What is parent (or parenting) coordination, you ask? It is a somewhat new process that has recently taken hold in several counties in Pennsylvania and also in many states across the country. A parenting coordinator is a professional who, by training, education and experience, assists the court, attorneys and parents in dealing with parents who are going through what I call "extreme custody litigation." The focus of a parenting coordinator is to make sure that the children's needs are being met and that the parties remain out of court as much as possible.
Parenting coordinators (PC's) are either appointed by the Judge or agreed to by both parties. They charge rates similar to that of attorneys. Many times their fees are equally shared by both parties but there can be a different arrangement based on the parties' incomes. They are utilized in situations where the parties have difficulty agreeing on anything and are in court constantly to litigate such issues as: can I take my child on the other parent's custody time to attend a family event; can I pick up my child at a different location than previously agreed upon; can I extend my summer vacation with my child for a few more days; can I sign her up for soccer team or piano lessons; and other such items as the Judge may allow the PC to handle. It is important to know that the PC cannot substantially change a custody agreement or order and cannot make decisions on which parent has primary physical or legal custody.
The duties of a PC involve five (5) major categories. These categories are mediation, education, enforcement, case management and arbitration. Each PC may assign a different percentage of his or her time to each category.
Mediation. The PC acts as a mediator and tries to help the parties come to an agreement.
Education. The PC educates clients as to child development issues, i.e. what are the custodial arrangements that have proved to be successful in babies, toddlers, preschoolers; what are the reactions of a 5 year old boy versus a 12 year old girl to the news that the parents are divorcing.
Enforcement. The PC ensures that the parties are following the court's Order. If one party is using the services of the PC in an abusive manner, or is clearly in contempt of the court's Order, sanctions may be imposed.
Case Management. PC's are given permission to communicate with the parties' therapists, school teachers, clergy, family members and anyone who may be able to give information that will be helpful in the custody litigation and ensuring that the children are safe and happy. There is no expectation of privacy of communications.
Arbitration. If the parties are unable to come to a decision in mediation, they (or the court) may allow the PC to arbitrate and decide the matter. Again, this would not include such major issues as primary physical or legal custody. Not all courts or counties allow the PC to exercise arbitration duties.
I have spoken with some local judges who are in favor of using PC's and they have told me that their caseloads are lighter and, they are hearing more of the types of matters that should be heard by a judge. The judges are pleased to have the PC's help on the other issues. If you have constant litigation and contempt filings in your case, you may want to consider a parenting coordinator.