What is the Purpose of a Parenting Coordinator?

Making day-to-day parenting decisions can be difficult enough in an intact family.  I grew up in a family that allowed me to watch PG or even PG 13 movies at a young age.  My wife recalls not realizing Disney movies had villains until she was much older—her mother would fast-forward through the “scary” seasons. 

With the newest Star Wars out, for instance, there was some discussion about whether my older daughter was too old to accompany me to the theater.  It’s a little issue, but even with two parents in an intact relationship raised much more debate (about appropriate parenting) than anticipated.  The same small issue might arise when your 9 year old son asks to have a soda instead of milk at a party.  One parent might think it is alright while the other might object.  

In a New Jersey divorce, parents are generally given joint legal custody.  This means that the parents should both collaborate together on important wide-ranging (in other words, not day-to-day) decisions such as deciding a child’s religion, educational decisions, and the like. Parents are then generally given wide-latitude in raising their children as they see fit (assuming nothing rising to the level of abuse or illegality occurs) during their own parenting time.

For instance, if the 9 year old son asks for soda while at his mother’s then the answer may be “yes,” and while at his father’s the answer may be no.  While this “two separate homes, two separate sets of rules” may be somewhat confusing to children from divorced families, it is also not wholly untethered from what many children experience (children will instinctively know which parent they can manipulate better in a specific circumstance).    

But what if these smaller, day-to-day issues begin to fester and the divorced or separated parents lack the desire or ability to negotiate such issues together?  In such instances, the parties may agree (or the court may appoint) what is known as a parenting coordinator. 

As defined in the Overview section of the Program Standards for the Parenting Coordinator Guidelines (Pilot Program, 2007), 

A Parenting Coordinator is a qualified neutral person appointed by the court, or agreed to by the parties,
to facilitate the resolution of day to day parenting issues that frequently arise within the
context of family life when parents are separated. The court may appoint a Parenting
Coordinator at any time during a case involving minor children after a parenting plan has
been established when the parties cannot resolve these issues on their own. The
Parenting Coordinator’s goal is to aid parties in monitoring the existing parenting plan,
reducing misunderstandings, clarifying priorities, exploring possibilities for compromise and
developing methods of communication that promote collaboration in parenting. The
Parenting Coordinator’s role is to facilitate decision making between the parties or make
such recommendations, as may be appropriate, when the parties are unable to do so. One
primary goal of the Parenting Coordinator is to empower parents to develop and utilize
effective parenting skills so that they can resume the parenting and decision making role
without the need for outside intervention. The Parenting Coordinator should provide
guidance and direction to the parties with the primary focus on the best interests of the
child by reducing conflict and fostering sound decisions that aid positive child
development.

The “Pilot” program for parenting coordinators ended in 2012 in New Jersey (although courts may still appoint them and parties may still agree to utilize them).  In 2013, Pennsylvania family courts essentially barred the use of parenting coordinators.  The use of such coordinators in New Jersey has thus waxed and waned over the years.  Nevertheless, this role (often filled by an individual with mental health, social work, or divorce law background) still remains an option—and at times something foisted upon parties whether they desire the use of such a “referee” or not.

It should also be noted that the primary role of such coordinators is to facilitate communication between the divorced parties regarding parenting issues. The parenting coordinator cannot take the place of a judge and cannot enforce or modify any orders, but rather should attempt to work within the confines and parameters of any active agreements between the parties. 

Conclusion

Parenting coordinators may thus make an expected (or not so expected) cameo in a New Jersey divorce proceeding or respecting post-judgment issues.  It’s important to have an understanding of their purpose should you consider their use or be ordered by the Court to utilize such services. 

So, what do you think, would a parenting coordinator side me with on bringing my nearly 5 year old daughter to see the Last Jedi at the movie theater or not? 

If you’re considering a New Jersey divorce or Family Law action contact me to discuss your options.  You can schedule an initial consultation by calling my office at 908-237-3096 or by scheduling your own divorce consultation online by clicking here.