When it comes to parenting issues, the level of conflict can become very high. A typical family law litigant can experience wide-ranging emotions, including anger, fear, anxiety, disappointment, despair, embarrassment, grief, stress – and perhaps most of all, uncertainty. None of this helps with communication, or cooperative. Add children to the mix and you can have an explosive challenge. How can you effectively parent when every conversation has the potential for an argument, if not an out-and-out fight? You can go to court, of course, and let a judge decide. But you have done that. It can cost several thousand dollars and it takes weeks, if not longer. That doesn’t help if the argument is who takes your son to hockey this weekend. So, you let it go, and the resentment builds. Or you fight it out and likely get nowhere. Or you can consider hiring a parenting coordinator. By the time many parents meet with a parenting coordinator, they can be mentally and physically exhausted. Just being able to disengage from constant arguing itself can be an instant relief. More importantly, over time, the process can also re-establish healthy communication and decision making and allow the parents eventually to resume constructive co-parenting on their own. A parenting coordinator is a neutral person who does not advocate on behalf of or represent either parent but assists both in resolving conflict and making decisions in the best interests of their children. The process is flexible and can be what the parties and the parenting coordinator decide is best for their individual situation. For simple, day-to-day decisions that need an immediate resolution, the process can be as quick and informal as a phone conference, or email exchange. Where there is more time, much like with mediation, the parenting coordinator can assist the parties to negotiate their own solution. But where they cannot agree, the parenting coordinator is ready to make a decision for them. And throughout the process, the parenting coordinator works with the parties to avoid conflict, improve communication and develops healthy problem-solving skills.
The parenting coordinator:
The parenting coordinator is neutral and does not advocate on behalf of or represent either parent. Rather, the parenting coordinator is a specially trained professional whose work focuses on helping parents develop parenting and communication skills, on mediating disputes and, where necessary, on writing decisions (arbitration). The overarching focus of the parenting coordinator’s work is to uphold the best interests of the children and encourage each parent to do so as well. When a decision is required is reduced to writing and is legally binding on the parties. A parent who disagrees with a decision may apply to the court, pursuant to s.19 of the Family Law Act. The application is similar to an appeal.
When is parenting coordination appropriate:
Parenting coordination is most helpful for parties who have reached a general parenting agreement, but who have ongoing communication issues that impede their ability to co-parent effectively after separation.
Limitations on the parenting coordinator’s role:
The parenting coordinator’s role is limited to helping the parties to follow those parts of their court order or separation agreement that are about parenting. The parenting coordinator does not have the mandate to:
• decide major issues like custody or primary residence, parenting schedules, appropriate child support, or mobility);
• change guardianship, legal or physical custody from one parent to the other;
• substantially change a 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.
These issues are typically decided by agreement or the court prior to parties involving a parenting coordinator.
Types of disputes a parenting coordinator can assist with:
The parenting coordinator can assist parties with a variety of issues arising from their court order or separation agreement including the following:
• holiday schedules,
• children’s activities,
• child exchange locations,
• scheduling pickup and drop-offs,
• transportation responsibilities,
• appropriate means of communications between the parties respecting parenting matters,
• travel and passport arrangements,
• educational decisions (including choice of schools),
• health-related decisions (including psychological intervention),
• participation in extracurricular activities,
• communication between parents, and
• other issues that may be identified by the court or agreed on by the parties.
Can one parent require another party to participate in the process? Typically, the process is voluntary meaning that the parents must agree to the process. However, the courts in British Columbia also have the jurisdiction to order the process in appropriate circumstances.
What happens if a parent refuses to participate in the process?
If after opting into the process, a party refuses to participate, the parenting coordinator may proceed in the absence of the parent, or withdraw from the appointment, so informing both the parties, their lawyers, and the court.
Do the parties require lawyers?
Parties to a Parenting Coordination are not obligated to also have lawyers. However, parties are encouraged to obtain independent legal advice respecting their rights and obligations and the impacts of their decisions on their future affairs. Having said that, parties usually attend the parenting coordination on their own, without counsel.
How long does the process take?
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.
Reasons to consider hiring a parenting coordinator:
Confidential – There is no public record; parenting coordination sessions are held in private. However, written reports and testimony may be provided to the court.
Less time litigating/cost effective – Because parenting coordinator is there to help by offering guidance or even making decisions when you can’t reach one together, you’ll spend less time in conflict. When there’s less conflict, you are also less likely to make return trips to court which in turn will save you from spending money on legal fees. Generally, parenting coordination is much quicker and less expensive than litigation.
Less stress– Conflict can create a huge emotional burden for those in it or surrounded by it. Children may be impacted by the tension they sense, even if their parents are not arguing in front of them. By educating parents on ways to resolve conflict, a parenting coordinator can help minimize conflict and lessen stress tensions within the new family units.
Opportunity to learn better communication and problem-solving skills– Parents are the most important role models for their children. When co-parents can communicate with each other and make decisions without conflict, their children are likely to notice and learn positive communication skills to use themselves.
More time to focus on your children – working with a parenting coordinator can take away some of the stress you used to have when it came to dealing with your co-parent. With less stress about communication or making decisions, you will be able to spend more time focused on your children.
The focus is on the best interests of the children – Parents in conflict often struggle to separate the issues they have between each other from the crucial decisions they must make for their children. Parenting coordinator are neutral third parties. By working with both parties as well as other professions, the parenting coordinator gains important insite as they help parents make the best decisions going forward. The parenting coordinator’s suggestions are unbiased and always in favour of the children.
Flexible – The parties often set their own schedule. Parenting coordination permits parties to fashion remedies designed to fit the unique needs, values and circumstances of the parties, permitting “win/win” solutions. Parenting coordination allows the parties to retain control of the situation and promotes communication and cooperation. The parties themselves have the opportunity to decide the outcome.
Gentle – With the guidance of a professional in dispute resolution modelling active listening skills, parties are encouraged to communicate in more effective ways. This diffuses tensions and misunderstanding that impede negotiations; and, in permitting free, clearer expression, helps parties find satisfaction in being heard. Communication skills and insight learned through the process may last well beyond the resolution of a single dispute.
Quick – Parenting coordination sessions can be scheduled early in the dispute and at times acceptable to the parties, thereby increasing the likelihood of a prompt settlement. It avoids the delays and frequent non-productive court appearances associated with our over-burdened court systems.
Costs: The costs of a parenting coordinator are typically shared by the parties, unless there is a court order specifying how costs will be shared between them.
David A. Paul, Q.C.
David Paul has extensive education, training, and experience working with parties as mediator and parenting coordinator in family law matters.
Contact Paul & Company today if you believe you may benefit from Parenting Coordination in your family law case.