), without having any basis for determining if the recommendation was prudent. A PC recommendation is no substitute for a Judicial determination, following the entry of evidence and testimony.|
|In any event, such an application, attaching the PC recommendation, is likely to trigger a Hearing. The decision to permit the submission of rejected recommendations to the Court in the first instance, should be left to the Judge and not to a Rule. Allowing the recommendation to be submitted may very well over-complicate things…|
It is hoped that this article can be useful to practitioners and jurists alike in the appropriate and positive furtherance of the PC concept.