Massachusetts Needs a Parenting Coordination Rule

by Annette Burns on November 3, 2014

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, while finding that the appointment of a parenting coordinator is within the court’s inherent judicial authority and may be helpful to expedite the disposition of disputes and provide a more satisfying and timely resolution of disputes, also found that Massachusetts’ lack of any rule or statutory provisions outlining a parenting coordinator’s authority is problematic. When a trial court appointed a PC over the objection of one party, and vested the PC with binding authority to resolve disputes, it overstepped its bounds, unlawfully delegating judicial authority and running afoul of due process concerns. Bower v. Bournay-Bower (2014)

The court order in question, not governed by any rule outlining the PC’s role, scope or authority, required the PC to hear all of the parties’ current and future disputes about parenting, AND gave the PC authority to make binding decisions on those issues, which would then be followed as court orders. The only means for a party to object would be to file a motion with the court before the PC’s decision was to take effect to try and obtain a different court order from the judge. That procedure differs from Arizona’s procedure, outlined in a specific Parenting Coordination rule, which makes it clear that a PC’s decisions are not final court orders until an objection period has passed and the parties have access to a judge to hear those objections.

The Massachusetts decision recognizes the value and importance of parenting coordination and highlights the problems in trying to use parenting coordination without specifics guidelines. The decision notes that some overall guiding authority must exist to define the parents’ rights to file a court action, the nature of judicial review of the PC’s decisions, whether or not both parents must consent to an appointment, the scope of the PC’s authority, how the PC is selected, the payment of PC fees, training and licensing requirements, how a PC can be removed and how complaints are to be handled, and issues of confidentiality. Without those structures in place, use of an undefined parenting coordination process risks undermining the parties’ rights to access to the courts and unlawfully delegate judicial authority to a PC. We are fortunate in Arizona to have Rule 74, Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure, as well as very specific court appointment orders which cover all those areas and preserve due process in the parenting coordination process.

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