Parenting Coordinators – Are They Too Good To Be True?
Parenting Coordinators: A Good Option?
There is a burgeoning new addition to the litigious divorce group, and that is the Parenting Coordinator. These mental health professionals who possess additional training in divorce custody issues are often court-appointed when warring parents are unable to come to terms with co-parenting. Parenting Coordinators may be instrumental in diffusing the contention by showing each side the benefits of collaborative co-parenting. However, their roles extend way beyond assisting parents on ways to best co-parent post-divorce.
Being court-appointed means they have a responsibility to hold the parents to adhere to the custody arrangements. Additionally, they keep their ears and eyes open for any possible parental alienation. If co-parenting becomes untenable, the Parenting Coordinator may recommend that the courts change custody arrangements. This means if one of the parents consistently violates custody or visitation arrangements etched into the divorce decree, that parent may be relegated to supervised visitation or, worse yet, lose custody of their child(ren) altogether.
This may sound like a great option when it comes to high conflict divorce where children are involved.
Sadly, children often become the pawns and casualties of these longstanding toxic divorces so it would deem prudent to have someone who is well trained and understands the benefits of healthy co-parenting and can convey this to the parents by using a set of skills and techniques to assure the emotional well being of the children. There are times when Parenting Coordinators are the saving grace for a family’s woes. However, there are also times when they become another part of the litigious mish-mash of divorce.
What do Attorneys think about Parenting Coordinators?
As a Certified Divorce Coach, I have spoken to several attorneys to learn more about their experiences with Parenting Coordinators and whether they believe they have value as another professional in the divorce arsenal. I was not surprised that my research found a mixed bag of opinions when it comes to Parenting Coordinators. The consensus was that they should only be used in the most extreme co-parenting conflicts and/or in the cases of parental alienation. Although on paper, Parenting Coordinators seem to be the answer to co-parenting conflicts, they seem to bring a host of possible issues that become problematic for families and attorneys.
What are the credentials for a Parenting Coordinator?
There was a concern, by many attorneys and families with whom I spoke, that parenting coordinator is a profession without a regulation to govern against malfeasance and malpractice. There are no competencies which they are required to adhere to which diffuses parenting coordinator accountability. Many parenting coordinators require families to sign various consents and waivers of liability. By the time a family has a parenting coordinator court ordered to their case, questioning the waivers of liability and other consent forms is not up for debate. This can feel very unstable to families who are already on shaky territory.
Parenting coordinators are often called upon to help a family make decisions when it comes to children of divorce. The question then becomes “What qualifications does that person have to make personal family and children decisions for that family?” When parenting coordinators start making family schedules, check-in dates and times for families to discuss their progress, etc. is the line between the professional and family invaded?
Should an outsider have the power to shake up the foundation of a family, encroach on their interests while they inject their own values onto them?
Parenting coordinators typically will develop “parenting plans” for their family. Do these parenting plans create a violation of a parent’s freedom to raise their children as they wish? Is it an invasion of a family’s privacy to determine where the child(ren) go to school, changes in family schedules and vacations as well as what sports the child(ren) can engage in to name a few of the “duties” bestowed on the parenting coordinator?
Another invasion of privacy arises when parenting coordinators force their clients to include the parenting coordinator on all communication and emails. This includes not only the communication and emails between the parents, but from teachers, sports coaches, doctors, and anyone who has anything to do with the children. Not only is this an intrusion of a family’s privacy, the fact that parenting coordination permits the state via a state-appointed agent to demand information about a family’s life that can be brought back into court by the opposing party, but that also becomes an ongoing government discovery which is contrary to the Fourth Amendment. Yes, it is beginning to get complicated.
Who pays for the Parenting Coordinator?
Another consideration that needs to be considered before using a parenting coordinator is the cost. Parenting coordinators begin their relationship with families by holding mandatory meetings with the family, individually and en-masse. These meetings come with hefty hourly rates. Any preliminary work done by the parent coordinator that includes, but is not limited to, reading the court dockets, the divorce decree, holding conversations with the attorneys all come at a price and that is for the family. Of course, additional money is expended each time the parent coordinator reads an email, letter from school, report card, doctor’s note, etc. In other words, a family who is already swimming in legal debt will face another piece of litigious money sucking when they are appointed to a parenting coordinator.
At the end of my research, I stumbled upon another challenge when using a parenting coordinator. Although a judge may assign a parenting coordinator to a high conflict family, the judge does not want to see that family back in court. The return to court to bring an offender before a judge could be considered a negative action for both parties. The judge appointed the parenting coordinator to the case to have the parties adhere to the parenting and custody arrangements. In other words, the contention should be diffused instead of the escalating action of coming back into court.
The resounding opinion from attorneys was that people should address their issues before the divorce and adhere to the settlement in place. If not, the parenting coordinator may become an intrusion to a family’s daily life as well as another financial bloodletting.
Adding a Parenting Coordinator to the mix during a contentious divorce needs to be considered carefully.
I discuss more about Parenting Coordinators in my Guidebook: Finding the Right Attorney.