Every day parenting is full of decisions – some minor and some major. Some parents need help managing their co-parenting relationships as they face those decisions. Going to Court every time there is a disagreement between parents over day-to-day issues can be expensive and time-consuming. It can take the court weeks, if not months, to schedule a time for parents to discuss their disagreements, which makes it hard to resolve day-to-day conflict.
When parenting has the tendency to become a battleground, a Parenting Coordinator (“PC”) can help. A PC is appointed by the court to assist both parents in coming to agreements that are in their children’s best interests, without taking those disagreements to the Judge. A PC is a specially trained professional – usually either an attorney or a mental health professional — who can help schedule parenting time and assist parents with communication without the need for expensive court proceedings. Meetings with a PC are scheduled according to the parents’ needs and schedules. While a PC is NOT a judge or a custody evaluator, a PC can help to mediate disputes and – in some circumstances – make decisions regarding the children to help break the tie between the parties.
Each Order Appointing a PC is specific to that particular family’s needs. The following are just a few examples of ways a PC might be used in a case:
- Create a parenting time plan for the summer or for an entire year;
- Suggest a modification to a parenting plan (shifting the time but not the amount of time, for example) to better promote the children’s best interests and both families’ work and extracurricular schedules;
- Craft detailed guidelines or rules to assist with communication between parents;
- Refer a parent to obtain necessary services such as a class for parenting skills, anger management, mental health / counseling or divorce coaching;
- Monitor a parent’s continued sobriety through contact with his or her counselor and/or a monitoring service or sponsor;
- Assist with clarification or implementation of the Court’s Orders regarding parenting issues;
- Facilitate communication between parties by serving as a conduit for information, if necessary; and
- Break an impasse regarding issues commonly included in legal custody, such as school choice, choice of physicians and medical treatment, and religious training.
PC’s do NOT serve as custody evaluators and are prohibited from offering a binding recommendation to the Court to change custody. As previously indicated, they may not change the amount of parenting time, but can assist with scheduling the time. Further, PC’s do not address significant financial matters between parents such as child support or payment of private school.
The goal for parents appointing a PC is to have day-to-day assistance with decisions that may take weeks or months to address if handled in traditional litigation, as well as to reduce costs. Rather than each party paying his or her respective attorney, the parties split the hourly cost of the PC for joint services (such as meetings or phone conferences with both parents and the PC), which is typically less than the cost of an individual attorney. The PC always attempts to assist the parties with their issues through mediation, but should the parties be unable to agree, the PC may issue Binding Recommendations, which – if no objections are filed by either party – become an order of the Court. In this way, the parties have clarification and resolution of their issues without the time, delay and expense of going to Court. If the parties object, then the Court schedules a hearing to determine if the recommendation should stand as written or be modified.
A PC may be appointed for anywhere from 12 to 24 months, but the appointment can be extended by agreement of the parties.