As a divorced parent and a psychologist who works with divorced parents, I have experience on many levels with Parenting Coordinators. Parenting Coordinators are relatively new roles used by the family court to resolve disputes regarding parenting decisions. A parenting coordinator is defined as a neutral third party who assists in the resolution of disputes between the parties concerning parental responsibilities, including but not limited to implementation of court-ordered parenting plans. The parenting coordinator must be an individual with appropriate training and qualifications, and must have a perspective acceptable to the court. This vague language allows courts discretion in choosing a parenting coordinator.
Most parents share joint legal custody and are required to make joint parenting decisions in the areas of education, medical needs, visitation, vacation, and extracurricular activities. For parents who can't communicate without significant dispute and conflict, parenting coordinators serve as a middle person to facilitate communication and ultimately make decisions on behalf of the child or children. Parenting coordinators are by definition unbiased and represent the interests of the children only.
Here's some advice for parents working with parenting coordinators:
1. Ask for input into who will serve as your parenting coordinator. Get their credentials and if possible ask for a psychologist or other mental health professional to serve in this role. These coordinators tend to be less focused on the law and more focused on meeting the individual children's needs. When pursuing a specific coordinator, talk with other parents who have used the parenting coordinator and get feedback as to their strengths and weaknesses. In other words, don't be afraid to shop around and ask your attorney to help you with this process.
2. Once the coordinator has been assigned, be as authentic and transparent as possible. Don't attempt manipulation tactics as these are skilled professionals and like judges they cannot be won over in an attempt to undermine the other parent .
3. Whenever you talk to a parenting coordinator focus on the children and not your ex husband or wife. The parenting coordinator does not want to hear feelings about the spouse. They want to know what you would like to happen for your children.
4. There is no need for a parenting coordinator to meet your children. Some may confuse their role with a guardian ad litem, or GAL. The parenting coordinator is assigned to resolve parental disputes whereas the GAL is assigned to determine custody and therefore must be involved directly with the children. If the parenting coordinator asks to meet the children, involve your attorney and ask that the request be denied. The last thing you want is for your children yet to meet another stranger who will put them in the middle of an already ugly situation.
5. If you have issues with your parenting coordinator contact your attorney and have them be an intermediary and somebody who can speak frankly to the parenting coordinator in a way that might be difficult for you in your role as someone who has to take direction from the parenting coordinator.
6. Recognize that no matter how many times you feel that your recommendations are in the best interest of the child, most parenting coordinators have a twofold agenda. One is to make recommendations that are in the best interest of the child and the second is to do so without alienating either parent. For this reason, when deciding on smaller issues they may side with the opposing parent just to balance out the equation, even if the child would ultimately benefit more from your proposal. It's a picking of battles of sorts for the parenting coordinator.
7. Ideally disagreeing parents come to realize that Parenting Coordinator involvement is timely and very costly and doesn't always lead to a better outcome, thus motivating them to work out their differences without a Parenting Coordinator.
8. Recognize that once a parenting coordinator makes a decision it is highly unlikely to be reversed.
9. Displaying negativity towards the parenting coordinator is likened to give the judge a hard time. It will not help your cause and it will only create friction.
10. You can change parenting coordinators if you feel yours is not working for you. In most cases you will have to go to court for this.
I am not an attorney and whoever decides to involve a parenting coordinator will want to consult with one. I do know that for divorced high- conflict parents, parenting coordinators are being used more by the family courts. I am a psychologist who works with couples, divorced and married alike, and I am divorced; my thoughts come from my professional and personal experience.