What is parenting coordination?
The 2005 Guidelines for Parenting Coordination produced by the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts describe parenting coordination as:
“…a child-focused alternative dispute resolution process in which a mental health or legal professional with mediation training and experience assists high conflict parents to implement their parenting plan by facilitating the resolution of their disputes in a timely manner, educating parents about children’s needs, and with prior approval of the parties and/or the court, making decisions within the scope of the court order or appointment contract.”
Parenting coordinators become involved to assist parents once a parenting agreement or court order is in place. They help parents to comply with and implement what has been agreed or ordered, and to make decisions within its scope.
The overall objectives of parenting coordination are:
- to assist high conflict parents to implement their parenting plan (or child arrangements order)
- to monitor compliance with the details of the plan/CAO
- to resolve conflicts regarding children and the parenting plan/CAO in a timely manner, and
- to protect and sustain safe, healthy and meaningful parent-child relationships.
When should parents be referred to a parenting coordinator?
Typically, parents should be referred to a parenting coordinator if:
- they are stuck in a cycle of chronic inter-parental conflict for which they may benefit from professional support
- they find they have had to return to court on more than one occasion in quick succession, and usually concerning issues that are parenting decisions, such as matters of implementation, interpretation, enforcement or repeated attempts to vary the order, rather than key welfare decisions that the court should properly be making
- within court proceedings, a judge may often have indicated that the children’s parents should seek support to enable them to find a means of making parenting decisions without continuous recourse to legal assistance in all its guises, including applications to the court; or
- as a family law professional such as a solicitor or barrister, you are receiving frequent calls from your parent client asking for help to manage all aspects of parenting i.e. the parental communication has completely broken down, and your parent client is being forced to use you as a conduit at every turn. In these circumstances, you recognise that continuing in this way is not assisting to improve things for the family, and not in the best interests of children.
What do parenting coordinators do?
A parenting coordinator begins the process as a figure of authority. The aim is to empower parents towards making decisions in the best interests of their children by giving them the tools and support they require to implement sustainable changes.
The contractual relationship between the PC and parents may last for up to two years. This is to give parents time:
- to gain insight into and an appreciation of why they are “stuck” in conflict
- to be able to reflect on their observations, and understand the potentially harmful effects of inter-parental conflict for their children (and themselves), and
- to establish and use new strategies of communication, with the objective of achieving long-lasting and sustainable change.
A parenting coordinator has multiple roles, included but not limited to:
- an educator and coach – to assist parents to understand the effects of chronic inter-parental conflict, to help them work towards reducing it and establishing more positive methods of communication, as well as acting as the voice of the child
- a mediator – to assist parents in conflict to implement their parenting plan, to monitor compliance with the details of the plan and to resolve conflicts regarding their children and the parenting plan in a timely and constructive manner
- as decision maker – if necessary, to make binding decisions on the parents’ behalf if they are stuck on a particular point
- signposting – working in a complementary way with other professionals involved with the family, such as the solicitors or barristers representing them. For example, if parents need ongoing independent legal advice or want to amend an order, the parenting coordinator will refer them back to their solicitor or barrister as appropriate. If parents need a particular form of support, such as to help manage an addiction, to ensure the right professionals are engaged and supporting the family.
The overall objective of parenting coordination is to help parents protect and sustain safe, healthy and meaningful parent-child relationships. Ultimately, parenting coordinators wish to move from their initial primary role as an authoritative figure, to one in which they are offering a “behind the scenes” supportive role, and finally to one in which their services are no longer required.
Parenting coordinators do not:
- give legal advice to parents, other than generic an impartial guidance permitted under their overriding professional guides to good practice
- make decisions that should be made under the Children Act 1989. For example, the parenting coordinator can help parents to decide how dividing the school holidays equally will look in practice i.e. implementing a clause in their court order, but must not change the substance of the court order itself
- act as arbitrators pursuant to the Arbitration Act 1996. A parenting coordinator’s decision-making function is confined to decision making on elements of implementation within the scope of the court order or parenting agreement. The power to make a decision on behalf of the parties flows from the contractual authority given by the parents to the parenting coordinator when the Parenting Coordination Agreement is signed. If appropriate, a parenting coordinator can refer the parents to an arbitrator
- offer therapeutic services, but will signpost parents accordingly
- become a third parent – a parenting coordinator seeks to empower parents to take control, change their own narrative and make decisions for their own benefit, rather than acting as a go-between.
The first parenting coordinators trained in England and Wales in 2018 with the FLiP Faculty. In this jurisdiction, parenting coordination will be a voluntary process, although it is anticipated that family judges may encourage parents to engage a PC when it is appropriate to do so.
Does the evidence show that parenting coordination improves outcomes for parents and children?
There is evidence to support the positive effects of coming into the parenting coordination process:
- A report published in July 2012, entitled ‘Perspectives of Parenting Coordination; Views on Parenting Coordinators, Attorneys, and Judicial Members’ looked at cases in Florida to assess the effectiveness of parenting coordination from the point of view of attorneys, judges and parenting coordinators. Megan Hunter, of the High Conflict Institute, reported that: “In a nutshell, the report found that the legal professionals who utilize it have an overwhelmingly positive view of its ability to reduce parental conflict, move cases more quickly through the court, help children, assist in the time-sharing process, improve joint decision- making, and increase parental communication.”1
- In the same article, Megan Hunter summarises findings from another study, which addressed the efficiency of a parenting coordination program from the clients’ perspective and measured the reductions in court applications if parents had engaged a parenting coordinator. The study showed there was a 48.27% reduction in total court applications made. Drilling deeper, the results showed a specific reduction of 75% for child related court applications and 40% for all other types of court application. Although the study indicated that the number of court applications reduced with the use of a parenting coordinator, it also revealed it works really well for some families, but not every family. 2
- Robert Emery Ph.D., a leading US based psychological scientist, clinical psychologist and divorce mediator has reported the long-term positive effects for parents and children of participating in mediation, which is a core component of parenting coordination. See our inter-parental conflict page for more information about his research, which he has described as probably the most important of his career.
- Parenting Coordination and Skills for High-Conflict Families, Megan Hunter, MBA, and Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. (2014), High Conflict Institute
- Parenting Coordination and Skills for High-Conflict Families, Megan Hunter, MBA, and Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. (2014), High Conflict Institute, citing O’Hara Brewster, Karey, Beck, Connie, J. A., Anderson, Edward R., Benjamin, G., Andrew, H. Evaluating Parenting Coordination Programs: Encouraging results from Pilot Testing a Research Methodology. Journal of Child Custody, 2011 Vol. 8 Iss. 4.