The Post-Divorce-Parenting Glossary

Divorced-Parenting Term

Parenting Coordinator

What is a parenting coordinator?

A parenting coordinator (PC) is a person designated or hired to manage child-custody cases in high-conflict custody arrangements between divorced or separated parents.  Typically, a parenting coordinator is either a licensed mental health professional or an attorney.

Why is a parenting coordinator used in certain child custody situations?

The job of a parenting coordinator is to manage parenting behaviors between high-conflict parents, following a divorce or separation.  The intent behind having a parenting coordinator involved in a child custody case, is to have a qualified, neutral third-party help high-conflict parents resolve issues that trigger conflict and work out an effective parenting plan.  A parenting coordinator work directly with each parent to identify issues that lead to conflict, prevent misunderstandings, promote better problem solving, initiate and facilitate the goal of collaborative parenting, and create a parenting plan that can be followed after the parenting coordinator's work is concluded.  

How does having a parenting coordinator work?

Typically, a parenting coordinator will visit each parent regularly to get updated on any aspect of the other parent's conduct that either party wishes to disclose.  The PC will then make recommendations to the parents, which are typically mandatory.  If parents do not comply with the PC's recommendations, the PC has the authority to testify in family court about the parents' failure to follow the recommendations that were made.

The parenting coordinator usually meets with both parties regularly, receives day-to-day questions and complaints about any aspect of a party's conduct, and makes recommendations to the parties. 

Does every state have legislation requiring parenting coordinators?

Some states have legislation in place to address when and how a parenting coordinator should be utilized, but not every state has parenting coordination laws.  As of this writing only the following states have legislation regard parenting coordinators:

  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Idaho
  • Louisiana
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Texas

If parents disagree with a parenting coordinator, what can they do?

Parents who do not agree with recommendations made by a parenting coordinator must file a motion in court.  A court will then have to decide the best action to take.  A new parenting coordinator can be appointed if either parents asks the court to replace the currently appointed PC; however, that parent must show the court a valid reason why that parenting coordinator should be replaced.  The court does not have to replace the PC if the court doesn't find just cause to do so.

How much does it cost to have a parenting coordinator for divorced or separated parents?

Parenting coordinators charge a fee for their services, and that fee is typically per visit.  The hourly fee for a PC is comparable to the fee charged by an attorney.  Because of the length of time that PC may be involved in the lives of the parents, the fees paid to a PC can be expensive over time.  The total cost of hiring a parenting coordinator depends on the frequency of the visits and the total number of visits required.  Typically, fees are split between the parents involved.

What is the difference between a parenting coordinator and a mediator?

Mediation and parenting coordination are alike in really only one way: they are intended to help high-conflict parents reduce conflict, do what is best for the children, and improve their parenting plans.  But, that is where their similarity ends.  The following list shows a comparion of parenting coordintors versus mediators:

A parenting coordinator will likely be heavily involved in all aspects of how the parents resolve - or fail to resolve - conflict.   A mediator will likely only focus on a specific issue or two that are causing problems.  Using an analogy to medicine, if conflict is a disease, a parenting coordinator is attempting to cure the disease and the mediator is attempting to treat a symptom.

Court Order
A parenting coordinator is typically court appointed with specific details about the schedule and rules to follow in the court order.  Mediation is typically selected by the parents as a tool to help resolve disputes.  Even though a parenting coordinator is typically court appointed, parents can elect to use them if they wish without a court appointment.  Additionally, it is possible that a mediation clause is in the divorce decree or separation agreement, which might require that the parties first attempt to mediate before litigation.

Time Frame
A parenting coordinator is a long-term approach to dealing with high-conflict parenting issues for divorced or separated parents.  Parents might use the services of a PC for 12-36 months.  Mediation is a short-term approach to getting through issues faced by divorced or separated parents.  Parents might see a mediator one time or a few times when a particular issue is causing conflict.

Court Reporting
A PC can report issues to court that they witness.  In this way, a PC has a great deal of power over the behavior between the two parents.  A mediator does not report to the court.  Mediation is kept confidential, which keeps the issues that are being addressed out of the public.

Hourly rates between parenting coordinators, mediators, and attorneys are similar; however the total cost for each of these services differs because of the nature of each service.  The length of time that a PC can be involved in lives of the parents typically makes using a parenting coordinator much more expensive than mediation.  Mediation is less expensive because it only focuses on a few problems, which may take only a few sessions to deal with.  Using a parenting coordinator is still far less expensive than litigation for two reasons: 1) there is only one PC involved instead of two attorneys, and 2) litigation doesn't resolve the underlying resentment or conflict.  It simply leads to more resentment and the likelihood of returning to court again is very high.  

A PC can require that the parents make certain changes to their lives if the PC feels it is in the children's best interests.  Conversely, a mediator cannot force the parents to do anything.  A mediator simply attempts to get two parents with a conflict issue to work together to resolve that issue.

What defines a high-conflict custody case that requires a parenting coordinator?

High-conflict parenting has been shown to be the biggest factor in multiple studies for negative effects of divorce on children.  Because of this fact, preventing high-conflict parents from continuing to engage in the behaviors that trigger conflict is an important goal for parenting coordinators.  Ongoing conflict damages the children's chances of becoming well-adjusted adults in the future.

High-conflict parenting is not an occasional argument.  Occasional arguments or impasses between parents are better handled by mediation.  For conflict to be high enough to warrant the services of a parenting coordinator, it is likely characterized by extremely frequent litigation, a high level of parental distrust, verbal abuse, elevated anger levels, and aggression, all of which make communication between the parents virtually impossible.  With conflict that high, the chance of a child being subjected to parental alienation is also very high.

In states that have parenting coordination laws, a judge may issue a court order requiring that the parents use the services of a PC for a specific length of time.

What can a parenting coordinator require divorced parents to do?

Because the Parental Coordinator can later testify in court about the non-compliance, any recommendations that a PC makes, should be viewed by the parents as mandatory.  In states where laws for parenting coordinators exist, a PC can:

  • restrict where parents are allowed to go during their time with the children;
  • restrict the types of activities that are allowed during their time with the children;
  • restrict inappropriate topics from being discussed when the children are present;
  • listen to and take action on complaints from either parent;
  • control or restrict extracurricular activities for the children;
  • control or restrict what friends or acquaintances the children may spend time with;
  • control or restrict what religious services the children may attend;
  • control or restrict what foods a parent may give the children;
  • be the deciding factor on decisions that cannot be agreed on for most issues;
  • control or restrict the non-custodial parent's friends and relatives having access to the children;

How is a parenting coordinator different than a guardian ad litem?

The job of the parenting coordinator is to help the parents move past conflict and learn to co-parent or parallel parent the children.  A guardian ad litem's job is to observe the parents, observe the child, then report to the court their opinion about where they feel the children should live and what custody rights each parent should have.  A guardian ad litem is essentially a way for the family court to gather information that the judge cannot attain from just a court hearing.




Scholarly PDF document for understanding parenting coordinators
This document explains just about everything one would want to know about the services of a parenting coordinator.
New article: Time to use a parenting coordinator?
This Huffington Post article does a good job of showing when it may be a good time to consider using the services of a parenting coordinator.

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