A Child Custody Alternative: The Parenting Coordinator

Child custody disputes are rarely resolved to the full satisfaction of both parties to a divorce; more often than not, neither party is completely happy with the final order or settlement agreement achieved by the parties.  It is the nature of compromise.

Since it is a continuing relationship over as many as 18 years, the likelihood of issues arising that are not specifically covered by the order or agreement are inevitable.  Dad wants his boy to play Little League baseball; Mom wants no part of it.  Mom wants to send her daughter to an exclusive private school which Dad finds appalling.

If they cannot agree, often the parents find themselves back in court with the attendant expense, delays, and heartache as they glare at each other from both sides of the courtroom.  The resort to court may be the only effective means of resolving such disputes, though an alternative, the appointment of a parenting coordinator (a “PC”) is evolving as an effective means of resolving day-to-day, previously unanticipated custody disputes.

If a PC is agreed upon, the PC’s job is not to alter the order or settlement agreement, but to work within its parameters to resolve the inevitable, nettlesome issues which arise from time to time.  It is the PC’s duty to interpret the order or agreement in light of whatever dispute may arise; these issues can run the gamut of disputes such as time, place, and conditions of custody periods; issues involving clothing, toys, and personal possessions; disciplinary matters; extent and type of health care; nature and extent of vacations and holidays; and exposure to cultural experiences.  (The list is illustrative  but hardly all-inclusive.)

Often the involvement of a PC resolves such disputes on a phone call or two.  One of the greatest advantages is that the dispute is resolved promptly; a problem unresolved can be like an infection which is untreated and festers.  Just having a “tie-breaker” will almost always be in the best interests of the child and often works best for the parents who are spared what otherwise could be prolonged wrangling.

Permitting a PC to be a part of a resolution of the custody process requires a certain degree of trust and leap of faith by the parents.  The PC will have the authority usually reserved for the court, and there is always the possibility for either parent’s distrust or dislike of the PC after a couple of adverse “rulings”.  On the other hand judges often become the target of litigants’ wrath; such is the lot of the person in the middle.  Once having agreed to engage a PC, the parents will be bound by the PC’s rulings; So, it can be a bold step for the parents to permit a PC to be included in a custody order or agreement.

To minimize rancor between the parties down the road, the PC must be very carefully chosen.  Usually he or she will be a mental health professional, such as a psychologist; and because the stakes are so high, the PC must discharge his or her duties carefully and thoughtfully.

Done well, the engagement of a PC can work to the advantage of all parties. 

— Ken Butera



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