What Are Parent Coordinators in Child Custody Cases?

Grueling custody battles between parents are rich with emotion and frustration, which means that they areperfectly 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. However, in New York and Long Island, the presence of a parenting coordinator, as part of the custody and parenting time order, could be the tool required to prompt an amicable agreement for the resolution of future issues.

Usually, the parenting coordinator comes in to assist with decision making issues, after the case is done.  After all, if there are two parents voting there could be ties on certain issues.  How will the ties be broken? 

Parent coordinators are professionals that offer valuable guidance to parties with an interest in joint legal custody agreements or perhaps even sole custody, who are otherwise unable to make joint decisions for the well-being of a child. These experts are trained to provide a method of dispute resolution in high-conflict cases of child custody, which puts the child first, and 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 parent coordinators 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.

Most states, including New York, offer parents the option of accessing a parent coordinator when a case becomes designated as “high conflict”. High conflict cases are generally those that involve things like anger and distrust, excessive litigation, physical aggression, threats, verbal abuse, or difficulty cooperating in the care of children. Alternatively, some parties may choose to seek the assistance of a parenting coordinator of their own accord. Once they begin working with a couple, parenting coordinators can offer assistance in various ways. For instance, they help the parents to clear and establish their communication skills when addressing parenting matters. As poor communication is one of the most frequent issues in a marriage that ends in divorce, it makes sense that it may be present in high conflict custody cases. Unfortunately, a couple can only co-parent effectively if they can first communicate with each other.

In an attempt to resolve existing disputes of a significant magnitude, the parent coordinator 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 parenting coordinator can offer a combination of dispute resolution techniques, parental education, and counseling to assist in facilitating agreements. Often, parent coordinator meetings are not attended by the attorneys of the parties involved, but there are exceptions to this when the parents and coordinator both agree to the presence of legal guidance, 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 coordinator.

When guiding negotiations between the couple involved in the parenting time dispute, the parenting coordinator often 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. Parent coordinators 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 parent coordinator 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. What’s more, 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.

In any circumstance, the parent coordinator cannot advocate specifically for one party, and they will not have the right to compromise the parent’s ability to be heard within the process. For a parenting coordinator to have a positive impact within a child custody case, it is crucial to maintain neutrality, accessibility, and fairness for both parents. Many coordinators 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’s more, it’s worth noting that there is no patient-therapist privilege present between a child and coordinator, or a parent and the coordinator in a custody case.

In a high conflict custody case, a parent coordinator can be a very beneficial addition to the settlement or resulting order. When a coordinator is involved properly in a case, he or she can help everyone, including the parents, children, attorneys, and even the judge assigned to the case, in ensuring that the child’s best interests are served. To learn more about the issues involved in family law, schedule your appointment at the Law and Mediation office of Mr. Darren Shapiro, where you will receive compassionate and experienced guidance. You can get in touch via our online form, or over the phone at: 516-333-6555 for your free initial consultation.

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