By Elisabeth M. Edwards, Wanzer Edwards PC
This article originally appeared on the IndyBar Family Law Section homepage. Check out more family law articles from the section at indybar.org/fam.
As family law practitioners, we have all had clients who disagree with their co-parents about everything. Some of the issues are major, but more often than not, they are daily squabbles about how the child will return from school, if she will be signed up for yet another travel softball league, or when it’s time to let him stay home alone. As an attorney for one of the parties, you know how much time and fees are at stake to try to reach consensus on these issues. Could there be a more streamlined, cost-effective way to manage this?
Parenting Coordinators, to the rescue!
A Parenting Coordinator, or “PC,” is a family law attorney or mental health professional who is appointed by the court to assist parents after a divorce or paternity decree. Most PCs also have significant mediation experience and some have attended a 2- or 3-day training specifically for Parenting Coordinators.
If parents regularly suffer from poor communication and frequently engage one another in unproductive ways during their attempts at co-parenting (also called “high conflict” parents,) a PC may be useful. The specific job of the PC is unique to every case and depends on what the court has ordered, but generally a PC can assist with communication, mediate disputes and serve as a tie-breaker when parents have reached an impasse on child-related issue. PCs may also be directed to monitor and direct medical care or set up counseling. PCs are NOT counselors, however, and no communications with the PC are confidential. A PC can be called to testify in Court in some cases.
PCs frequently assist co-parents in setting a parenting time schedule and mediating disputes that may arise from joint legal custody, such as school choice, medical treatment or religious training. Once appointed, the PC is available to the parties – usually via email or phone – and can usually provide guidance or resolution within days or weeks, rather than waiting months to get guidance from the court. This not only conserves the parents’ attorney fees, as the PC’s hourly fees are split between the parents, but it helps the parents resolve issues and move forward, rather than festering and further deteriorating the co-parenting relationship.
No topic is too small for a PC to address. A court is generally concerned with what it perceives to be “major issues” relating to the child, such as school, religious training, medical care, payment of expenses and child support, custody and parenting time. However, the PC can address more day-to-day issues such as disciplinary techniques in both houses, timing of scheduling medical and counseling appointments, presence of step-parents at appointments and events, and the like. Have a dispute as to where a parenting exchange should occur? Take it to the PC. Have a dispute as to whether cosmetic surgery should be divided between the parties? Take it to the PC. Have a dispute as to when a child should get a phone and whether it’s acceptable to take it away as punishment? Take it to the PC. Any issue that gets in the way of clear communication and co-parenting between parents can be addressed and resolved with the help of a PC so as to get back to productive and peaceful co-parenting.
To find a PC for your clients, check out the IndyBar’s Family Law Resource Guide at indybar.org/famguide.•