David H. Ebaugh
Post Divorce Families Using Parenting Coordinators

Using a Parenting Coordinator to help make decisions about your child(ren) can be a useful alternative to repeatedly going to court and having a judge make decisions you, as high conflict parents, are unable to reach.

A Parenting Coordinator is a mental health professional, mediator, or family law attorney, who specializes in helping parents resolve disputes about what is best for the child(ren) and can make such decisions about child(ren) if the parents are unable to do so themselves. 

Parents may want to consider hiring a Parenting Coordinator when other avenues of problem resolution have not resulted in an ability to make decisions about their child(ren) and there continues to be disagreements about such issues as schedules, overnight visitation, choice of scheduling, the handling of the child(ren)’s behavior, religious training, health issues, and problematic behaviors on the part(s) of one or both parents.  Most often the family has already participated in a custody/access evaluation.  When parents hire a Parenting Coordinator they give the Parenting Coordinator the power to make binding decisions about their child(ren). 

Parents must first agree to use a Parenting Coordinator and agree to a specific person.  The parents, through their attorneys, then submit a stipulation to the court that names the Parenting Coordinator, defines what issues the Parenting Coordinator has the power to make decisions about and defines how long the Parenting Coordinator will perform his/her job, usually one year.  This stipulation then becomes a court order when the judge signs it.

After a Parenting Coordinator has been ordered by the court, he/she will want to meet the parents, perhaps meet the child(ren) and review evaluations and other documents that will help them get to know the family and the types of problems that have come up in the past.  With some Parenting Coordinators and with some families, there will be regular meetings; in other families or with other Parenting Coordinators, meetings will happen when a problem arises. 

When a dispute occurs, the Parenting Coordinator first tries to help the parents mediate the problem.  The Parenting Coordinator might want to get other information such as the child(ren)’s opinion, information from doctors, therapist, schools or other caretakers.  If the parents cannot come to an agreement, the Parenting Coordinator then makes a decision.  When the decision is about a big issue, the Parenting Coordinator’s written decision is filed with the court.  If one parent is opposed to the decision, they can file a motion in a timely manner, and the decision will be reviewed in a hearing by the court.  The decision stands and is in effect until further order of the court.  For major decisions, such as a change in legal or physical custody, a decision about one parent moving away or a significant change in the visitation schedule, the Parenting Coordinator will submit a recommendation (not a decision) to the court.  The judge will review the recommendation at a hearing and make a decision. 

Hiring a Parenting Coordinator is a serious matter, but can be very helpful.  It is especially helpful for families who continue to have frequent disagreements, families where parents remain very angry with each other, families where there are very young children who require changes in scheduling, and families where the parents need to share information with each other but find it hard to do that without getting angry.  Parenting Coordinators are also useful in families where parents have concerns about drugs, alcohol, child abuse, or the stability of the other parent. 

Once you decide to have a Parenting Coordinator, and have named that person in a court order, you may be “stuck” with that person for the whole term that is defined in the order.  If both parents find that the Parenting Coordinator is not helpful, they can agree to fire the Parenting Coordinator.  If the Parenting Coordinator feels that he/she cannot be helpful to the family, he/she can resign.  However, if only one parent is unhappy with the Parenting Coordinator, that parent cannot fire the Parent Coordinator.  If the Parenting Coordinator makes a decision that seems wrong to one parent or if the Parenting Coordinator acts in a manner that seems unprofessional, the parent should first talk with the Parenting Coordinator about their complaints.  If the parent is still unsatisfied, they should submit a written statement of their complaint to the two attorneys, the Parenting Coordinator, and to the other parent.  The Parenting Coordinator will meet with the parent and their attorney.  If the complaint is still not resolved after that meeting, the parent can make a motion to the court to have the Parenting Coordinator removed.  The judge will then review the complaint and make a decision. 

Just like judges, a Parenting Coordinator is protected by “quasi-judicial immunity.”  That means that a Parenting Coordinator cannot be sued, their records cannot be subpoenaed and they cannot be made to testify about their decisions.  The reason for giving the Parenting Coordinator this protection is that they may be making decisions that one parent may not like.  If every time they made a decision that was unpopular they could be sued, professionals would soon stop doing this kind of work. 

The Parenting Coordinator’s goals are somewhat different than that of a judge.  A judge’s job is to make decisions that are legally sound and in the best interest of the child(ren).  A Parenting Coordinator’s job is to focus on the child(ren)’s best interests, but also help families learn effective problem solving strategies, to learn how to communicate well with each other , to learn more about child development, and sometimes, how to understand their feelings about the other parent and develop trust in each other.  Whenever possible, a major goal is to help families develop better skills so they do not need a Parenting Coordinator and the power to make decisions about their child(ren) can be put back in their hands. 

The fees for the services of a Parenting Coordinator are paid by the parents.  Most Parenting Coordinators request a retainer when they begin their work with a family.  Before a Parenting Coordinator is appointed, the judge will decide what portion of the fee will be paid by each parent.  However, the Parenting Coordinator may adjust this division of payment in special circumstances, including individual sessions.

Prepare by the Marin County Task Force on Special Masters, 1994
Joan B. Kelly, Ph. D. : Parent Information – Revised 1999  

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