What is Parenting Coordination and When is it Useful?
At the conclusion of a divorce case, parties with children in common should receive a document called a “Parenting Plan” (the “Plan”). The Plan lays out a regular visitation schedule, a holiday visitation schedule, responsibility for transportation, and much more information about how you and your former spouse will co-parent.
Ideally, both parties understand the terms of the Plan, and are ready to be healthy co-parents with effective communication. However, you both are individuals with differing opinions, who divorced. So what happens when there are differing opinions about how to interpret or apply the Plan?
What happens when communication about parenting decisions breaks down?
Parenting coordination can be a wonderful resource in this situation. It was developed as a non-adversarial alternative to litigation, whose aim is to provide a child-focused dispute resolution option for parents. The express goal of parenting coordination is to shield children from interparental conflict.
A parenting coordinator is an impartial third party, appointed by the court, or agreed to by the parties, whose role is to assist the parties in successfully creating or implementing a parenting plan. This person is commonly a licensed mental health professional, however, a parenting coordinator may also be an attorney or a doctor. A parenting coordinator must complete both a family mediation training program and parenting coordination training. Florida Statute §61.125(5) enumerates the qualifications necessary to be a parenting coordinator.
How is a parenting coordinator paid?
Parenting coordinators do charge for their time, traditionally on an hourly basis. The parties can agree on the allocation of responsibility of fees, or the court can determine the allocation on their behalf. Most often the fees are split equally between the parties. Therefore, instead of each party incurring their own attorney’s fees, they share in the cost of one parenting coordinator – a significant cost saver.
The parenting coordinator meets with the parents, either together or separately, in person or virtually, and aids in establishing healthy communication protocols to resolve their disagreements. Coordinators provide education and make recommendations to the parties. In Florida, however, the coordinator does not make decisions for the parents. This is different than in several other states where the coordinators are given the power, by statute, to make decisions for the parents when they cannot reach a mutual decision.
Janice Rosen, LCSW, an experienced parenting coordinator in Naples, Florida, is careful to point out to her clients that she has no legal power to “enforce,” but rather her job is to help parents honor the agreements they already made (i.e. their Parenting Plan) and to “fine-tune,” by mutual agreement, areas of the plan where the parents may interpret things differently.
Are conversations with a parenting coordinator kept confidential?
Confidentiality is an important aspect of parenting coordination. It is a necessary component in order to build trust between the parents and the coordinator, and between the parents themselves. Except for limited situations outlined in Fla. Stat. §61.125(8), all communications made by, between, or among the parties, participants, and the parenting coordinator during parenting coordination sessions are confidential.
Additionally, except for limited situations provided for in the statute, the parenting coordinator, participants, and each party designated in the order appointing the coordinator, may not testify or offer evidence about communications made by, between, or among the parties, participants, and the parenting coordinator during parenting coordination sessions.
If there comes a time when you and your former spouse reach an impasse, and cannot reach a meeting of the minds regarding a parenting decision, parenting coordination can offer a cooperative, child-centered, confidential, and cost effective pathway to resolution.
Jennifer Siegal-Miller may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 239-344-1386.