Co-Parenting with Your Ex-Spouse
Custody battles between parents are frequently emotional and frustrating, making them perfectly poised to become hostile and antagonistic. In most circumstances, the greatest amount of conflict may not even be caused by addressing significant life-altering decisions, but when dealing with the day-to-day agreements of where to meet to exchange children, or how to provide the correct educational and medical care. Because of the significant friction in custody cases, it can be difficult to find a scenario that works well for both parents, and the children involved. One option that many parties find effective is to hire a parent coordinator (“PC”). Our Garden City lawyers at Fass and Greenberg can assist you with all of your legal concerns and questions.
What is a Parent Coordinator?
PC’s are professionals that offer guidance to parties who are unable to make joint decisions for their child. These experts are trained to provide a method of dispute resolution in high-conflict cases of child custody which puts the child first above all else. By helping to highlight decisions in the best interests of a child, a parent coordinator can reduce the level of friction in cases by assisting parents to make better decisions as parents. Though PC’s don’t necessarily determine which parent should be the primary caretaker of the child or children in question, they can help to manage a great deal of the parenting time issues after the case is over and the parents have a custody and parenting time order in place.
Who Hires the Parent Coordinator?
New York courts may appoint a PC in any case, regardless of the parties’ objections. Courts do so most frequently in cases with high conflict parents who have demonstrated an inability or unwillingness to make parenting decisions with the best interest of their children in mind. High conflict cases are ones where the parties exhibit excessive anger and distrust, causing them to engage in excessive litigation, physical aggression, and verbal abuse. Parents in these cases are often consumed by their disdain for each other, leaving their children caught in the crossfire and preventing them from cooperating in their care.
While most PC’s are appointed by a court, some parents voluntarily choose to seek the assistance of a PC. This can be a smart, proactive decision if the parties foresee their divorce becoming contentious.
What Roles Does the Parent Coordinator Play?
The PC’s primary role is to assist the parties to work out disagreements regarding the children with minimal or decreasing conflict. As a neutral facilitator the PC may utilize dispute resolution skills from principles and practices of negotiation, mediation and arbitration. To assist the parents in reducing conflict, the PC may monitor the parents’ communications and suggest more productive forms of communication that limit conflict.
PC’s also serve as educators. PC’s educate the parties about how their actions will affect their children’s development. This knowledge allows the parties to make informed decisions on their own when solving the problems that inevitably arise during divorce.
PC’s can only make decisions to the extent agreed upon by the parents or by court order. When parents are not able to decide or resolve disputes on their own, the PC can make decisions to the extent allowed by the court. These decisions are not regarding custody and visitation, but generally deal with enforcement and/or modification of existing orders. The PC may also make reports and recommendations to the court. The issue of whether or not they can be used as evidence is decided within the parameters of their engagement by the court or by the parents through mutual stipulation. These are not binding on the parties but are often shown deference by courts.
How do Parent Coordinators Work?
In an attempt to resolve disputes, the PC will generally hold a number of meetings that include both parents. These meetings act as a space wherein the parents can discuss concerns regarding the parenting plan, and the PC can offer a combination of dispute resolution techniques, parental education, and counseling to assist in facilitating agreements. Often, PC meetings are not attended by the attorneys of the parties involved, but there are exceptions to this when the parents and PC both agree to the presence of legal representation, or when the court orders that attorneys should be present during all meetings. Day to day disputes might be solved through a phone call with the PC.
During the negotiations, the PC attempts to find solutions for problems before they have the chance to escalate. Ideally, this process should help the parents involved to meet a settlement that they both consider to be fair, and which is also in the best interests of the children involved. PC can be given a significant amount of power and sway in a child custody or parenting time order. While they may be unable to determine where the child lives, or who is given custody, these professionals can decide on a number of issues to be included in their recommendations. For instance, a PC cannot change a court order, but they can make minor changes or clarifications to the schedules outlined in the order, and parenting time decisions, such as temporary variations, holidays, and vacations. Additionally, parent coordinators can:
- Establish recommendations and make small changes to the custody and visitation orders based on their understanding of the child’s best interests.
- Report suspected abuse of children to protective services
- Determine where, when, and how the family and friends of the non-custodial parent will be permitted to see the children.
- Manage complaints from the parties involved in the case about various subjects, and make decisions that the parties must utilize, such as which friend’s children can visit, what religious services they should attend, and so on.
- Prevent parents from having conversations with children that involve certain topics.
- Make determinations as to where the parents involved are allowed to go during their day with the child, and which activities should be allowed.
The PC cannot advocate specifically for one party, and they do not have the right to compromise the parent’s ability to be heard within the process. For a PC to have a positive impact within a child custody case, it is crucial to maintain neutrality, accessibility, and fairness for both parents. Many PC’s have significant training in psychology and mental health, but they are prohibited from offering mental health services or counseling to any child or parent they have been appointed to.
What are the Risks of Having a Parent Coordinator? A court may not delegate the authority to resolve issues affecting the best interests of the children to parent coordinators, but courts are very deferential to their recommendations.