Should You Add a Parenting Coordinator to Your Separation Agreement?
If you are separated with children from your former partner, your family law lawyer may suggest you consider adding in a parenting coordination clause into your separation agreement. There are many factors to consider in making this choice.
What is Parenting Coordination?
Parenting coordination is a child-focused dispute resolution process that is an alternative to using lawyers or turning to the court to resolve a parenting dispute. Parenting Coordinators are specially trained to understand the needs of children. A Parenting Coordinator (“PC”) is a professional who helps parents to manage and resolve their dispute. They try to keep children out of the conflict as much as possible. A PC may have a background as a social worker, psychologist, other mental health professional, certified mediator, lawyer or some combination of the above.
What Does a PC Do?
A PC supports the implementation of parts of the separation agreement, mediation agreement, arbitration award or court order that involve parenting. With a process similar to mediation, a PC helps the parties communicate more effectively with each other to try arrive at their own agreement on particular issues. A PC will also assist with the exchange of information about the child (e.g., health, welfare, education, religion, routines, discipline) and monitor to ensure that parents are complying with their parenting agreement.
If the parents cannot mutually decide an issue, the PC can arbitrate certain parenting decisions. The PC does not decide major issues such as custody or access, but instead works to resolve day-to-day conflicts. For example, if you have an agreement or order which states that a child has an equal amount of time with each parent during the winter or summer school break, a parenting coordinator can work decide the precise dates and times within teach break. Similarly, if you are having a dispute about how your child will get to or from an activity or to the other parent, the parenting coordinator can help to resolve who will transport the child.
Other common issues a PC may decide include:
- determining and scheduling extracurricular activities (e.g., tutoring, music, sports, summer camps);
- how the child’s clothing, equipment, toys and other belongings move between homes;
- specifying vacations and holidays;
- arranging for the child's travel and dealing with obtaining and exchanging passports.
These decisions would be made based on information obtained from the parents and other professionals, such as doctors, teachers, counsellors and, if needed, your child. In making decisions, the PC keeps the best interests of the child at the forefront and seeks to balance the child’s needs with those of the parents needs.
What is Involved to Get Started With a PC?
A PC will have a standard PC agreement for the two of you to sign before starting. The agreement will include appeal options in the event that an appeal is later needed. Typically, a PC will require that you review the PC agreement with a lawyer and provide a certificate of independent legal advice.
The PC agreement will state whether the parenting coordination is open or closed. While most PCs choose an open approach, it is possible to have a closed parenting coordination. In open parenting coordination, anyone, including a parent or the PC, can give evidence in court about what was discussed during the process. In closed parenting coordination, everything discussed at your meetings remains confidential. Parents usually want a judge to know what was said if they need the court’s help later. By contrast, a closed process can encourage parents to resolve their issues without worrying that a judge will know what they said or the positions they took.
The PC agreement will also include a clause that stipulates how the PC process can end. Usually, both parents must jointly agree to terminate the process if they will do so. This way, one parent cannot arbitrarily stop the process if they are not satisfied with it. Oftentimes, the Judge in their ruling will stipulte how long the parties are to utilize the services of the parenting coordinator.
Finally, as part of the intake process, the PC will screen for any power imbalances. Questions will be asked in an individual meeting to find out if there is any history of abuse between the parents or mental illness. In some cases of partner abuse, a PC can do things in way to make the process fair and safe. For example, if one person is not comfortable being in the same room as the other parent, the PC can talk to the parents in separate rooms, by telephone, or online. The PC can also plan for each party to come and go at different times.
What Are Some Advantages of Using a PC?
Several advantages exist in using parenting coordination. A PC can help parents improve their communication skills to achieve better decisions they make themselves. The PC process gives more control over the dispute resolution process to the parties, including how to resolve a dispute and what the timelines are for making a decision. The PC process is a collaborative alternative to the adversarial approach of litigation, and it is faster and can cost much less than going to court. Additionally, having a PC in place can help parents to work through different issues that change for the child as they get older.
What are Some Reasons Not to Use a PC?
Depending on your situation, you may have good reason not to use a PC. For starters, you and your former spouse may not be able to negotiate a separation agreement, or you might not agree to have a PC in your separation agreement or agree on the details. If you go to court, a judge will not order you to use parenting coordination as it is a voluntary process. The court can select a PC for you from a list of options, but you must first both agree to use a PC.
Additionally, while having a PC is generally cheaper than going to court, there are still costs associated with having a PC. Most PCs require parents to provide a retainer and to share the cost equally. The total cost will depend on the amount of time needed for your file and how often you communicate with the PC. Additionally, a PC usually requires the parents to agree to use their services for at least six months to a year where there is no time-limited stipulation in a court order.
How Can a Family Law Lawyer Help?
Your family law lawyer can discuss with you whether having parenting coordination in your separation agreement would be beneficial in your situation. If your lawyer believes a PC would be a good option, she can answer your questions and advise on you on who might be a good PC for you taking into account the dynamics and personalities involved in your own family. Your lawyer will also explain how having a PC will impact your dispute resolution options.
Speak to Valerie Little, Family Lawyer
Consult with Valerie Little to discuss the suitability of having parenting coordination in your separation agreement. Ms. Little will assess your situation and discuss your legal options with you.
Ms. Little has many years of experience as a separation and divorce lawyer in New Westminster and the Lower Mainland. She is friendly, easy to talk to and easy to understand.
Call Ms. Little to schedule your confidential consultation. She will give your independent, impartial legal advice that will best for you and your family.
Start your new life today by calling her at 604-526-3333!