Let’s Talk About A… Parenting Coordinator
September 9, 2020
BY: Lesnevich, Marzano-Lesnevich, O'Cathain & O'Cathain
Is a Parenting Coordinator Right for You?
From 2007 to 2012, Bergen, Middlesex, Morris, Sussex, and Union Counties participated in the Parenting Coordinator Pilot Program approved by the New Jersey Supreme Court. Through this now-inactive Pilot Program, participating Courts were empowered with the ability to appoint a neutral parenting coordinator to assist in the resolution of daily parenting issues. Despite the expiration of the program on November 26, 2012, Judges still have the discretion to appoint parenting coordinators in any case in any vicinage as long as there is no domestic violence restraining order in place, and parties can consent to appointing a parenting coordinator at any time.
What is a Parenting Coordinator?
According to the New Jersey Supreme Court, a Parenting Coordinator is “a qualified neutral person appointed by the court, or agreed to by the parties, to facilitate the resolution of day to day parenting issues that frequently arise within the context of family life when parents are separated.” Although this person can be an attorney, that is not a requirement. Oftentimes, a social worker, therapist, or other mental health professional is appointed or agreed upon to assist parties in a high-conflict divorce resolve their disagreements outside of Court.
What qualifications should a Parenting Coordinator have?
During the Pilot Program, Parenting Coordinators appointed by the Court were limited to social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, or marriage and family therapists licensed to practice in the State of New Jersey. By consent, the Court could designate a non-mental health lay person as long as that individual was qualified by experience and/or training. Furthermore, the selected Parenting Coordinator must be qualified as a family mediator through the 40-hour training program and complete at least five hours being mentored by a family roster mentor mediator in at least two cases in the Family Part. In the November 13, 2012 Notice to the Bar, it was established that Parenting Coordinators appointed after the Pilot Program concluded “will need to be qualified to serve either by consent of the parties or by the court in the same manner as other experts.” Therefore, the strict qualifications implemented during the Pilot Program do not seem to hold as firm now. However, it would be a good idea for any parent contemplating the appointment of a Parenting Coordinator to be guided by those qualifications.
What do Parenting Coordinators actually do?
One great thing about Parenting Coordinators is that there is no “one-size-fits-all” retainer agreement. A Parenting Coordinator may be retained to make recommendations as to the enforcement and implementation of an already existing parenting time schedule including pick up and drop off locations, work-related child care, holiday and vacation schedules, and other emergent issues that are better suited for submission to a neutral third party than directly to the Court. Parenting Coordinators are not limited to either the divorce or the post-divorce arena: some parents find that it is harder to communicate in the midst of a divorce while other parents discover that problems arise several months or years after their divorce has been finalized. Regardless of when they are retained, a Parenting Coordinator’s goal is to help the parties come to decisions about their children.
Why should I want a Parenting Coordinator?
Parenting Coordinators are not bound by the same timeline as the Court. For example, if you were to file a Motion in Court, you would have to wait at least twenty-four days from the date you file your Motion to receive a determination from a Judge. Additionally, a Judge will not necessarily “work with you” to come to a compromise – instead, a Judge will make a definitive decision regardless of what is convenient to the parents. A Parenting Coordinator, on the other hand, is able to respond to questions, aid in encouraging communication, and make recommendations outside of the timeline of the Court. However, Parenting Coordinators do have some limitations. The biggest limitations of a Parenting Coordinator are that he or she may not make any modifications to a judicial Order, judgment, or decree unless the parents enter into a consent order, and, in the event the parties do not agree on a Parenting Coordinator’s recommendation, the recommendation is not adopted and one party must petition the Court to review the recommendation.