Use and Misuse of the Parenting Coordinator – Part II

by Annette Burns on March 25, 2013

This is a fresh look at a post from March, 2011.    Another refreshed post, Part I of this title, was posted on January 20, 2013.

Once a parenting coordinator is assigned and you think there are issues to be addressed by the PC, what information does the PC need to get started?  What information does he get from the court and what do the parties need to provide?  What can counsel do to help and to get the case in the hands of the PC as quickly as possible?

There is information that the Parenting Coordinator needs, especially at the beginning of the case, that can make the process move more quickly.   When the PC is appointed, he gets little if any information about the client and family.  If the client is represented by counsel, the PC doesn’t even get an address, phone number or email for the client.   The PC’s only contact information is through the attorney.    That’s why the PC’s opening letter and/ or email usually goes only to the attorney, with the expectation (and hope) that the attorney promptly forwards all information to the client.

Most importantly, please know that the PC is not automatically provided with the Parenting Plan from the court.    The first thing the PC needs, in my opinion, is the current Parenting Plan.   Sometimes this is one document and sometimes the Plan consists of several documents, court orders, and modifications.  All the documents need to be provided to the PC.

Up-front information to the PC.    Counsel can help the PC process a lot if the following information is send to the PC immediately upon appointment:

  • A copy of the CURRENT, fully-executed and court-ordered Parenting Plan;
  • The names and ages of all children involved, if not included in the Parenting Plan (many times this information is NOT in the plan, especially if the plan is a minute entry order from the court);
  • The full names, addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses of both parties;
  • Whether there are any Orders of Protection or any other restraining orders in effect (and if so, a copy of the current O/P); and
  • A “heads up” on any immediately pending issues (such as telling the PC on March 10 that spring break, which starts on March 14, is a contested issue).

As noted in the January 20, 2013 post, any information sent to the PC should be copied to the other party or counsel.

Attorneys should be careful to let the clients know ahead of time that PCs cannot act on financial issues.  I find that most clients know this before coming in, but the ones who haven’t been told that are usually upset to find out that’s the case.   The same applies to a request for  a significant change to parenting time.   I still meet with a number of clients every year who want to tell me why I should recommend a change from a limited (weekend only) parenting time schedule to 50-50 timesharing, or the reverse.    While the limitations on a PC’s authority are spelled out in the order of appointment, remember that the clients rarely read that order and the limitations of authority should be repeated to the client, more than once.

The Order of Appointment specifies that a PC is to act (get information and make recommendations) on issues even if one party won’t participate (or won’t pay).  Some PC’s won’t do this, but the Order of Appointment states:

If either party fails to participate as requested by the Parenting Coordinator, then in addition to all other remedies available under law, the Parenting Coordinator may proceed and make recommendations regarding the dispute, if necessary, without the participation of such party.

It’s easy to see how the parenting coordination process can be derailed by one party’s refusal to participate, to pay, or to contact the parenting coordinator once issues are raised.  In many cases where the court  has appointed a parenting coordinator, the court is expecting some action and recommendations from the Parenting Coordinator because court time for that issue is so limited and may be scheduled far in the future.   I personally feel that a PC is shirking his duties to some extent, and failing the court, if he refuses to proceed on an important issue because one parent refuses to cooperate.    A party always has the opportunity to file a Motion with the Court and ask that the PC’s appointment be terminated (because it’s not affordable, for example).   It’s always up to the Judge if an appointment should be terminated, as the Court issued the Order of appointment in the first place.

Super-PC powers. If the attorneys or the clients want to leave some substantive issue to be determined by the PC, more than just the standard Order of Appointment of Parenting Coordinator is needed.  It is not uncommon for the parents and attorneys to agree that a certain person can make a final decision about parenting time recommendations, the designation of custody, or a substantial change to parenting time.    When that occurs, the case needs an Order pursuant to Rule 72.    While it’s tempting to always think “Parenting Coordinator” if you’re dealing with custody or parenting time issues that need resolution, it may be that the case needs a Family Law Master (Rule 72) to resolve what is needed.   If the attorneys are considering appointing either an attorney or a mental health professional as a Family Law Master, to decide issues which are not usually decided by a Parenting Coordinator, it’s a good idea to contact the professional ahead of time and ask if he’ll be willing to act in a Family Law Master  status.  Most experienced attorneys who are PCs will have experience acting as a Master and will accept such an appointment.   A mental health professional who acts in a PC capacity may not have a complete understanding of the additional powers granted to a Family  Law Master, or may not feel comfortable in that role.

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