Parenting Coordinators really don’t make all the decisions for the parents. I’ve had PC cases where one parent starts out by chastising the other parent, saying “Well, now you’ve done it. Because you’ve gotten a PC involved, we’ve lost all control over our own lives and now she’s going to make all the decisions about parenting.” Not true; the PC doesn’t want to raise your children, and will make a decision only if the two parents can’t agree. Sometimes the PC will choose the same position as one of the parents, and sometimes the PC will make some other recommendation that she thinks is better suited for this family. But that happens only if the parents can’t agree. Agreement of the parents is always best.
And if the decision that’s needed is possibly already covered in the Parenting Plan, the PC is going to try and find the answer there first. Sometimes all that’s needed to make a decision is a thorough reading and interpretation of the Plan that you already have.
The use of a PC keeps far more control with the parents than proceeding to court on the same issue. If you go to court for a decision, you get to submit your position and hope the Judge sides with you. There is usually very little discussion in court; you’ll get to have your say (through testimony) and then the other parent will testify. With a PC involved, you and the other parent will engage in a dialogue, usually through emails but sometimes through personal meetings, about why you have a certain position. You will be encouraged to consider the other parent’s position and you’ll usually be asked to sleep on the issue and answer back in a day or two. If you need more time to consider things or find out information, additional time is usually possible. This is a far different process than a 30 or 60-minute court hearing.
A Maricopa County Judge who used to sit on the family court bench wrote an article “Parenting From the Bench” a few years ago, and he wondered why, and whether, judges should be involved in decisions like whether a child should get an ear piercing or a haircut. Or, on a more serious issue, why should a judge be involved in deciding where a child attends school? The answer, in general, is that the court should do this only where the parents have demonstrated that they can’t or won’t decide on their own.
Parenting Coordinators are not counselors and not parent education teachers. If it appears that the parents could benefit from co-parenting or individual counseling, they’ll be referred out by the PC. But the PC process itself is not therapy. It’s also not the place to unload the past five years of complaints about the other parent. PC work is forward-looking and not a place to seek punishment or retribution for past transgressions.
Another true statement: PCs don’t want to stay on a case for a long time. The most successful cases are those that don’t need to ever meet with the PC, even after she’s appointed. The most effective use of a PC is a situation where each parent meets with the PC once, discusses issues of concern, and finds out which of those issues the PC might be able to help with. Email communications then ensue to discuss the issues and work them out (or have the PC work them out and fill in things that might have been missing from the original Parenting Plan). Hopefully, after doing this a few times with the PC, the parents figure out how to solve things themselves the next time. In many, many cases, I find myself doing the same things over and over to resolve a dispute: First, I read the Parenting Plan and sometimes tell the parents that what they’re arguing about is already covered in there; and second, I instruct a parent who wants something to first ASK the other parent, in an email, and find out the response. With a little coaching from the PC, sometimes the response is favorable and the PC’s further input isn’t needed. If the result of asking isn’t favorable, we’ll figure out together how to make something work. (I often hear “Asking to trade that weekend won’t do any good; I know he’s going to say no.” And I point out that we need to get the “no” before I can proceed. It’s funny how asking nicely, with the PC copied on the email, sometimes results in an unexpected “yes”.)
Using a PC is not cheap; PCs are attorneys, mental health workers or therapists, and they generally charge by the hour, at a significant hourly rate. But if the PC prevents one court filing, one court appearance, a police call, or a missed holiday, the cost is worth it. It’s even more worth it if the parents learn from the first couple of experiences how to resolve things on their own, without a PC, an attorney or the court, the next time.