Attorney missteps in the retention of parent coordinators

Despite New Jersey’s Parenting Coordination Pilot Program having ceased in 2012, the need (and value) of parent coordinators has by no means diminished. Increasingly flooded judicial calendars make careful case management, particularly of high conflict cases, a near impossibility. However, a lack of understanding in the scope, nature and breadth of a parent coordinators duties can often lead to unintended consequences that serve to further embroil parties in the litigation process, while exacerbating the divisiveness already present.

While parent coordinators can serve as an invaluable tool in managing high-conflict parties, attorneys, and the Court alike, must be certain to carefully define a parent coordinator’s role. Whether being appointed by the Court, or consented to by counsel, the need for precision in the nature, scope and extent of the parent coordinator’s role cannot be underscored. Is the parent coordinator permitted to unilaterally change a Court-Ordered and/or a consented to parenting time schedule? Does the parent coordinator have final decision making authority on the extracurricular activity the child will be enrolled in when the parties do not otherwise agree? Can a parenting coordinator allocate fee payment between the parties? While some attorneys wish to take a “hands-off” approach on what are often viewed as tedious micromanagement of day-to-day child-related issues, deferring to the parenting coordinator, decision-making on these issues, absent clearly defined parameters, can have the unintended effect of leading to increased litigation, and potentially a request for the parenting coordinator’s dismissal from their role.

So what are attorneys to do? Before requesting a parenting coordinator, both attorneys should confer with potential parent coordinators. Explain the facts and circumstances of a matter to first deduce if that individual may be able to assist the parties in the resolution of their outstanding issues. An initial “consultation” with a potential parent coordinator, particularly if that parent coordinator is a mental health professional, can assist attorneys in defining the role and scope of the parent coordinators duties. This is invaluable as it sets expectations from the inception and allows attorneys, coordinators, and most especially the clients, to have clearly defined roles and expectations from the inception, thus lowering the potentiality for motion practice relative to the parent coordinator’s duties, and lessening the probability of one party’s claims to have the parent coordinator discharged from service.

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