Road-maps for parenting coordination and FAQs

What types of help are available for separating parents, and where does parenting coordination fit in?
The PC Process: what are the steps involved in PC?

If you decide to come into the parenting coordination process, the stages set out below give you an idea of what it might be like…

Stage 1 – referral to a parenting coordinator
Making an initial contact with a parenting coordinator

You may know about parenting coordination and contact a parenting coordinator directly.

Alternatively, your solicitor, barrister, family law judge or other family law professional may suggest making an initial enquiry on your behalf.

Is the process right for me?
Each parent speaks with the parenting coordinator independently

This usually takes place via telephone, which will typically be:

  • to exchange introductions
  • so that you can find out what the parenting coordination process is about
  • so that the parenting coordinator can find out a little background and begin to assess your family’s suitability.
Stage 2 – pre-engagement
You are both invited to fill out an intake questionnaire

You will be asked to complete a detailed questionnaire, which means you will need to answer:

  • questions about you
  • questions about your background history
  • questions about your child’s other parent
  • questions about your child/ren 
  • questions about what you hope to achieve from working with a parenting coordinator.
Your parenting coordinator assesses the intake questionnaires

Your parenting coordinator assesses the intake questionnaires to decide whether (1) your separated family may benefit from the process and (2) whether s/he has the appropriate and complementary skillset to offer your family the professional support it requires.

Each parent has a one-to-one intake meeting with the parenting coordinator

You come in for an meeting at which your parenting coordinator is able to:

  • talk through your intake questionnaire
  • clarify any points and seek further information
  • assess you and your child’s other parent for suitability of the process – for example, if there a history of domestic abuse that could mean the process isn’t a safe or suitable one
  • so that you may ask any questions and talk about any concerns – at this stage, you may share things confidentially with your parenting coordinator. However, your parenting coordinator will explain that if you go into the process, the relevant information you have given may need to be shared with your child’s other parent and s/he will seek your agreement and understanding about that.
Stage 3 – engagement
First joint meeting

You both attend the first joint meeting.  

Your parenting coordinator will remind you of the Parenting Coordination Agreement and its terms, and you will then all sign the Parenting Coordination Agreement before moving formally into the process.

Typically, first meetings can cover:

  • Creation of a bigger picture agenda 
  • Setting appropriate behavioural expectations for the sessions, such as acting respectfully towards one another at all times
  • Setting immediate and long term goals for the process
  • Considering what your motivation for change is and looking at how you want to be able to look back at your child’s childhood experience i.e. what isn’t satisfactory now, and how you want it to change to ensure you create more positive memories
  • Creation of a parenting charter
  • Looking at what inter-parental conflict is, its impact on parents and the wellbeing of children
  • Identifying challenges in communications patterns and thinking about developing new strategies
  • Introducing new negotiation skills and strategies
  • Mediating initial parenting issues relating to the parenting plan/child arrangements order.

At all times, your parenting coordinator will keep under review whether your child/ren may wish to be included in the process and meet with the parenting coordinator. 

Subsequent joint/individual meetings.  
  • Continuing to identify what communication skills will help, and ensuring you have lots of opportunity to practice constructive resolution of conflict skills and strategies.   
  • Noting what works, and what does not, how this is affecting things at home for your children.  Monitoring progress.
  • If it is agreed your children would benefit from meeting with your parenting coordinator, they are able to do so.
  • Continuing to mediate implementation of the parenting agreement or child arrangements order.

Referrals out to any relevant supportive professionals – such as for appropriate counselling, family therapy, parenting courses, addiction support, mental health support or for appropriate child therapy.

Mediation dominant phase

As you progress, and have established constructive conflict resolution skills, the sessions will focus generally on the issues you wish to address, with a focus on assisting you to mediate constructive and mutually satisfactory solutions.   

For example, as parents you might need to discuss:

  • issues relating to the implementation of your parenting agreement or court order
  • minor changes to the arrangements
  • how you will split holiday periods in accordance with the general terms of the order
  • parenting concerns
  • handover arrangements
  • ambiguities or misinterpretations in your parenting agreement or court order
  • the day-to-day parenting arrangements

Your PC will refer back to the initial objectives set to see whether you are making progress/achieving them.

Stage 4 – disengagement

Disengagement will occur when you have successfully reached the end of the process.

Alternatively, the parenting coordinator may at some stage consider that the process is not working effectively for the family, in which case the s/he will signpost parents to other professionals who may be more appropriate to assist.

(At any stage of the process – decision-making phase

If you cannot reach consensus on a particular parenting issue, you are likely to have given your parenting coordinator the authority to make a binding decision for you.  For example, if your court order says the children will share their school holidays between you, and you cannot agree to the pattern for the forthcoming year, your parenting coordinator could make a decision about that. Alternatively, there may be a temporary change proposed by one family to accommodate something like a family wedding, and if you cannot agree, your parenting coordinator could decide for you. If you parenting coordinator makes a decision, s/he will expect you to respect the decision made, adhere to it and move forward with the process. Decision making like this can be helpful if you get stuck on a particular point, but don’t wish to lose sight of all the other progress that has been made. Once the decision is made, you can continue to move forward and mediator other parenting points that arise for discussion.)

What is a parenting agreement?

A parenting agreement is a voluntary agreement that you and your child’s other parent can put together in written format.  

It can be very detailed, setting out your shared aspirations for your child at all stages of their development, your core joint beliefs and shared values in respect of your child’s upbringing. It can also record the specifics of how your child or children will divide their time between you. 

Alternatively, it can be very brief and state only a few shared headlines about your child/children and the time they will spend with you.  

A free template parenting agreement can be found on the Cafcass website

Parenting plans are not legally binding documents like a court order.   They are a shared parenting document that serves to underpin your parenting aspirations and/or to set out the way your children will divide their time between their parents’ households. 

Parenting agreements serve as a record of what you both agree are your shared parenting values at a given point in time. If you subsequently show the parenting agreement to the judge in court proceedings, it may be something that helps the judge get a feel for how you have parented, but the judge is free to make decisions about the future care of your child according to what he or she thinks is best.

What is a court order, (known as a child arrangements order)?

A court order (often referred to as a child arrangements order) is made by a family judge to regulate how your children divide their time between you following your separation.  It can also regulate other important parenting issues, such as permitting or preventing a parent from travelling abroad with children, in relation to a choice of a child’s school, to determine if a parent is allowed to relocate with a child if the other opposes it, or in connection with a proposed medical treatment for which parents don’t agree.  

It is only necessary to obtain a court order if you cannot agree yourselves and one of you applies to ask a judge to help.  The court application sets in motion a process in which parents must attend a number of court appointments, usually provide detailed written statements and attend a final court appointment, known as a final hearing. The judge will make a decision for you if you are not.

If parents are able to reach agreement before the final hearing stage, their arrangements can be set out formally in a court approved ‘consent order’. 

What if we don’t yet have a parenting agreement or a court order regulating how we will parent and how our child or children will divide their time between us?

If you don’t have either a court order or a parenting agreement, you have several options, but you will not at this stage be able to sign up for parenting coordination.

Your options include:

  1. If you are on good terms, there is no need to have any form of agreement since a flexible arrangements may suit your family best.  You can agree things directly as and when they need addressing. 
  2. If you feel able, you can put together a parenting agreement yourselves.  
  3. You may wish to seek the help of a mediator – see further below.
  4. You may each wish to appoint a family specialist for advice and assistance – see further below.  This could be help that involves you each having a solicitor who can exchange communications for you, you could enter the collaborative law process, or you may need to make an application to the court – see our options flowchart.

Some parents feel they need the structure of a court order in order to manage the division of their children’s time.  If so, the best plan is to seek independent legal advice from a specialist family law solicitor. You can find specialists via the Resolution website or The Law Society.

Can my child meet with the parenting coordinator?

If appropriate, your parenting coordinator may meet in confidence with your children to discuss their thoughts and feelings and, so far as your children wish, to feed their thoughts and feelings about things back to you.  Usually, children will only meet the parenting coordinator if they are at least aged 10.

If your parenting coordinator isn’t accredited to see your children, he or she can refer your children to a child specialist accredited mediator who can work with your parenting coordinator to include your children within the process.

Your child’s voice is really important.  A balance needs to be struck between children feeling heard on the one hand, and yet not feeling as though decision-making or responsibility is passed to them beyond their age, stage of development and maturity.  Including them in the process can be powerful for you all.    

Is parenting co-ordination likely to be successful?

In studies published in other countries in which parenting coordination has been available for some decades, it has been shown that: 

  1. Parents engaging with mediation and parenting coordination get on better than they would otherwise have done1
  2. Will find it necessary to make fewer future court applications2.  Court applications can be unhelpful unless absolutely last resort because they can push parents apart, encourage a focus on negative parenting traits, are costly, time consuming, mean ultimately a loss of control for you both and you may both come away with an outcome that doesn’t suit you and which is inflexible.

In order for parenting coordination to be successful, both of you will need to be able to accept that your current position is not as good as it could be, that there is room for you both to make changes and that current circumstances are likely to be detrimental to your child’s well-being.  There are two people in every communication, both of whom can implement changes to bring about an improved dynamic.

What is dispute resolution?

Dispute resolution is an umbrella term.  For families, it can include agreeing together, with the assistance of a mediator, with the assistance of solicitors, in the collaborative law process, and within parenting coordination.  It involves support to reach an agreement that doesn’t involve seeing the judge in the family court. See the options flowchart (above) for more information.

What is mediation?  

Mediation is a way of sorting out the issues that arise when you separate. The mediator is an impartial third person present to help ensure your discussions are constructive and that you each have the opportunity to have your say and be heard.  

Mediators are trained to practice in this area and will help you identify and resolve any issues. Mediators:

  • remain neutral and do not take sides
  • do not give advice, and generally it is helpful to take independent legal advice before and during mediation
  • can give you both as much general information as you need about the law and your options.

There are several advantages of mediation.  You manage the conversation and reach an agreement together – you know it will be one that is mutually acceptable.  The process is one of empowerment, since you are in control. We know from the research that those who try mediation are more likely to have an enduring parental relationship with their children, which is of a better quality.

What is arbitration?

The Institute of Family Law Arbitrators describes arbitration as “…a form of dispute resolution which takes place outside a formal court room. The parties enter into an agreement under which they appoint a suitably qualified person, known as an arbitrator, to adjudicate a dispute concerning finances or children. They agree to be bound by the reasoned written decision of the arbitrator, known as a determination. More information about arbitration can be founds on the IFLA site: http://ifla.org.uk/

See the options flowchart for more information. 

What is collaborative law?

Collaborative law is a process in which each parent appoints their own solicitor.  Rather than the solicitor helping them in telephone calls and individual meetings, all communications take place together in a series of face-to-face meetings.  Your collaborative lawyer is present at all times to help and support you, to offer constructive suggestions and give you the confidence to find a mutually acceptable way forward.

At the outset, both parents and their collaborative solicitors sign an agreement called a “Participation Agreement”.   It states that neither parent will issue a court application, and that if the process breaks down, you will each need to appoint a new solicitor.  Overall, the success rate is very high.  

  1. Parenting Coordination and Skills for High-Conflict Families, Megan Hunter, MBA, and Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. (2014), High Conflict Institute
  2. Emery, R.E Ph.D., Two Homes One Childhood, A Parenting Plan to Last a Lifetime, 2016, page 49 (referring to Emery, R.E, & Wyer, M.M. (1987).  Child custody mediation and litigation: An experimental evaluation of the experience of parents. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 55, 179-186; and Emery, R.E., Matthews, S., & Wyer, M.M (1991).  Child Custody mediation and litigation: Further evidence of the differing views of mothers and fathers. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 59, 410-418 and finally, Emery, R.E., Laumann-Billings, L., Waldron, M., Sbarra, D.A., & Dillon, P. (2001).  Child Custody mediation and litigation: Custody, contact and co-parenting 12 years after initial dispute resolution. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 69, 323-332.