I Want to be a Parenting Coordinator; Tell Me What To Do

by Annette Burns on January 6, 2012

How do I start being a parenting coordinator?   I hear this question several times a year from attorneys.    In Arizona, there is unfortunately no specific class or procedure you go through for a certain number of hours, finally emerging as an “official Parenting Coordinator”.  But with work and a fair amount of reading and a little guidance, it’s not difficult for an attorney to qualify as a PC and start an effective PC practice.

First, start with Rule 74, ARFLP.  The requirements to be a parenting coordinator are:

B. Persons Who May Serve as Parenting Coordinators. A Parenting Coordinator may be an attorney who is licensed to practice law in Arizona; a psychiatrist who is licensed to practice medicine or osteopathy in Arizona; a psychologist who is licensed to practice psychology in Arizona; a person who is licensed by the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners as a social worker, professional counselor, marriage and family therapist, or substance abuse counselor; any other Arizona licensed or certified professional with education, experience, and special expertise regarding the particular issues referred; or professional staff of conciliation services. The court may prescribe additional requirements for service as Parenting Coordinator.

Note two things right away: Rule 74 is a part of Section VIII of the Family Law Rules, and Section VIII is titled “Settlement and Alternative Dispute Resolution”.  Then note that Rule 74 is just two rules away from Rule 72, the Family law Master rule. These two things are important, and are not coincidences.    Parenting coordination is a form of dispute resolution, and the role has similarity to the Family Law Master role.  If you’ve served as a Family Law Master (or Special Master) before, that experience will help you in serving as a Parenting Coordinator.

Per Rule 74B, attorneys automatically qualify to be parenting coordinators because we are licensed to practice in Arizona.    Common sense tells us that family law experience is also required, and that someone who is licensed but has always practiced in, say, real estate law, can’t jump in and be a parenting coordinator.  Experience as a judge pro tem is also essential to a parenting coordinator.  I personally wish Rule 74 required that someone either be, or have been in the past, a judge pro tem before qualifying as a parenting coordinator.

So, you technically qualify; now what?   Other requirements imposed by the court/ legislature include compliance with ARS 25-406C, which states:

C. Beginning on July 1, 2006, the court shall require any person who conducts an investigation or prepares a report pursuant to this section to receive training that meets the minimum standards prescribed by the domestic relations committee, established pursuant to section 25-323.02 as follows:

 1. Six initial hours of domestic violence training.

2. Six initial hours of child abuse training.

3. Four subsequent hours of training every two years on domestic violence and child abuse.

ARS 25-406B DOES apply to parenting coordinators, as PCs routinely investigate and prepare reports to the court.    Compliance with these educational requirements must be shown by anyone acting as a PC.  It’s often not easy to find specialized training in domestic violence and child abuse, but I recommend looking for AFCC training (nationwide and at the Sedona conference each year) as well as State Bar programs.

Note that each and every PC report to the court must include a certification (statement) that these training requirements have been met.   And keep evidence of your training and attendance, as a PC is likely to be challenged on this issue at least occasionally.

Finally, an additional requirement:   Maricopa County requires that to be listed on the County roster of Behavioral Health Services Providers, you must attend the annual orientation put on by the Maricopa County Superior Court Mental Health committee (usually done as a collaboration with the Arizona Chapter of AFCC).  This orientation is offered once per year (usually every September).  If you missed the most recent offering, you can obtain a video of the most recent session through the Court by contacting Conciliation Services.   They’ll let you check out the DVD for a period of time and then you must certify that you watched it in order to fulfill this requirement.   Notice of each annual orientation is sent out by email each year, and when you get that notice, SIGN UP for the orientation, as it routinely sells out very quickly.

Once you’ve either attended this session or filled out the certification that you reviewed the video, Conciliation Services can also provide you with the form to be filled out to get your name on the roster.  Note that the roster of Behavioral Health Services Providers is not an endorsement by the court or a guarantee that someone is a great BHP or PC.  It’s simply a list, maintained for the convenience of the public and the court system, of professionals who have fulfilled the basic minimum requirements for the listed positions.

So now you’ve fulfilled all these requirements, and you’re on the roster.   At some point while you getting all this training, you also should be reading, in detail, the following:

  • All of Rule 74, describing what a PC can do and should do, and basic procedural requirements.
  • The standard order of appointment for PCs, describing additional terms for a PC appointment.   These standard orders differ between Maricopa and Pima counties, so be sure and review the right one.
  • Form 9, Form 10 and Form 11 of the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure.
  • AFCC Guidelines for Parenting Coordination.

For quick access to links mentioned in this article, go to the Resources and Links section of my website.

A note about the AFCC Guidelines for Parenting Coordination:  They are very, very helpful in how to structure  PC meetings, but those Guidelines were developed for very general use for parenting coordination nationwide.    They are not specific to Arizona’s laws or rules, and the AFCC Guidelines may emphasize a mediation or therapeutic approach to parenting coordination that is not part of Arizona law.  Rule 74 and the order of appointment are always paramount in making decisions about how to handle a PC case here, and where they differ from the AFCC Guidelines, the Arizona Rule and Orders always trump the Guidelines.

And now:   Modify your Practice.  In order to have a parenting coordination practice, you need to modify your Fee Agreement, as fee arrangements are very different for PC matters than for private client matters.   Additional written information about the PC process and about how you personally schedule meetings and handle PC matters is very helpful.    I’ve modified Form 11 (Parent Information Regarding the Use of Parenting Coordinators) to mention some of my own specific procedures, and I provide that to parents as soon as I’m appointed, along with my fee agreement.

You will have lots of questions from parents and attorneys about how the process is handled, and it’s best to have the answer ready in written form, even if you end up having to read those instructions aloud to people.    As your practice develops, you will find areas where you haven’t yet adopted a particular policy or practice, and as the questions arise, create a policy, write it down, and be consistent.    The practice is constantly changing and adapting to the needs of the clients and the court system, so be flexible.

One big decision you’ll have to make is the role of email in your PC practice.  Some PCs don’t allow or encourage emails.   I personally don’t know how I’d have a PC practice without email.  It’s your decision.   If you allow emails, figure out the best way for you to organize them to be able to quickly get to the information you need.   Some people print everything; that would make me crazy.   I use a combination of organized folders (in Outlook and on the hard drive) and Adobe Acrobat to keep everything straight.

Your assistant will be a huge part of your PC practice.  He or she will be scheduling appointments and speaking directly with the clients and will need to know exactly how you want to handle appointments and scheduling and fees.   At the outset of a case, the assistant can track down all the initial documents you need (parenting time orders, modifications, custody evaluations and prior PC reports) to get familiar with the case.    Organization of those documents in your file is necessary to make sure conflicting Recommendations aren’t issued.   And when it comes to filing your Recommendations with the Court, your assistant will monitor everything and follow up to find out when Recommendations have become an order.

Continuing education.  This is vital to a PC practice.    Even though it’s not specifically required anywhere, I try to get at least 15 hours of CLE in parenting coordination matters, in addition to the 15 hours we’re already required to have as attorneys, each year.   (That’s not difficult to do if you attend AFCC conferences.)   Topics for continuing education in parenting coordination include high conflict personalities and personality disorders, effective communication, co-parenting techniques and theories, alienation, interviewing children, attachment theory, child development, ethics, virtual visitation, Our Family Wizard, and the like.

There’s a lot to starting a Parenting Coordination practice, and I hope if nothing else, this article emphasizes the work and thought that needs to go into the process before you start.

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