New law could extend use of parenting coordinators

They are used by courts in contentious divorce or break-up situations.

January 30, 2015
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A newly passed amendment to the Child Custody Act likely will expand the use of parenting coordinators to courts that previously have not used them.

Elizabeth Bransdorfer, attorney with Mika, Meyers, Beckett & Jones, said while some courts have been using parenting coordinators for a while now, others have been unsure about whether or not they could take advantage of their services.

Bransdorfer said parenting coordinators are often used in contentious divorce or break-up situations.

“Sometimes it is appropriate for the family to have somebody be able to make decisions for them who is not a family division judge,” Bransdorfer said.

The amendment allows a judge to sign an order appointing a parenting coordinator as long as both parties have agreed to the arrangement. Parenting coordinators are then able to implement solutions in cases of disagreement between the parents, and the parents are bound by the order.

“The agreement is to hire the parenting coordinator,” Bransdorfer explained. “Once they’ve hired the parenting coordinator, you can sign a court order and have that entered, and it’s enforceable like any other court order.

“If the parents don’t reach agreement — and this is designed for high-conflict families, so frequently there will not be agreements — the parenting coordinator can make a decision, which then gets submitted in writing and is then enforceable.

“They do have not judicial authority, but quasi-judicial authority.”

For instance, in the case of pick-up/drop-off arrangements, if an issue arises, a parenting coordinator can change the exchange location, implement an extra window of time, or decrease the parenting time one parent receives.

Bransdorfer said sometimes there are issues with one parent regularly showing up late for pick-up or drop-off times.

One common situation, Bransdorfer said, is when two parents have very different personalities when it comes to being on time.

“One parent who is an absolute stickler — if it says 8, you are there at 8; not three minutes to and not 10 minutes after — they want life to be predictable and want the letter of the rules met.

“The other parent is more laid back and if you are supposed to be there at 8, might get there a few minutes early or late, and it’s not a big deal.”

In a contentious divorce or breakup, this situation can lead to fighting, which could negatively impact the children involved.

“The court system is just not set up to resolve those kinds of disputes,” Bransdorfer said.

Parenting coordinators are allowed to help parents with any issues that have been included in the parenting time order.

“The duties can be transportation and transfers of the children, vacations and holiday schedules implementation, daily routines, activities and recreation, discipline, health care management, school-related issues, minor alterations in the parenting schedule, phase-in of provisions of court orders, participation of nonparents during parenting time, child care and babysitting issues, and anything else the parents agree on that the judge and parenting coordinator agree to include,” Bransdorfer said.

The parties have the right to appeal the parenting coordinator’s decisions to the judge if they disagree.

The Supreme Court Administrative Office still has to develop guidelines for the qualifications for a parenting coordinator and training requirements, which should happen later this year.

Bransdorfer said one important aspect of the act is to screen for domestic violence situations.

“Sometimes the abusive spouse uses the court system to continue to batter by hauling their ex back into court, making them spend money they don’t have,” she explained. “This act has good provisions that require screening for that.”

Bransdorfer said the amendment could benefit employers who have an employee involved in a contentious divorce or breakup situation.

“One of the things, hopefully, this is going to do is allow people to schedule meetings with their parent coordinator whenever they want and not have to go to court for Friday morning motions and miss work, or not be stuck in the Friend of the Court resolution process where you get a notice from Friend of the Court that you are coming in on X day at X time, and you have to go then.

“It should be much less disruptive for the employees who are stuck in a high-conflict situation, and it should be better for their employers because it gives that increased flexibility so they may be able to schedule meetings and things outside of normal business hours.”

Bransdorfer said it could also help the stress and mental health of the person involved in the dispute.

“Anything that reduces the amount of conflict in a high-conflict divorce helps the employee be more focused on their work and not be distracted by the disputes,” she said.

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