Divorced parents struggling to agree on or implement a parenting plan will soon have another tool at their disposal: parenting coordination. This process allows adversarial parents to work with a skilled coordinator who will help them try to overcome conflicts and make decisions about their custody issues. This form of alternative dispute resolution can help avoid unnecessary re-litigation, while ensuring a parenting plan that is in the child’s best interests.
Parenting coordination was eliminated in Pennsylvania in 2013 due to concerns about due process rights for the participants. However, the process was reexamined in the years since, and an updated version of the process will be available to parents starting March 1.
What a coordinator can do
Some of the issues that coordinators can address, include:
- Implementing a custody order
- How and when custody exchanges can take place
- Temporary changes to a custody schedule
- A child’s participation in activities
- Child care arrangements
The coordinator cannot make any legal custody decisions such as changes to legal or physical custody arrangements, changes to the child’s residence, and permanent changes in a custody schedule. Those issues will need to be heard by a judge in order to have changes made if the parties are unable to agree.
Updates to the parenting coordination process
One change in the updated version of parenting coordination is that standards have been set for those who can serve as coordinators. An experienced, licensed attorney or mental health professional must now undergo specific training and contnuing education specific to parent coordination to become a coordinator.
The updated version also establishes rules for communication that is allowed within the process. Parents cannot communicate with the coordinator outside of the parenting coordination process, and what is said within the process is not confidential and can be later examined in court.
A quicker appeals process also has been implemented into the new system. In this process, the coordinator submits a summary and recommendation within two days after hearing from the parties on an issue. Within the next five days, a party who disagrees can file a petition for a hearing before a judge.
Parent coordination may not be the best fit for all parents. However, it can provide a faster and more amicable alternative to litigation, which can result in less stress for parents and their children.