Parenting coordination is a relatively new process by which the parents of one or more minor children engage a third party, the Parenting Coordinator (or “PC”) to help them mediate and resolve disputes that may or may not be practical to bring to Court. Parenting coordination is not mediation in the strict sense. In mediation, it is possible for the parties to attempt to resolve a dispute and not reach a resolution. In parenting coordination the PC work with the parties to resolve disputes by agreement, but if the dispute is not resolved by the parties, the PC is empowered to make a binding decision and submit said decision to the Court.
Who appoints a parenting coordinator?
A PC may be appointed by the Court through a judge or magistrate in a case where parental rights and responsibilities for the care and custody of one or more minor children are at issue. The parties to such a case (usually the child’s parents) may also jointly agree to utilize the services of a parenting coordinator. Not all court venues in Ohio allow for a parenting coordinator. For example, both Franklin and Delaware Counties allow for the appointment of a PC under their respective local rules.
What professional qualifications must a PC possess?
A PC must have the following qualifications: (1) A master’s degree or higher, law degree, or education and experience satisfactory to the court or division; (2) At least two years of professional experience in situations involving children (parenting coordination, counseling, casework, legal representation in family law matters, serving as a guardian ad litem or mediator, or similar experience satisfactory to the court or division); (3) specialized training consisting of all of the following: (a) 12 hours of mediation training; (b) 40 hours of family or divorce mediation training; (c) 14 hours of training in domestic abuse and mediation; and (d) 12 hours of training in parenting coordination.
Is there a specific type of case that warrants the use of a PC?
Yes. Cases that are “high conflict” often warrant the use of a PC as do cases where the parenting time schedule requires frequent adjustments due to the circumstances of the parties or the minor children. A “high conflict” case does not mean that one or both parents are bad people, but rather it is a case where litigation has not resolved the parties’ disputes or the parties’ have been unable to resolve matters in litigation. PC’s are often appointed in cases where the parties’ parenting plan requires quick and frequent changes. An example of this may be where one or both parties have jobs where schedules change frequently. In such a case it isn’t cost effective to return to Court for every change, rather the parties agree to have a PC resolve any disputes regarding scheduling.
How does parenting coordination work specifically?
Each case is different, but generally the parties meet with the PC on an on-going specified basis or on an as-needed basis. The PC will give both parents opportunities to speak and will take notes and attempt to mediate disputes. A PC may also speak with collateral sources such as the minor children, their teachers, medical providers and other third parties to attempt to ascertain facts useful in helping the parties mediate. If mediation is unsuccessful the PC will, after a certain period of time, write a “decision.” The PC’s decision will generally include the following: (1) the case caption and case number; (2) the date of the decision; (3) the facts of the dispute and the facts upon which the decision is based; (4) reasons supporting the decision; (5) the specific decision of the PC; (6) the manner in which the decision was provided to the parties; and (7) any other necessary information.
A decision is filed with the Court at the time it is provided to the parties. In Franlin County, the PC’s decision is effective immediately unless otherwise stated. A party who disagrees with the decision may file written objections to the Court within a prescribed time period (usually fourteen days). The Court will then review the objections and may schedule a hearing. The Court will render its decision on the objections within a certain period of time (usually thirty days). A PC decision that takes effect has the same force and effect of a decision of the Court and should be followed by all parties.
What if the other party doesn’t like the decision of a PC? Can they simply refuse to participate? What is to stop them from merely filing things in Court?
The appointment of a PC is an order of the Court. A person who does not follow a Court’s order does so at their peril. The failure to follow a Court’s order may result in a finding of contempt and a PC may file a decision with the Court stating that one or more of the parents is not following the rules or participating in good faith.
The appointment of a PC often results in the Court case being “stayed.” This means that only certain specific types of motions and documents can be filed during a stay.
Can our guardian ad litem or attorney be our PC?
No. A PC must be someone who has no relation to the case. A GAL serves a different role (advocating for the best interests of the child) and an attorney of one party owes a duty of loyalty and confidentiality to their client. Neither case would result in a wholly independent or impartial PC. In addition, a PC is not a social investigator, mediator, therapist, advisor, or an attorney for a party.
I am the victim of Domestic Violence, can I still utilize a PC with my abuser?
It depends on the circumstances. PC’s are trained to engage in certain screening processes for domestic violence in any case that comes before them (so don’t be offended when certain questions are asked).
If there is actual, threatened or suspected domestic violence, the PC will discuss with the alleged victim whether they wish to continue. Certain procedures may also be put into place such as the parties arriving at different times or meeting in separate rooms at the PC’s office. The parties may also elect to bring along a support person. However, none of these may work if a victim is uncomfortable with the process due to the domestic violence. Because of the nature of domestic violence, the process of parenting coordination may be used to intimidate or control the victim. This is absolutely a situation that a PC will strive to avoid at all costs. In these types of cases a PC may simply have to decline to engage in the process of parenting coordination with these parties.
Can a PC’s appointment be limited to certain issues?
In most cases yes. It is not uncommon for parties to have certain issues upon which they cannot agree, or over which they require frequent modifications. In these cases, the appointment order for a PC may limit itself to certain issues.
In addition there are certain things that cannot be addressed through parenting coordination such as issues related to a protection order (a PC cannot issue, modify, or terminate a protection order) and any changes to the primary custody of a minor child (a PC cannot change the custodial parent, but may be able to address issues related to the school placement of a minor child).
Is parenting coordination a confidential process?
No. A PC does not have a duty of confidentiality to the participants, the minor children or any other third party.
How much does parenting coordination cost? Who pays for it?
As with any good lawyer answer, it depends. A Court will generally allocate the costs of the PC in the order for the PC’s appointment. Each PC will have a specific retainer and an hourly rate. Most orders of appointment allocate the costs between the parties with the Court reserving the right to change the allocation in cases were one party “runs up the bill” or does not act in good faith during the process. Most PC’s are on the lookout for these types of behavior and can mention such issues in their decisions.
Parenting Coordination with Attorney Christopher Tamms requires appointment though a judge or magistrate. If I have been appointed as a PC in your matter, please call my office at 614-859-9529. I look forward to working with you and your family.