Most people think that once their divorce is final, it’s over. But if you just went through a high-conflict divorce, you don’t agree with your ex about anything, and you have children together, you could easily find yourself back in court and locked in battle with your ex again almost immediately. To stop this never-ending (and wildly expensive) court conflict, some people are now turning to parenting coordinators to help them deal with parenting issues in a way that the court system simply can not do.
What is a Parenting Coordinator?
A parenting coordinator is a mental health professional or a lawyer whose job it is to help manage the conflict between two parents and help them implement their parenting plan. A parenting coordinator educates parents about their children’s needs, helps them resolve conflicts regarding their children in a timely manner, and monitors the parents’ compliance with court orders.
A parenting coordinator may be appointed by the court, or hired directly by two parents. The scope of the parenting coordinator’s authority is determined either by the court order appointing him/her, or by the contract the parents made with the parenting coordinator when they hired him/her.
How Does Parenting Coordination Work?
Once a parenting coordinator has been appointed by the court or retained by the parties, s/he meets regularly with both the parents and, when necessary, with the children. The parenting coordinator helps deal with the parents’ day-to-day parenting questions and with each parent’s complaints about the other parent.
While parenting coordinators, like mediators, try to get parents to reach an agreement outside of court, there are two significant differences between mediation and parenting coordination:
1. Mediation is confidential. Parenting coordination is not. That means that anything either parent says to the parenting coordinator can be used in court.
2. If the parents don’t agree, neither a mediator nor a parenting coordinator can order the parents to do anything. But since the parenting coordinator reports on the parents’ conduct to the judge, and can make recommendations to the judge about what should happen in a particular case, quarreling parents need to pay way more attention to what the parenting coordinator says.
Dr. Gail Petrich, M.A., J.D., PsyD., one of Chicago’s leading parenting coordinators, describes the parenting coordination process as “mediation with teeth.” When she works with parents, her first objective is to act as a mediator and try to get them to reach an agreement. If that doesn’t work and they can’t agree on how to resolve their issue, then Dr. Petrich writes a letter with her recommendations regarding the issue and sends it to the parents and their lawyers. The letter can then be submitted as evidence to the judge. More often than not, the judge follows the parenting coordinator’s recommendations.
A Parenting Coordinator is Not a Judge
Even though the judge usually does what the parenting coordinator recommends, it is important to understand that the parenting coordinator is not the final decision-maker in the case. The parenting coordinator simply makes recommendations to the parents, their lawyers, and the judge. While the parents may be obligated to follow those recommendations until they can get back into court and the judge can review them, only the judge has the ultimate authority to determine what is in the best interests of the children and to order the parents to act or not act in a certain manner.
What is the Benefit of Using a Parenting Coordinator?
1. Parenting Coordinators can resolve issues much more quickly than the court. Judges are busy and court calendars are often backlogged. When parenting issues come up in high conflict cases (and parenting issues come up in some high conflict cases a LOT!) a parenting coordinator can often resolve the issue in a matter of hours. The courts can take months to do the same thing.
2. Parenting Coordinators can resolve issues more cheaply than courts. When couples fight in court they are each paying fees for their own attorney, and for the children’s attorney. When they meet with a parenting coordinator, they are only paying the parenting coordinator. As an example of how much parents can save, Dr. Petrich relates that, in one of her cases, the parents went from paying $3,000 per month in attorney’s fees to paying $700 per month for her fees.
3. Parenting Coordinators keep people out of court. As soon as the parents realize that the judge is usually going to follow the parenting coordinator’s recommendations anyway, going to court becomes an enormous waste of time.
How do You Know If You Need a Parenting Coordinator?
Not every divorced couple needs a parenting coordinator. Even couples who disagree on many parenting issues don’t need a parenting coordinator. The only people who need a parenting coordinator are those couples who absolutely can not resolve their disagreements themselves, and find themselves continuously going back to court to get a judge to decide even the simplest parenting issues need a parenting coordinator.
Here’s a quick test to see whether you could use a parenting coordinator:
1. Are you unable to reach an agreement with your ex about parenting issues most of the time?
2. Are you consistently in court arguing about parenting issues?
3. Do you and/or your ex want or need someone (i.e., a parenting coordinator) involved in your life who will have direct access to your children? (Judges rarely talk to children. Parenting coordinators routinely do.)
4. Do you and/or your ex consistently need someone to monitor and enforce court orders?
5. Do you have enough money to pay a parenting coordinator?
If you answered “yes” to all of these questions, you may need a parenting coordinator.
The Bottom Line
Parenting coordinators may cost less than the small army of attorneys it takes to litigate a case, but they are not free either. They are highly trained professionals and they need to be paid – by you! Even when you aren’t fighting in court, paying for someone to constantly referee your disputes with your ex gets expensive.
What’s more, parenting coordinators are, by necessity, invasive. The only reason you would use a parenting coordinator is because you and your ex can not agree on most parenting issues yourselves. In essence, you are inviting the parenting coordinator into your life to do what you can not do for yourself. Its always better if you can get to the point where you and your ex are able to make your own decisions.
So, do you need a parenting coordinator? With all due respect to the parenting coordinators of the world, for your sake, I really hope not.
Many thanks to Dr. Gail Petrich (http://www.gailpetrich.com) for sharing her expertise and wisdom with me for this article.
What other professionals will you possibly need during the divorce process?
- Couples Counseling: It’s Well Worth The Investment!
- Is Divorce Mediation the Right Choice For You?
- 5 Tips For Rebounding Financially After Divorce
- 3 Professionals Every Woman Needs On Her Divorce Team