By: Nicole Rohan
Appointing or jointly selecting a Parenting Coordinator can be the first step in the right direction of many highly contentious family court cases regarding custody of children and can also be a great resolution tool for parties to ensure the best interest of their child/children are always the forefront of any custody litigation. Unlike third-party mediators, third-party Parenting Coordinators can report to the Court regarding the parties’ issues, as their recommendations and sessions with the parties are not confidential.
Currently, there remains a lack of formal rules in New Jersey surrounding Parenting Coordinators since the pilot program began in 2007. Nonetheless, many Judges still appoint Coordinators today. There is proposed legislation that would assist in regulating the rules regarding Parenting Coordinators, which was proposed by the New Jersey State Bar Association in July 2021. The below answers many questions regarding Parenting Coordinators, their current roles in litigation, and the proposed rule by the New Jersey State Bar Association.
Who is a parenting coordinator?
Currently, a parenting coordinator is often a mental health professional, although in some cases parents agree to use an otherwise qualified lay person or licensed attorney experienced in child custody issues, who is appointed to serve as a neutral party to assist parents in working together to agree on child-related issues based on his/her best interests. The Coordinator will either be mutually agreed upon by the parties or appointed directly by the Judge presiding over the matter.
Under the New Jersey State Bar Associations Proposed Rule, if accepted, the following people would be able to be appointed as a Parenting Coordinator:
- Attorneys be admitted in NJ Bar for at least 7 years, in good standing with an active license, have a practice substantially devoted to matrimonial law, including extensive practical professional experience in high conflict family cases.
- Mental Health Professionals licensed by the appropriate State Board or agency in their field for at least 7 years, who are in good standing and have a practice substantially devoted to family forensic matters, experience with high conflict family cases.
- Training Requirement: If the above are met the applicant would be required to complete 40 hours of training, including 4 hours of classroom instruction that includes basic mediation skills as well as at least 16 hours of specialized Parent Coordinator training which shall cover family law and child development, psychological issues in separation and divorce, family dynamics, NJ family law, high conflict family dynamics, parenting coordination process and techniques, domestic violence and the impact of divorce at varying developmental levels, family finances and community resources. Continued training would also be required under the proposed Rule.
Why would the Court appoint a Parenting Coordinator if you or your ex do not request one?
If two parents who are no longer together have many differences regarding their child/children, or are constantly disagreeing and utilizing Court Resources and motion practice to resolve issues pertaining to their child/children, a Court may appoint a Parenting Coordinator. The goal is to keep costs lower for the parties because they share the costs of the Parenting Coordinator, rather than continuing to file motions on more minor parenting time issues.
The purpose of having a Parenting Coordinator has remained the same since the 2007 pilot program to the proposed rule from the New Jersey State Bar Association until present. Sometimes, a Court will even appoint a Parenting Coordinator in conjunction with a Guardian Ad litem to help determine the best interest of the child and custody arrangements.
What can be decided by a Parenting Coordinator?
Parenting Coordinators currently aid the parties and make recommendations for smaller decisions regarding parenting time, such as pick up and drop offs, vacation time, travel, and many other minor issues that parents cannot agree with each other on.
Under the New Jersey Bar Association’s proposed Rule, Parenting Coordinators can assist parties in deciding the following issues:
- Time place and manner of pick up and drop off children
- Childcare arrangements
- Minor or temporary alterations in parenting schedules for weeknight, weekend, holidays, vacation, and special events that will not alter Parenting Plan
- Dates for summer vacation
- Phone or other contact when children are at other household
- Selection and scheduling activities, children’s participation in extracurriculars
- Limitations on the parties’ rights to unilaterally have a child evaluated, whether medical, psychological, social, education, etc. other than by mutual consent
- Children’s travel and passports
- Personal Possessions of Children- movement of items between households
- Authorizing health care including counseling/therapy.
- Education and choose of schooling
- Gaps in parenting time scheduling
- Information Exchanges (school, health, social)
- Discipline and Consequences for child’s conduct
- Religious education and activities
- Changes in child’s appearances
- Other issues by agreement of the parties and PC as ordered by the court.
When should you consider asking the Court to appoint a Parenting Coordinator in your matter?
Parenting Coordinators may be helpful when conflict is high and the parents are continuously utilizing the resources of Court applications to resolve all parenting issues, if there are inability to communicate regarding child rearing, and a tendency to engage in frequent litigation. It may also be appropriate for parents with personality issues that impact collaboration, such as suspiciousness, rigidity, emotional instability, or substance abuse. It can be used in conjunction with supervised visitation.
Under the new proposed rule, parents can agree on a Parenting Coordinator subject to approval by the court or the court can otherwise appoint one. If the proposed rule is approved, Order of Appointments can be made in cases with active retraining Orders only if both parties consent and pursuant to an order that complies with limitations of the restraining order.
Where should you go if the Parenting coordinator appointed or mutually selected is not working out?
If you currently have a Parenting Coordinator in place and you do not think the Coordinator is addressing matters in the best interest of the child as conflicts arise, you can jointly request or unilaterally request that the Court appoint a new Parenting Coordinator or remove the role of Parenting Coordinator all together in your case.
The pending proposed new rule also outlines grievance procedures, payment disputes, dealing with conflicts that arise with your assigned Parenting Coordinator, and proper procedures to request removal/termination of the appointment.
If you have any questions about appointing or removing a Parenting Coordinator, it is crucial to speak with a New Jersey attorney to ensure you are following proper procedures outlined by the Judge handling your matter. If you have any questions about the above or need help making an application regarding a Parenting Coordinator, contact us by e-mail or call our office at 908-575-9777 to schedule a consultation with an experienced family law attorney at Lyons & Associates today.