As a child psychologist, I have seen first hand the practical and emotional benefits parental coordination can bring to the family. As a neutral third party, my suggestions are always focused on the children.
The following information has been drawn from the Association of Family and Conciliation Court (AFCC) brochure on “Understanding the Parenting Coordination Process” and the American Psychological Association (APA) Guidelines for the Practice of Parenting Coordination.
What is Parenting Coordination?
Parenting coordination is a child-focused and non-adversarial dispute resolution process that is court ordered or agreed upon by divorced and separated parents who have an ongoing pattern of high conflict and/or litigation concerning their children.
The underlying principle of parenting coordination intervention is a continuous focus on the children's best interests by the Parenting Coordinator (PC) while working with high conflict parents and helping in
decision-making. Parenting coordination is an intervention designed to help parents implement and comply with court orders or parenting plans, to make timely decisions in a manner consistent with the children's developmental and psychological needs, and to reduce the amount of damaging conflict between caretaking adults which children are exposed to.
PCs assist parents by providing:
(1) education about co-parenting and parental communication
(2) information on the psychological and developmental needs of the children
(3) strategies to manage conflict and reduce the negative effects on the children
(4) advice on effective post-separation parenting
PCs further facilitate referrals to community providers when necessary and collaborate with other professionals who may already be involved with the family. Any decisions made by PCs are subject to the review of the Family Court, which is an important safeguard to the process.
What are the benefits of Parenting Coordination?
The course of a divorce process is undoubtedly one of heightened anger and conflict, anxiety, combined with diminished communication, and sadness or depression for one or both partners. These negative emotions are often accelerated by the separation and the adversarial nature of the divorce process. Although in the majority of cases the parents’ anger significantly diminishes in the first 2-3 years following the divorce, 8-15% continue to engage in conflict with little reduction in the intensity of their feelings.
When parents are engaged in a legal battle, often they cannot see how their children are being exposed to ongoing conflict between them. Nor can they see how the children are at significant risk for social, academic and mental health problems, and may experience more difficulty with their own intimate relationships in the long term.
Parenting coordination can sometimes help to reduce parents’ conflicts and may shield children from exposure to their parents’ disagreements. The parenting coordinator can also help parents resolve child-related issues in a timely manner without court involvement and can protect and sustain safe, healthy, and meaningful parent-child relationships. Most importantly, the parenting coordinator can help parents focus on the best interests of their children, rather than on their anger toward one another.
When to use Parenting Coordination
Parenting coordination is appropriate for high conflict cases dealing with child-related issues, but not for cases in which it has been determined that the safety of parents or the minor children is at risk.
When there is a high rate of litigation, especially concerning the implementation of a custody order or parenting plan, parents may also need assistance developing, modifying or implementing their parenting plan to ensure that it is focused on the best interest of the children and not on the best interest of the parents.
How to enter the process of Parenting Coordination
The process of entering parenting coordination varies. The Family Court and your lawyer maintain a roster of PCs who meet specific qualifications to provide parenting coordination.
Who can be your Parenting Coordinator?
Since PCs are appointed in high conflict cases, their qualifications are particularly important. The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts’ Guidelines for Parenting Coordination recommend that PCs have specialized psychological knowledge, relevant legal knowledge, and significant experience working with high-conflict divorce and parental separation cases.
PCs should ideally have experience with mediation and should have specific training in parental coordination. To avoid a potential conflict of interest, it is best to choose a PC who has not worked with the family in the past and will not work with the family in the future in any role other than parenting coordinator.