What is Parent Coordination?
Parent Coordination is a dispute resolution process through which high-conflict parents attempt to resolve parenting disagreements quickly and outside of court thereby avoiding the expense and anxiety of litigation and minimizing the impact of on-going disagreement on the parties’ children.
Who are high conflict parents?
A high conflict relationship is typically characterized by one or more of the following:
- frequent and protracted litigation;
- an inability to agree on parenting issues;
- near constant conflict;
- hostile and antagonistic relationship;
- an inability to communicate with each other;
- complex family dynamics or circumstances making co-parenting and communication difficult or impossible; or
- power/control imbalances and unresolved feelings.
What services does a Parent Coordinator provide?
The Parent Coordinator, in the first instance, attempts to resolve and mediate disputes between parents through mediation and consensus. If the parties are not able to reach an agreement on a disputed issue, the Parent Coordinator can be authorized to resolve the issue by issuing a binding written decision.
A Parent Coordinator typically meets with the parents jointly and individually. The Parenting Coordinator may also consult, meet with, or obtain information from third parties, including, the parties’ lawyers, family members, third-party caregivers, school personnel, counsellors, therapists and health care professionals.
What kind of decisions/disagreements can a Parent Coordinator assist parents in resolving?
- minor changes or clarifications of the existing parenting plan;
- exchanges of the child or children including date, time, place, means of and responsibilities for transportation;
- assist with the implementation, maintenance and monitoring of the agreed upon parenting plan;
- monitor the child(ren)’s adjustment to the parenting plan;
- resolve anticipated or actual scheduling conflicts;
- education or daycare including school choice, tutoring, summer school, before and after school care, participation in special education testing and programs, or other educational decisions;
- the selection, scheduling, and payment of enrichment and extracurricular activities including camps and jobs;
- the child(ren)’s travel and passport arrangements;
- clothing, equipment, and personal possessions of the child or children;
- means of communication by a Party with the child or children when they are not in that Party’s care;
- role of and contact with significant others and extended families;
- the selection of medical providers or medical treatment for the child or children;
- the selection of psychotherapy or other mental health care including substance abuse or mental health assessment or counseling for the child or children;
- psychological testing or other assessments of the child(ren);
- communication between the Parties;
- facilitate the exchange of information regarding the child(ren);
- facilitate the child(ren)’s relationship with each parent;
- assist the Parties in developing guidelines for appropriate communication between them; and
- assist the Parties, where appropriate, in identifying and addressing patterns of behavior and in developing parenting strategies to manage and reduceopportunities for conflict in order to reduce the impact of any conflict upon their child or children.
Is there any limit on a Parent Coordinator’s authority?
Standing Order 1-17 prohibits Parent Coordinators from:
- facilitating an agreement between the parties that would change legal custody from one party to the other or that would change the physical custody or parenting plan in a way that may result in a change of child support;
- communicating orally or in writing with the court or any court personnel regarding the substance of the action;
- testifying in the action as an expert witness;
- offering legal advice, representation, therapy or counseling;
- delegating any portion of the parenting coordination process to anyone else; and
- making any binding decisions for the parties without the parties’ express written agreement that has been incorporated into an order or judgment.
What if you are unhappy with the Parent Coordinator’s decision?
An agreement to use a Parent Coordinator must state the duties of the Parent Coordinator, including whether the Parent Coordinator has binding decision-making authority, and if so, the scope of that authority. However, the appointment of a Parent Coordinator does not divest the court of its exclusive jurisdiction to determine fundamental issues of care, custody, parenting time, and support. The parties do not waive their right to petition the Court and can appeal the decision of a Parent Coordinator even where the parties have agreed to binding decision-making authority.
What are the benefits of using a Parent Coordinator?
- Parent Coordination provides a forum for airing and quickly resolving parenting disagreements reducing conflict between parents thereby reducing stress on their children.
- Parent Coordination facilitates a more informed and thoughtful resolution to parenting disagreements than litigation.
- Parenting disagreements are resolved quickly shielding children from protracted conflict.
- Parent Coordination is far cheaper than the cost of litigation.
- Parent Coordination reduces hostility and animosity between parents by establishing communication protocols to avoid antagonistic communications.
- Parent Coordinators facilitate/maintain appropriate boundaries between the parents.
What is a Category V Parent Coordinator?
In Massachusetts, the Probate & Family Court regularly appoints experienced attorneys and mental health professionals certified by the Probate and Family Court Administrative Office to perform certain task on behalf of the court. The Court classifies these individuals by function and expertise into groups called “Categories.” The category assigned to a Parent Coordination is Category V.
A court certified Category V Parent Coordinator must be either:
- a licensed attorney with a minimum of four years’ experience working with families, high conflict parents, divorce, and custody issues; or
- a Massachusetts licensed psychiatrist, psychologist, independent clinical social worker, marriage and family therapist, or licensed mental health counselor.
A Category V Parent Coordinator must also have completed a minimum of:
- 30 hours of training in a mediation training program;
- 6 hours of training in intimate partner abuse and family violence dynamics; and
- 35 hours of accredited specialty training in topics related to parenting coordination.
Additionally, each year, a parenting coordinator must complete a minimum of six hours of relevant continuing education.
When can a Parent Coordinator be appointed?
In Massachusetts, the appointment of a Parent Coordinator is governed by Probate & Family Court Standing Order 1-17. A Parent Coordinator can be appointed in any action relating to the care and custody of a minor child, provided that there is an order or judgment establishing a parenting plan, custody and/or parenting time (actions for divorce, paternity, etc). Parent Coordinators can be appointed by agreement of the parties or by the Court over the objection of one party provided the non-objecting party agrees to pay for the Parent Coordinator.
When can’t a Parent Coordinator be appointed?
A Parent Coordinator cannot be appointed in actions for Restraining Orders. A Parent Coordinator cannot be appointed if both parties refuse to pay the Parent Coordinator’s fees or where one-party refuses to contribute and the other party cannot or will not take on the full financial responsibility for the Parent Coordinator fees.
How long is a Parent Coordinator appointment?
The initial appointment of the Parent Coordinator cannot exceed two years. Subsequent appoints after the expiration of the first appointment cannot exceed one year.
How is a Parent Coordinator paid?
Both parties typically share the expense of a Parent Coordinator in some fashion. An agreement to use a Parent Coordinator must include the amount or rate of compensation to be paid to the parenting coordinator and how the fees and expenses of the parenting coordinator are allocated between the parties. The agreement must also identify the maximum expenditure for each party during the period of appointment. Agreements often provide that the Parent Coordinator maintains the authority to reallocate fees if one parent is abusing the process or not acting in good faith.
Article by Attorney Brian T. Salisbury
Attorney Brian Salisbury’s practice includes all aspects of divorce and family law, as well as probate and trust litigation. His family law practice includes high-net worth, complex divorces as well as child custody disputes, child support and alimony actions, paternity actions, appeals, and actions for modification and contempt. Attorney Salisbury is also a trained Mediator, Category V Parent Coordinator, and a Court appointed Category F Guardian ad Litem investigator.
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