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Parenting Time Coordinators in Family Court

Clarkston Legal Dec. 13, 2016

In high-conflict divorce cases with minor children, one of the most heated issues is parenting time. Daily routines, recreational activities, discipline, and health care management are often disputed between parents.

Family court professionals seek creative solutions to these difficult and often recurring problems. Given the nature of the disputes, using all the tools in the toolbox becomes necessary to resolving parenting time conflicts with the goal of peace between the parties.

Unfortunately, high-conflict divorce cases are not so easily settled; the peace sought is difficult to find. In the past, when faced with such a case, a family court could appoint a parenting time coordinator to assist the court and the parties with resolution of their vexing issues. Parenting time coordinators conserve judicial resources and create another impartial arbiter to make recommendations on the many parenting time issues.

Until recently, however, no statute governed the appointment and employment of the parenting time coordinator. Utilization of a coordinator varied greatly from county to county and from judge to judge.

In January of 2015, the parenting coordinator bill was grafted into the child custody act, officially sanctioning the parenting time coordinator with specifically enumerated powers. What remains the same when appointing the parenting time coordinator is an agreement by the parties to the use a coordinator and the specific issues the coordinator can address.

When considering a parenting time coordinator it is important to create a detailed appointment order to properly define the scope of authority of the parenting time coordinator. It is also important to determine whether a parenting coordinator’s recommendation will have interim effect, or even binding effect, for situations where a party doesn’t agree with the recommendation and desires an audience with the court.

The parenting time coordinator may be authorized to have access to relevant information and interested persons to the case including: the minor children; therapists for the parties or child; school, medical or activity records; teachers, principals or aides; evaluations or psychological testing results; and the parties and their respective attorneys. The coordinator is empowered to speak with both parties, or only one party, and to exclude another party or their attorney. However, both parties will have the opportunity to make their case to the parenting time coordinator prior to any recommendations by the coordinator.

It is important to think about a number of factors when you are considering a parenting time coordinator for your case. Primarily, you must think about whether a coordinator is right for your situation and what the appointment will require.

The chief purpose of the parenting time coordinator is to alleviate conflict, conserve resources and stop parties from continuously filing motions and going to court. If one party or the other refuses to abide by the parenting time coordinator’s recommendations then there will be no savings for the parties, or the court, and the parties will have added an additional layer of cost to the case. You and your attorney should determine whether the appointment of a coordinator can create stability and peace or is just another avenue for conflict.

Once you have determined that a parenting time coordinator is appropriate, you and your attorney need to consider what type of coordinator is right for the job. Whether a strong personality or a soft touch is needed in your case.

Deciding between a lawyer, therapist or other qualified individual is important based on what goals you are looking to achieve with the parenting time coordinator. Another crucial consideration is that judges opinions still vary as to how and when to use parenting time coordinators. Knowing if your judge favors their use and who the judge prefers to serve in the role will shed some light in this area. If a judge trusts a parenting time coordinator, they are more likely to adopt recommendations.

In sum, decisions surrounding the need and use of a parenting time coordinator in a high-conflict divorce are legion. If you think that appointing such a professional would be helpful to your case it is important that you fully understand the benefits and drawbacks based on the particular facts to your situation.

It is important to consult with an experienced attorney who knows the courts and is familiar with a wide-range of individuals who serve as parenting coordinators in such high-conflict divorces. Give us a call to schedule a free consultation to decide whether a parenting time coordinator is right for you.