By: Amanda Glowacki
The use of parenting coordinators is something our office is seeing more and more in domestic relations cases in the Indianapolis area. Like mediation or collaborative law, there is a demand for alternative means of resolving domestic relations cases outside of court. Where appropriate, I believe that Parenting Coordinators can be very beneficial to parents who have high conflict on routine issues. These are issues that that are not necessarily suited for a judge to decide such as parenting time exchanges, daycare, etc.
A Parenting Coordinator (PC) is a court-appointed “special master” tasked to assist parents with the development, implementation, and monitoring of parenting plans in hopes of reducing re-litigation. PCs also help parties and their children adjust to divorce and resolve impasses between parents. Most PCs have experience with family law issues whether it is as an attorney, counselor, or mental health professional. A PC’s authority is specifically defined by the Court through an Order of Appointment prepared by the parties and their attorneys. The order outlines which matters a PC can address as well as confidentiality, length of appointment, authority to request information, fees, etc.
Although I think that PCs can be wonderful at reducing conflict, I do not think they are not meant for everyone. I typically only recommend them to high conflict parents who have parenting issues that might otherwise force them to have repeated hearings or mediations. While many clients believe that they are high conflict, truly high conflict couples are those whose disputes are frequent and often crisis-oriented. With high conflict couples, one or both of the parties appear to the other as demanding, highly emotional and reactive to the point that you are unable to make simple decisions together. They will have ongoing conflict through continuous routine disputes over parenting time and face inflexibility by either or both of the parents. These are the couples that cannot resolve their issues without the assistance of their attorneys and the litigation process.
Looking that the Indiana PC Guidelines, PCs are intended to be used in the following:
• disputes about different interpretations of an order, Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines or parenting plans which need to be resolved in a timely manner; e.g., vacation/holiday schedules, transportation to and from visits, methods of pick-up and delivery, extracurricular activities, childcare, first right of refusal, and withholding visitation;
• accusations of neglect or abuse, which place the children in a situation of emotional risk;
• parents with severe personality disorders who are locked in impasses and are chronically litigating;
• consistent unsubstantiated allegations by one parent of misconduct on the part of the other parent, such as poor judgment, safety issues, abuse, and violence; and • a history of alleged or actual alienating tactics, or alienation of the child from a parent.
Often, when I suggest intervention of a PC, many parents fear they will lose the power to make decisions about their children. However, a PC’s first priority is to make reasonable efforts for parents to resolve their disputes themselves. When that is not possible, the PC (depending on what level of authority they are given) may offer a recommendation that decides the issue and is binding unless one of the parents brings the matter to the Court for a hearing. The PC invites each parent to present his and her evidence/opinion and tries to facilitate a mutually agreed upon decision. PCs may also have the authority to gather additional information as necessary. Additionally, Level 3 PC’s have authority to select and manage a treatment team for parents and the children who may need to attend counseling or therapy.
A final key to remember with PCs is that their services are not to be considered mandatory divorce counseling or therapy. Once a PC has met the parties and has an idea of what their issues are, he/she will either schedule ongoing contacts with you via regularly scheduled sessions, phone consultations, or e-mail consultations as needed to meet the requirements of the Court order. Most of the time, a PC will only be around as much as they are needed. Their goal is to get the parents to a point where they can co-parent effectively on their own.
The attorneys of Harden Jackson Law are devoted to servicing clients throughout the Indianapolis area and the state of Indiana in all areas family law, including divorce, custody, child support, property division, paternity, post-divorce modifications, prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, simple wills, adoption, surrogacy and other areas of assisted reproductive technology law.