Q: What is Parenting Coordination?

It is a child-centred dispute resolution process in which a qualified, impartial professional assists separated or divorced parents to implement their parenting plan and to resolve issues or conflicts that arise concerning parenting. This can include: identifying disputed issues, reducing misunderstandings, clarifying priorities, exploring possibilities for problem solving, developing methods of collaboration in parenting, interpreting and developing the parenting plan, and aiding parties in complying with the agreement or court order regarding parenting.

Parenting Coordination combines coaching, education, case management, conflict management and sometimes decision-making functions to help high-conflict parents, who have demonstrated an inability or unwillingness to make parenting decisions on their own or comply with parenting agreements and court orders, to avoid repeated trips to court over parenting issues.

A Parenting Coordinator can help parents:
  • Manage conflicts
  • Communicate more effectively
  • Understand the impact of conflict on children
  • Learn about children's developmental needs
  • Negotiate appropriate post-divorce or separation boundaries
  • Develop a sensitivity to their children's needs
  • Identify mutually agreeable parenting goals
  • Brainstorm options to meet goals
  • Evaluate options to reach agreements within legal guidelines.

Q. What is the Goal of Parenting Coordination?

The goal of parenting coordination is to help the parents avoid litigating issues specifically related to parenting and to
  1. take children out of the middle of parental conflict;
  2. help to alleviate child loyalty binds;
  3. support parent/child interaction;
  4. provide alternative methods for parents to communicate about child-related issues;
  5. teach and encourage creative problem solving that involves both parents in the children's lives;
  6. improve parents' ability to communicate and negotiate parenting issues;
  7. increase parental respect for the sake of their children;
  8. clarify and reduce ambiguities in existing parenting plans;
  9. assist in the mediation of a parenting plan if needed;
  10. monitor parental behaviours to ensure parenting plans and court orders are complied with; and
  11. improve parenting to the point where a third party professional is no longer required.
The overall emphasis is to give children the opportunity to grow in a home environment free from the stress of parental conflict. The family's progress is monitored to ensure that parents fulfill their obligations to their children and comply with the parenting plan and/or court order. The process is intended to assist parents to establish and maintain a healthy co-parenting relationship by reducing parental conflict and the risk factors that influence children's post-separation adjustment, by developing and/or implementing a parenting plan and helping the parties comply with the terms of an existing plan or court order regarding parenting issues. Parenting Coordination provides an opportunity for parents to develop their ability to co-parent their children in a healthy, constructive way, rather than perpetuating conflicts that place the children in the middle of their parents' battles.

Q: What Parenting Coordination Is Not

It is not:
  • Therapy to treat an emotional or psychological problem.
  • Mediation or arbitration designed to resolve issues or cases in a short time frame.
  • A child legal advocate (guardian ad litem) service or therapeutic assessment, looking at the parents, their situations, the children, and making recommendations about, for example, where the children should live or who has what legal rights.
  • A parenting education course, although it may include some educational issues regarding children of separation, child development, divorce research, the impact of parental behaviour on children, parenting skills, communication, and conflict resolution skills.

Q. What is a Parenting Coordinator?

A professional trained in parenting coordination who performs four functions:

  1. Education about communication and co-parenting
  2. Coaching about communication and co-parenting;
  3. Resolution by consensus building (mediation) of "post-divorce" parenting issues; and
  4. Making determinations (arbitration) of specified parenting issues.
A Parenting Coordinator is a specially trained mental health or legal professional, with experience in mediation and working with high conflict separated parents, appointed by the court or the parties to assist parents in resolving disputes about parenting their children and to make recommendations to the court for orders if the parents are unable to reach a resolution. When a dispute is presented to the Parenting Coordinator, the Parenting Coordinator may try to assist parents in reaching a resolution.

The Parenting Coordinator assists parents to implement their parenting plan and make the necessary changes needed to establish a collaborative parenting partnership. The Parenting Coordinator facilitates resolution of disputes, educates parents about children's needs, monitors parental behavior and, with prior approval of the parents and/or the court, makes decisions within the scope of the court order or appointment contract.

Q. Who are Parenting Coordinators?

Parent Coordinators are highly trained and experienced professionals with specialized training in family dynamics, child development, conflict resolution, the effect of divorce and separation on children, family law, family violence, power dynamics, negotiation and decision-making in addition to the specialized training of their individual disciplines as lawyers or mental health professionals.

Q. What background and training is required of parenting coordinators?

Parenting Coordinators require an advanced degree in law, psychology, social work, or counselling and training and experience with "high conflict" families. They must complete specific training in parenting coordination, mediation and arbitration.

Q. What are the benefits of Parenting Coordination?

Parenting Coordination offers a better way of resolving parenting plan issues than returning to court. The resolution comes much faster than waiting for a court date and decision. Parenting Coordinators educate parents about the harm to the children of hostility between parents, mediates issues as they arise, and, if the parents are unable to resolve specified parenting issues, make a binding decision.

In high-conflict cases, the parties often use (and abuse) the court system to resolve their issues related to parenting. By using a Parenting Coordinator, the parties can resolve their disputes more cost and time-efficiently, while relieving the court caseload of these, often non-legal, disputes. It is a solution-oriented process, focussed on helping parents work together to achieve results that are in the best interests of their children.

A Parenting Coordinator can help the parents:
  • manage their reactions and learn to communicate more effectively
  • reduce conflict
  • understand the impact of conflict on their children
  • learn more about the developmental needs of their children
  • negotiate appropriate post-divorce or separation boundaries
  • identify mutually agreeable parenting goals
  • "brainstorm" options to meet goals
  • evaluate options to reach agreements within legal guidelines
  • time-effectively reach resolution of disputes rather than waiting weeks or months for court
  • address parenting issues in a non-adversarial setting
  • avoid costly legal fees and expenses

Q: What does Parenting Coordination provide that mediation, therapy, and other services for families do not provide?

Traditional therapy is used to treat emotional or psychological problems. The role of the Parenting Coordinator is not therapeutic. Mediation and arbitration are dispute resolution methodologies designed to resolve issues or cases in a short time frame. Parenting Coordinators work with parents over a prolonged period to seek consensual resolutions in a timely and cost-effective way, without resorting to the court. Children's lawyers (guardians ad litem) and parenting assessors evaluate the parents and the children and make recommendations to the court, often relating to where the children should live and which parent should have what legal rights relating to the children.

The work of Parenting Coordinators is complementary to these other professionals by facilitating parenting and the parents' compliance with the court ordered or agreed upon parenting plan. A Guardian ad litem or parenting assessor is not appointed to educate parents regarding co-parenting issues or to mediate or arbitrate disputes between the parents.

Parenting Coordinators work with others involved with the family, including mental health professionals, healthcare personnel, social services, education and legal professionals, as well as extended family, stepparents and the children. A Parenting Coordinator may make recommendations for additional outside services, such as counselling, as needed. The Parenting Coordinator's work involves a problem-solving approach and close working relationship with both parents, while keeping the best interests of the children at the forefront.

Parenting Coordination provides long-term, success-oriented support for divorced or separated parents whose relationship continues to be hostile. It helps parents work together for the good of their children rather than fighting each other. Parenting Coordination provides an opportunity for parents to develop the ability to parent their children in a healthy, constructive way rather than perpetuating conflict that puts their children in the middle of the battlefield.

Q. Can a Parenting Coordinator have another role in helping the family, such as a guardian ad litem, a mediator, a therapist or the like?

Generally no. A Parenting Coordinator cannot serve in dual roles such as guardian ad litem, therapist, or lawyer for either parent or the children, nor a visitation supervisor involved with the family. This prohibition applies before, during, and after service as Parenting Coordinator. For example, a therapist for the child or a lawyer for a parent may not be appointed as Parenting Coordinator for that family. The exception is mediation. A mediator may later serve as a Parenting Coordinator by agreement of the parents.

Q. Can a Parenting Coordinator make recommendations and decisions for the parents?

Yes. A Parenting Coordinator's authority is delineated in the court order or by the consent of the parents. Subject to the authorizing documents, a Parenting Coordinator may make:
  • decisions for transitions or exchanges of the children including date, time, place, means of transportation and/or transporter
  • decisions regarding extracurricular activities
  • adjustment or clarification of parenting time schedules including vacation, holidays, and temporary variations from the existing parenting plan
  • decisions for childcare arrangements
  • routine decisions for health care management, including medical, dental, orthodontic and vision care
  • recommendations for psychological testing or other assessments, psychotherapy or other mental health care, including substance abuse assessments or counselling for the children or parents
  • decisions regarding education, including, but not limited to school choice, tutoring, and participation in special education programs
  • decisions on child-rearing issues, including discipline, haircuts, tattoos, piercing
  • directions on communication between the parents about the children
  • directions on the role of, and contact with, significant others and extended families
  • directions for parenting classes for either or both parents
  • determinations (arbitration) for methods of communication between parents
  • determinations (arbitration) regarding religious observances and education
  • and may address any other issues identified by the court or agreed upon by the parents.

Q. Are there limitations on what a Parenting Coordinator can do?

Yes. The parents or the court can make decisions about a change in primary residence, substantial changes in time-sharing between parents, relocation issues, and child support disputes, but a Parenting Coordinator may make NONE of these decisions.

A Parenting Coordinator cannot:
  • change guardianship, legal or physical custody from one parent to the other;
  • substantially change the parenting plan;
  • significantly modify parenting or contact time with a child;
  • change primary residence of a child;
  • modify child support obligations;
  • affect the division of family property or debts or the possession of property; or
  • provide legal advice.

Q. How do Parenting Coordinators make their decisions?

In making a determination, a Parenting Coordinator:
  • must only consider the best interests of the child;
  • provide a written decision or, if an oral decision is made, provide written reasons; and
  • may decide a mandated issue even if one parent chooses not to participate in the information gathering or consensus building (mediation) work.

Q. What happens if the parents disagree with a determination made by a Parenting Coordinator?

A parent who disagrees with a determination made by a Parenting Coordinator may apply to the court, pursuant to s. 19 of the Family Law Act, to change or set aside any decision that he or she feels was beyond the authority of the Parenting Coordinator or based on an error of law or mixed fact and law. The court follows its customary procedures, which may include making any other order the court deems appropriate.

Q. What are the characteristics of families who could benefit from parenting coordination?

The parents are having frequent disputes about issues such as the parenting schedule, exchange times and locations, extracurricular activities, education choices, and medical decisions. They may have gone back to court several times since the divorce. Some of these families may be called "high conflict" meaning continuing hostility and frequent disputes between the parents.

Q. What Circumstances Indicate the Need for the Appointment of a Parenting Coordinator ?

  • there is evidence that a child may be suffering from intense or frequent hostility between the parents
  • one or both parents have demonstrated poor communication skills
  • one or both parents have been unable to make good parenting decisions
  • one or both parents have used a pattern of litigation as a part of their ongoing conflict
  • there is evidence that children are caught in significant loyalty binds
  • one or both parents attempt to control and/or punish one another while using their child as a pawn
  • when step parents, grandparents or significant others are contributing to parental conflict
  • there are allegations of any form of abuse or parental alienation
  • the parents have been granted joint custody or shared parenting, but the court has serious concerns regarding the parents' ability or willingness to work together

Q: What information does a Parenting Coordinator Need About the Family?

The Parenting Coordinator should have access to any and all of the following for review:
  • parenting evaluations;
  • parenting plans and separation agreements;
  • guardian ad litem reports;
  • interim or final court orders in the parenting case;
  • protective (family violence) orders;
  • other applicable cases involving criminal assault, family violence or child abuse regarding one or both parents;
  • educational records and other relevant records; and
  • information from parents, children, and other collateral sources.
The Parenting Coordinator may also seek other information such as the children's opinion, information from doctors, therapists, schools or childcare providers. If the parties cannot reach an agreement, the Parenting Coordinator may make a recommendation to the court.

Q: When in the court process is Parenting Coordination most likely to be used?

Parenting Coordination is usually engaged after the final parenting order or agreement is in place. It is often ordered when there is repeated returns to court, continuing anger and distrust, difficulty between the parents in communicating and cooperating in the care of their children, or other behaviours that the court feels warrant the appointment of a Parenting Coordinator. A Parenting Coordinator may be appointed prior to a final order (for example, after an interim order), if the court or the parents determine that such involvement at that stage is necessary or would be beneficial to the children.

Q: How is Parenting Coordination typically conducted?

The Parenting Coordinator will typically meet with the parents, individually and/or jointly. The parents' concerns will be identified, the family situation will be assessed with the aid of court orders and documents, and a course of action will be identified, including the setting of specific goals for resolution of conflicting issues. Emails and phone calls are used to assist the parents' work toward the goals. Additional individual or joint meetings may be scheduled and other people with information may be contacted.

Q: How long does a typical Parenting Coordination process last?

There is no "typical" in high-conflict relationships. The length of time a Parenting Coordinator may be engaged is highly dependent upon the parties and the complexities of the issues in conflict. In general a Parenting Coordinator is likely to be involved with the family for 18-24 months and the appointment is subject to renewal.

Q. What does parenting coordination cost?

Parenting Coordinators are paid an hourly fee, set by each Parenting Coordinator. The fees are similar to those charged by lawyers, psychologists, accountants, and other dispute resolution professionals. The agreement or court order of appointment specifies how the fee is split and it may be re-apportioned by the Parenting Coordinator between the parents if that is set out in the authorizing document. The overall cost will depend on the amount of time the process takes. The shorter the period of time, the less expensive it will be. But the cost of Parenting Coordination is modest in comparison to the cost of re-current battles in court. Continued litigation over parenting matters increases the stress and animosity between the parents, with resulting harm to the children - a cost that cannot be measured in dollars.

Q. How is the decision-making function of a Parenting Coordinator different from the decision-making of a judicial officer (master or judge)?

The decision-making function is limited to specific parenting issues, often on issues that cannot wait the month or two that it would take to get a decision from the court. The court can make decisions about a change in primary residence, allocation of time between the parents, moving the child's residence a substantial distance, and changing child support. A Parenting Coordinator may make NONE of these decisions.

Instead, the Parenting Coordinator can make binding decisions about times and locations to exchange the child, extracurricular activities, holiday schedules, adjustments to the daily, weekly and/or monthly schedules; daycare/babysitting; parenting exchanges and transportation responsibility; medical, dental and vision care; psychological counselling and related arrangements for the children; education, including but not limited to school choice, tutoring, participation in special education programs; discipline; methods of communication; and any other issues that may be identified by the Court or agreed on by the parents.

Q. How is Parenting Coordination different from Parent Training?

Parent Training, like Parenting Coordination, helps parents create a better environment for their children. Parent Training teaches parents the behavioural techniques and parenting skills to use. The main differences, however, are (1) Parenting Coordination is strictly for parents that do not live together, (2) it incorporates issues unique to separation and divorce, and (3) it utilizes alternative dispute resolution techniques to help resolve conflict (consensus building / mediation and determination-making / arbitration).

Q. How do we get a Parenting Coordinator?

There are several ways to retain a Parenting Coordinator. Most often there are two steps: agreement of the parties followed by a court order. The parents (or their lawyers) may request a Parenting Coordinator or the Judge may suggest it. Parents may also agree on their own to engage the services of a Parenting Coordinator, under either method, the parents and the Parenting Coordinator will sign a detailed agreement.

A list of highly trained Parenting Coordinators is available at the BC Parenting Coordinators Roster Society website: http://www.bcparentingcoordinators.com/

Q. Does Parenting Coordination have to be court ordered?

No. Parenting Coordination can be court ordered, but it does not have to be. If both parents agree to use a Parenting Coordinator, then they may do so, and may elect to notify the court of their decision. Nevertheless, either parent can petition the court for appointment of a court-ordered Parenting Coordinator.

Q. Is Parenting Coordination covered by Healthcare Insurance?

No. Parenting Coordination is not therapy or a medical procedure. It is not based on either pathology or medical diagnosis. Parenting Coordination is a productive conflict resolution process facilitated by a professional who is knowledgeable about separation and divorce, the effect of conflict on children, and children's needs insofar as parenting is concerned.

Q. What research is available on the effectiveness of Parenting Coordination?

Parenting Coordination is a dispute resolution process with the research beginning to build. Studies since 1994 have found that with the services of a Parenting Coordinator, court appearances in the cases studied were reduced by up to 90%. If this reduction in court appearances can be correlated to a reduction in conflict between parents, then Parenting Coordination can be seen to have an ameliorating effect on the well researched and proven fact that children exposed to conflict in the home are four times more likely to experience psychological problems.

Q. Is Parenting Coordination Confidential?

Yes and no. Since written reports and testimony may be provided to the court, it is understood that parenting coordination is not a strictly confidential process. The Parenting Coordinator will explain the limits on confidentiality that apply to the process.

Q. What happens if a parent will not cooperate with the Parenting Coordinator or they refuse to participate?

When one or both parents have refused to comply, or they are creating an impasse that negatively impacts the child, the Parenting Coordinator may proceed in the absence of a parent, or withdraw from the appointment, so informing both parties, their lawyers, and the court.

Q. How do the parents get released from the Parenting Coordination Process?

Unless otherwise provided in a court order, the parents can, by agreement, end the appointment of the Parenting Coordinator but neither parent can do so unilaterally. The court can terminate the appointment of a Parenting Coordinator. The Parenting Coordinator may also withdraw from the appointment for good reason, including the failure of one or both parents to:
  • sign the Parenting Coordination Agreement;
  • communicate with the Parenting Coordinator;
  • work with the Parenting Coordinator;
  • follow the Parenting Coordination Agreement;
  • follow the terms of the governing court order;
  • pay retainers, deposits or accounts, as and when required; or
  • any other reason the Parenting Coordinator feels compromises his or her ability to effectively carry out the mandate for the benefit of the children.

Q. What if there is a protective order or one parent is anxious about being in the same room with their co-parent?

The authorizing court order can clarify that anything to do with the Parenting Coordination process is an exception to the restraining or protective order. In addition the Parenting Coordinator is trained to recognize and manage family violence and safety issues and will implement protective measures to ensure a safe process.

Q. Does the Parenting Coordinator ever testify in court and can they make a custody recommendation?

There are circumstances in which a Parenting Coordinator may testify in court and the terms that will apply are set out in the Parenting Coordination Agreement. A Parenting Coordinator does not have the authority to make custody recommendations. He or she may, however, make known any concerns regarding parenting arrangements, inter-parent respect and the parents' respective strengths and weaknesses as a parent and their respective contribution to the conflict.

Q. Are there any books written that will help clarify the role and value of appointing parent coordinators?

There are a few books on Parent Coordination, for example:
  • Caught in the Middle: Protecting the Children of High-Conflict Divorce, by Carla B. Garrity and Mitchell A. Barris
  • Working with High-Conflict Families of Divorce, by Mitchell A. Barris, et al
  • The Psychotherapist as Parent Coordinator in High-Conflict Divorce: Strategies and Techniques, by Susan Boyan and Ann Marie Termini
  • Parenting Coordination: A Practical Guide for Family Law Professionals, by Debra Carter PhD
  • Parenting Coordination in Postseparation Disputes: A Comprehensive Guide for Practitioners, edited by Shirley Ann Higuchi, JD and Stephen J. Lally, Ph.D, ABPP

Q. What is the BC Parenting Coordinators Roster Society?

The BC Parenting Coordinators Roster Society is a non-profit interdisciplinary organization dedicated to fostering the understanding and use of parenting coordination and to supporting professionals who serve as Parenting Coordinators.

Q. Where can I get more information about parenting coordination?

For additional information regarding the purpose of the parenting coordination process as well as the goals of the program, visit these sites:

BC Parenting Coordinators Roster Society

"What is Parenting Coordination?"

"Parenting Coordination Handbook" compiled by The Parenting Coordination Association of New Hampshire [www.pcanh.org] which also has links to other sites with Parenting Coordination information on its website.