Parenting Coordinators: A New Trend in Custody Cases

Parenting coordinators are becoming a new trend in high conflict custody cases. The court appoints trained parenting coordinators to help parents make decisions together.[1] The premise around parenting coordinators are establishing and maintaining a cooperative relationship between the divorced parents. The parents of a young child will more than likely have to interact for several years.[2] Long-term parental conflict can have a negative effect on the child.[3]

Judges use appointed coordinators to assist parents in developing custody agreements with primary focus in reducing parental conflict and court appearances.[4] The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) Task Force on Parenting Coordinators essential purpose, "is a child focused alternative dispute resolution process in which a mental health or legal professional with mediation training and experience assists high-conflict parents to implement their parenting plan by facilitating the resolution of their disputes in a timely manner."[5]

Parenting coordinators typically address day-to-day parenting issues rather than purely legal ones. They may sometimes monitor written exchanges of parent communications and suggest more productive forms of communication that limit conflict.[6] They may assist with implementing minor changes in, or clarification of, parenting time schedules or conditions.[7] They may address visitation exchanges, health care, education, discipline, extracurricular activities and payments for such activities, and religious observances and education. Parenting coordinators can also help parents understand the developmental needs of their children and teach problem-solving strategies. The goal is to help parents learn how to communicate more effectively and thus avoid conflicts that cause them to return to court.[8]

Despite these positive attributes, on the other hand, those who criticize parent coordinators often argue that they can be costly.[9] Some argue as well that they can result in judicial authority being inappropriately delegated.[10] Others argue that parenting coordinators impede the ability of parents to make decisions together and that the parenting coordinator process does not work.[11]

There are 11 states of which that have passed legislation thus far regarding parenting coordinators: Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas and Vermont.[12] Other states allow through related or non-specific statutes relates to mediators or guardian ad litems: Arizona, California, Kansas
Kentucky, New Mexico, Ohio and Wisconsin.[13] Still other states, including Tennessee, appoint parenting coordinators absent statutory authority.[14]

Where statutory authority is absent, the discretion is given to the judge to fashion orders in the best interest of litigants' children could be extended, arguably, to order those litigants to cooperate with a parenting coordinator who is not necessarily bound by rules, unlike a guardian ad litem or Rule 31 mediator.[15] In Tennessee, judges may affirm agreements of parties to use parenting coordinators in the capacity of an appointed parenting issue facilitator so long as there is no attempt to determine parenting issues by a process mimicking binding arbitration.[16]

When appointed, the parenting coordinators facilitate and assist the parents reach a solution. If the parents fail to make a decision, the parenting coordinator can often make a recommendation to the court.[17] The recommendation can be based on information from the school, doctor, and the child's statements.[18] The parenting coordinator can usually make minor binding decisions but the parents can limit the parenting coordinator's authority on specific issues.[19]


[1] Elizabeth Kruse, Comment, ADR, Technology and New Court Rules - Family Law Trends for the Twenty-First Century, 21 J. Am. Acad. Matrimonial Law. 207 (2008).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] See, Guidelines for Parenting Coordination, Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, available at: http://www.afccnet.org/Portals/0/AFCCGuidelinesforParentingcoordinationnew.pdf.

[6] Marlene Moses and Beth Townsend, Parent Coordinators: The Good, the Bay and the Ugly, available at: http://www.tba.org/journal/parenting-coordinators-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly.

[7] Id.

[8] Donna Nicholson Ersek, Parent Coordination, available at: http://www.yourdivorcelawyers.com/ parent-coordination.

[9] Supra note 6.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] See Parenting Coordination Central, available at: http://parentingcoordinationcentral.com/PC_Legislation.html.

[13] Id.

[14] Supra note 8.

[15] Supra note 6.

[16] Id.

[17] Supra note 1.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.