When a couple separate and have disagreements relating to their children, such as medical or educational decisions, or day to day issues that parents have different views on, Parenting Coordination may be an avenue of dispute resolution worth investigating.
We’ve seen Parenting Coordination used in a few matters with our clients and we’ve witnessed it work both well, and not so well. So, if you are a parent who wishes to be informed of your options, or you are a professional who keeps abreast of what is available for your clients as they navigate their family law related issues, then read on to learn more.
What is Parenting Coordination?
Parenting coordination is a form of dispute resolution process that has a focus on the child. Each Parenting Coordinator is slightly different to another but what they tend to do is set up regular meetings with parents to case manage issues as they arise.
The goal of Parenting Coordination is to assist parents (or caregivers) to become, or maintain their ability to be, effective co-parents for the benefit of a child. This is achieved through education, mediation and case management.
A Parenting Coordinator, depending on their experience and expertise, can educate parents about a child’s needs from a legal or developmental perspective, facilitate resolutions and reduce parental conflict (and the impact that conflict has on the child involved.
Co-parenting can be challenging on a number of fronts, so exploring whether a Parenting Coordinator (also referred to as a PC) could be the most beneficial for your family is worth consideration. It may help avoid the escalation of disagreements that may otherwise need to be dealt with by the Court.
A Parenting Coordinator may be brought in before, during and after Court Orders, including:
- When interim Orders have been made; or
- When Final Orders have been issued by the Court.
That is, when parents have been through the Court process for a parenting dispute and it has been identified that they would benefit from having someone assist them in the implementation of those Orders.
Often this is because the parents don’t communicate well or they have issues that end in conflict where there is a parenting decision to be made. It is often recommended when they may derail all the good co-parenting they have done in the past.
Parenting Coordination is a newer method of dispute resolution in Australia and as family lawyers we’ve been hearing more about it over the past couple of years. While it originated in the United States, there is now a movement in Australia, led by Parenting Coordination Australia.
Parenting Coordination may be Court imposed or independently sought out by parents. Where the Court has determined Parenting Coordination is required, any Interim or Final Court Orders relating to parenting will set out:
- Who the Parenting Coordinator is
- Who is to pays for it; and
- What the role of the Parenting Coordinator is to encompass for these particular co-parents
For instance, the Orders may detail that the Parenting Coordinator has the power to make a decision for the parents if they cannot reach an agreement. For this reason, both parents need to review the profiles of the available Parenting Coordinators and together make a decision about who they wish to select as their Parenting Coordinator. Typically we see both parents choose the Parenting Coordinator together and both parents meet the cost of their assistance.
Parenting Coordinators have been trained in Parenting Coordination and are accredited with Parenting Coordination Australia. They may be:
- Family Lawyers
- Social Workers
- Mediators (alternative family law dispute resolution avenue)
- FDPR’s (Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners)
- Family Report Writers
- Barristers; or
- Independent Children’s Lawyers.
Given the variety in professions and skills, there are variables in how Parenting Coordinators assist co-parents. They each have:
- Different rates/fee structures
- Various skills and additional qualifications
- Their own approach to how they facilitate Parenting Coordination (set appointments or upon request); and
- Whether they offer emergency sessions (or only routine/scheduled sessions).
The Benefits of Parenting Coordination
The overarching goal of working with a Parenting Coordinator is for both parents to learn more about what they need to do to overcome their co-parenting difficulties.
By having a Parenting Coordinator alongside both parents as they navigate the various decisions they need to make, they may be able to foster a better coparenting relationship going forward, including:
- Avoiding the relitigation of an issue
- Stop the escalation of an issue
- Improve understanding between co-parents
- Improve communication
- Develop a more effective and efficient decision-making process for the benefit of their children.
While Parenting Coordination is not confidential and is reportable to the Court if requested, the other main benefits of having a Parenting Coordinator include:
- The ability to raise an issue that needs to be discussed and resolved often well before a court could assist
- The ability to check compliance with Court Orders (to reduce the need for non-compliance requiring an application for a Contravention Order); and
- Having a professional involved who gains context about the nuances of the coparenting relationship as they go along which can assist them in identifying common triggers or problems that are contributing to their co-parenting issues.
While Parenting Coordination won’t work in all circumstances and some issues may still require judicial determination, the ongoing assistance of one key person can help minimise the effect that parental conflict has on children, help parents avoid the stress, cost and delays of the Court system, and develop a more positive co-parenting relationship.
Whilst there are no hard and fast timelines about how long co-parents must engage a Parenting Coordinator, usually it is for 12-24 months post-final Orders. While two years might seem like a long period of time, it can be highly beneficial to have one point of contact to reach out to and assist you both with issues as they arise over this time period. Having the ability to reach out for the assistance of a Parenting Coordinator as an issue arises can go a long way in minimising the chances of an issue escalating and undoing all the good co-parenting before that point in time.
What Types of Issues Might Benefit From Engaging A Parenting Coordinator?
Navigating decision making like a change of a child’s schooling or if there is a new partner being introduced to the children or a new marriage, these are issues that can benefit from having a Parenting Coordinator.
Equally, incidental decisions such as the changing of set bedtimes as children get older, and mobile phone access may be the types of issues that come up over time.
Where children have special needs or there are investigations into a child’s learning or social development needs and there is conflict as to what should or should not occur next, and this is central to your disputes, you may be best to seek a Parenting Coordinator who is a psychologist.
These are just some of the issues that a Parenting Coordinator can assist with, and in some instances may have the power to make decisions on, and help both children and parents move forward with their lives.
What Happens First in Parenting Coordination?
Parenting Coordination can be delivered in person, by telephone or by online meeting so they could be anywhere in Australia if parents do not require in-person sessions.
Typically, Parenting Coordinators will begin the process by inviting each parent to their own, individual Intake Session to identify the issues from both perspectives.
Next, they coordinate for both parents to complete paperwork before beginning joint sessions. The first few joint sessions may be conducted monthly to begin with (or more frequently if required), and may become less frequent or routine, as time passes.
Choosing A Parenting Coordinator
Given that a Parenting Coordinator could be a family lawyer, social worker, psychologist or counsellor amongst other classifications, it is important for co-parents to carefully consider the selection of their Parenting Coordinator based on who they believe will be best equipped to help them resolve the issues they are facing. Some are going to be more beneficial to the unique circumstances of each family, than others.
As part of the selection process, both parents should consider the following:
- Identify the key issues (or types of issues) that lead to conflict/disputes; and
- Review the Parenting Coordinators bios, qualifications and experience to create a short list of options that match your core issues/needs.
Could This Approach Be The Answer?
Parenting Coordination is one of a number of tools available to separated parents to resolve disputes that relate to their children. It may be an avenue to consider where there is a level of respect between both parents and they have a willingness to resolve their issues.
For parents facing conflict relating to parenting matters, speak to your family lawyer and if the option of Parenting Coordination hasn’t been raised yet, ask questions to see if it might be a worthwhile avenue for you and your co-parent to consider. It may well be the approach that will help you both get on a clear path to consistent, harmonious and effective decision making for your children.
Related Articles: Family Law Mediation: Resolving Parenting and Property Disputes
Phillips Family Law is an award-winning Family Law practice serving clients across Australia and abroad. Regardless of where you are in your decision-making process, we can make you aware of your options. To discuss your situation confidentially, phone (07) 3007 9898 or secure a time by filling in our confidential form here.