Parenting coordination is most useful for parents who already have a parenting plan or other permanent arrangements for custody, guardianship and access, usually recorded in a court order or in a written agreement. Parenting coordination isn't designed to make final arrangements like these, it's meant to help implement and work with those arrangements once they're in place.

Parents who agree to try parenting coordination rather than going back to court will meet with a parenting coordinator and sign a Parenting Coordination Agreement that outlines the role, objectives and scope of the coordinator’s services, as well as the rights and obligations of each parent. The parenting coordinator will usually be retained for a fixed period up to two years.

When parenting disputes arise, either parent may contact the parenting coordinator. The coordinator will listen to each parent's side of the story and attempt to reach a resolution of the dispute through information gathering and consensus building. If a settlement cannot be reached by consensus, the coordinator will make a determination to resolve the dispute which both parents will be bound by. When the next problem comes up, the parents will go back to their parenting coordinator and the process starts again. Along the way, the parenting coordinator will also try to help the parents learn to communicate more effectively with each other and identify the hot-button issues which trigger disputes. The parenting coordinator will continue working with the parents until the term of his or her retainer expires or when either the parent coordinator or both parents agree to end the parenting coordination process.

Parenting coordination does not replace mediation or any other effective means of negotiation, consensus-building and cooperative decision-making. Instead, parenting coordination offers parents involved in high-conflict disputes the consistent, ongoing direction of a single, qualified professional using a less adversarial, less expensive dispute resolution process.

Parenting coordination does not usurp the role of the courts, no alternative dispute resolution process can. While the parents are involved in the parenting coordination process, they are expected not to apply to court for an order different than the decision of the parenting coordinator. A parent who does go to court over an issue already decided by the parenting coordinator will have to contribute to the other parent's costs of responding to the application, and must accept the risk that the court will agree with the coordinator's decision.

A GLOSSARY OF DISPUTE RESOLUTION PROCESSES

Parenting coordination is only one process in a much larger family of alternative dispute resolution processes that help parents reach settlement of their disputes without going to court. Parenting coordination is a very specialized process as it is intended to address the needs of a very narrow group of parents: parents who are in high conflict with each other, have a history of conflict about parenting decisions, and already have a final court order or written agreement about these issues in place.

There are so many dispute resolution processes available, it is easy to become confused about which process does what and what sort of professional helps with which kind of process. This glossary summarizes some of the more common dispute resolution terms.

Agreement
In family law disputes, an agreement is the written record of how one or more disputes have been settled. A written agreement is a contract between the parties and can be enforced by the court like any other kind of contract. Agreements are often reached through the collaborative law process, mediation or negotiation.
Arbitration
In the arbitration process, two or more people ask a neutral third party to listen to their positions and arguments, and make a decision which they will be bound by. The decision-maker is called an arbitrator, and is usually someone with special legal training. Essentially, the arbitrator acts as the parties' private judge. Although arbitration has been rarely used in family law disputes in British Columbia to date, the introduction of the new Family Law Act will likely see it used more often.
Award
An award is the written decision of an arbitrator. Awards are binding on the parties to the award because they have signed an arbitration agreement, and can be enforced as if they were court orders.
Collaborative Law
Collaborative law is a process involving lawyers and mental health professionals who work together to help separated parents make an agreement that settles all of the issues arising out of their breakup. The mental health professionals work in a therapeutic capacity and help their respective clients develop communication skills and parenting strategies. The lawyers cooperate with each other to find common ground on the legal issues, and will sometimes suggest that other specialists be involved to help deal with financial and parenting issues.
Determination
A determination is the decision of a parenting coordinator, which can be oral or written. Determinations are binding on the parties and can be enforced as if they were court orders.
Litigation
Litigation is not an alternative dispute resolution process. It is an adversarial legal process in which the parties to a dispute ask a judge to hear their positions and arguments and make a judgment which resolves the dispute. Even though litigation has started, every alternative dispute resolution process, except collaborative law, can still be used to reach a settlement without a trial.
Mediation
In the mediation process, a neutral mediator helps two or more people to reach an agreement about a dispute. The mediator helps the parties to compromise and find a settlement but cannot impose a settlement on the parties the way an arbitrator can. Mediators will sometimes suggest that other specialists be involved to help deal with financial and parenting issues. Lawyers, counsellors, psychologists and other legal and mental health professionals can act as mediators as long as they have the training.
Med/Arb
Med/Arb is a hybrid of the mediation and arbitration processes in which two or more people ask a neutral third party to attempt to mediate their dispute, but, if mediation fails, then to impose a decision as an arbitrator. Parenting coordination is often referred to as a form of med/arb.
Negotiation
Negotiation is a process in which two or more people work together to find a resolution of a dispute. Negotiation is a process of mutual compromise and may or may not involve lawyers and other professionals.
Order
A court order is the oral or written decision of a judge. Court orders are binding on the parties, whether they are happy with the order or not, and someone who breaks a court order can be sentenced for contempt of court.
Parenting Coordination
This is a hybrid process involving first consensus building and then determination making, but only where the consensus building is unsuccessful. It is a long-term, child-centred process for parents who already have a court order or written agreement about parenting issues but still find themselves in conflict about those issues.