Co-parenting with an ex-spouse or former partner isn’t always easy. Differences in priorities, emotional wounds, and ongoing struggles for control can turn even the simplest questions about your child’s care into a battle. If you are looking for a way to bring the temperature down in your co-parenting relationship and avoid heading back to court for yet another post-judgment motion, you might benefit from a parenting coordinator.
Even the most thorough and well-written child custody and parenting time orders require parents to work together on anything from difficult medical decisions to mundane transportation delays. But messy breakups, and the often adversarial process of family court can increase anger and conflict, and strain communications between parents.
These negative emotions can cause parents to inadvertently or even intentionally cut one another out of important child-related decisions, even when they share joint legal custody. While in other cases, the ongoing need to communicate over parenting time exchanges, holiday schedules, and other day-to-day disputes can potentially be manipulated by an abusive former partner to continue patterns of control.
A parenting coordinator can help reduce the conflict between co-parents and ensure that everyone is safe and following court orders. As professional facilitators, and often family law attorneys themselves, parenting coordinators act as a neutral third party, helping parents resolve issues on their own without having to file a post-judgment motion with the court.
A coordinator can help parents with a variety of child-related issues. The order appointing the parenting coordinator to your case will describe what issues can and should be taken to the coordinator. Some examples include:
When issues arise, the parenting coordinator can speak with each parent and, when appropriate, the children, as well as any medical providers, teachers, or other professionals needed to help the parents resolve the dispute. If no agreement can be reached, the coordinator may have the authority to make a decision based on the child’s best interests. However, if one parent disagrees with that decision, the order appointing the parenting coordinator generally allows that parent to file a motion with the court.
Private parenting coordinators aren’t free. Usually the order appointing the coordinator will require the parents to divide the costs of their services equally, or in proportion to their income. In rarer cases, where one parent has been the person responsible for most of the trips to court or when one parent earns a substantially higher income, a family court judge can require that parent to pay for all the parenting coordinator’s costs. However, a balanced fee structure ensures that both parents can bring issues to the parenting coordinator as needed, without taking advantage of the fact that the other parent is paying the bill.
While there is a cost to working with a parenting coordinator, it is usually far less than hiring an attorney and filing repeated motions in court. In addition, as a form of alternative dispute resolution, parenting coordination is private. It won’t show up on a court record. It also keeps you from becoming one of your judge’s “problem” cases -- families that keep coming back to court over every dispute. Most importantly, coordinators do more than just resolve conflicts; their goal is to teach parents more effective communication techniques so that over time parents are better equipped to resolve disputes on their own, and their children will face less conflict at home.
The use of parenting coordinators in high-conflict situations is still relatively new. Many family court judges won’t assign one right away. Instead they will encourage parents to try to work together or order them to complete co-parenting classes first.
However, in cases with a history of abuse, or where parents have tried and failed to cooperate, you and your co-parent can consent to have a coordinator assigned in your case. Often, a request for a parenting coordinator can be included in a motion to enforce or modify custody or parenting time, where you and your attorney can lay out the history of challenges you have had putting the court orders into practice in the past.
It is a good idea to work with your family law attorney to identify one or more qualified parenting coordinators available in your area before you file the motion. If your co-parent agrees you may be able to sign a consent order and avoid the time and expense of yet another court hearing. However, the court cannot appoint a parenting coordinator unless the parties agree to having one, and to the scope of the coordinator’s power.
At NSSSB, our Ann Arbor family law attorneys also serve as parenting coordinators appointed by court order. We work with parents to detach themselves from the emotion of the divorce process and put their children’s needs first so they can better enjoy life after divorce. Click here to speak to someone about our parenting coordinator services.