What is Parenting Coordination?
Parenting Coordination is a dispute resolution service for high conflict separated or divorced couples. A Parenting Coordinator (PC) is usually a mental health professional, although lawyers and mediators sometimes perform this function. Regardless of profession, the PC must have experience with and knowledge of separation/divorce, high conflict families, child development, conflict resolution skills, family systems and domestic violence.
What do Parenting Coordinators do?
The PC has two general roles: facilitative and decision-making role.
In the facilitative role, the PC attempts to minimize parental conflict and enhance parallel parenting, cooperation and mutual respect. This involves helping parents develop more effective problem solving skills and parenting strategies, better methods of communication and understanding of the needs of children in separation and divorce. The PC may assist parents in making additional agreements that are not covered in the existing Parenting Plan. Whenever possible, the goal of parenting coordination is to help parents develop their parenting and problem-solving skills so that they no longer need a Parenting Coordinator.
The second function is to assist parents to implement their existing Parenting Plan and any additional agreements that have been reached. If there is a dispute that parents cannot resolve, either on their own or with the assistance of the Parenting Coordinator, the PC makes final and binding decisions as arbitrator; however, the PC does not make decisions regarding legal custody, relocation or decisions regarding parenting schedules, other than those of a minor and temporary nature. The scope of the PC’s decision-making role is set out at the time of retaining the PC.
What types of situations are best suited for Parenting Coordination?
Parents may wish to consider retaining a PC when disagreements persist and other avenues of conflict resolution have been unsuccessful. It may be helpful in situations where the parents remain very angry at each other; where they have difficulty sharing child-related information in an effective and child-focused manner; where there may be concerns about drugs, alcohol, child abuse, and/or the parenting skills or stability of one or both parents. Involvement of a PC may be useful also to families with young children when the Parenting Plan includes schedules that change incrementally over time.
Many have already participated in a custody/access assessment or OCL Clinical Investigation. All families will have a Parenting Plan before retaining a PC.
What is involved in the referral and intake process?
The Parenting Coordinator accepts referrals after obtaining preliminary information from the parents and their lawyers. Lawyers are advised to discuss with the PC her mandate before making a referral. The Parenting Coordinator provides a sample Parenting Coordinator Agreement (‘Agreement’) for lawyers and parents to review. The PC will then arrange a meeting for the parents to discuss the Parenting Coordination Agreement and obtain information about the family.
Parents must obtain independent legal advice before signing the Parenting Coordination Agreement.
Parents must provide a retainer in advance of commencing any PC services. Parents are expected to share the cost of parenting coordination.
It is strongly recommended that the parents’ consent to retain the Parenting Coordinator be endorsed by way of a Court Order.
What happens during the Parenting Coordination process?
The PC will have full access to any relevant reports and documents as well as to any other professionals who have been and/or may continue to be involved with the family. Parents must provide the PC their written consent for purposes of obtaining all relevant information.
The PC will communicate with the parents by way of meetings, e-mails and telephone. Meetings with the parents may be separately or together and may be arranged on a regular basis, or as needed. In accordance with the provisions of the Family Law Act regarding family arbitrations, parents are always seen individually for purposes of screening for power imbalances. The PC also meets with the children and obtains information from children’s therapists, schools and other relevant sources. The PC may also meet with the parents’ new partners and other relevant individuals.
When a dispute occurs that the parents are unable to resolve on their own, the PC will attempt to assist the parents by providing support, education and facilitation/mediation. If the parents cannot come to an agreement on any issue, the PC will make a binding decision relying on information provided by the parents, and where relevant, received from other sources.
A Parenting Coordinator is retained for a term that is defined in the PC Agreement and/or Order. The term typically ranges from 12 to 24 months. Neither parent is permitted to unilaterally dismiss the PC during the term that has been agreed to; however, the parents may jointly terminate the PC’s involvement before the expiry of the term. The PC may resign before the end of the term if she comes to the conclusion that she cannot be helpful to the family.
Note: The above general information is being provided to parents and their lawyers who may be considering retaining a parenting coordinator. Specific circumstances in any given case may require variation from these general practices.