Parent Coordinators and Their Role and Limitations Regarding Custody and Visitation

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Ann Cascanett

If you are involved in a high conflict divorce or high conflict custody battle with the other parent of your child a parent coordinator can be very helpful. If the Court has not suggested a parent coordinator to assist in custody and visitation disputes it should be an option that you consider and request. A parent coordinator can assist in avoiding ongoing conflicts, possible contempt charges, and expensive legal fees.

A parent coordinator is a neutral party that generally has a background in family law, mental health, mediation, and/or other relevant fields who assist separated or divorced parents in resolving conflicts that arise in the implementation of custody and visitation arrangements or orders in a manner that reduces the impact of the parents’ conflict on their children. For instance, parent coordinators can help to resolve disputes about “day-to-day” custody and visitation issues. Such as determining how to adjust visitation if school is unexpectedly canceled, which family members will attend a special event such as an award ceremony or athletic competition, whether both parents may attend a parent-teacher conference or how accommodations will be made if a parent or child becomes ill.

As parents with the best of your child or children at heart one of your primary goals after the safety, security and health of your child or children should be to reduce the conflict between yourself and the other parent, as no child likes to be stuck in the middle of two feuding parents. Even if you and the other parent try to keep your child or children out of the disputes it is inevitable that they are aware of it and have strong feelings as a result of the ongoing conflict. Thus, a parent coordinator can be a very helpful tool when there is high conflict regarding a child or children between separated or divorced parents.

Nonetheless, you should be aware of your rights and that a parent coordinators role can be limited. In September of this year the Supreme Judicial Court, the highest court in Massachusetts, stated that Judges of the Probate and Family Court do have the authority to appoint a parent coordinator where doing so can conserve limited judicial resources, aid in the probate court’s functioning and capacity to decide cases, or if such referral is necessary to ensure the best interests of the children in a divorce or custody related proceeding. However, it also ruled that a Court could not order parties to submit to a parent coordinator or be bound by the decisions of a parent coordinator without the agreement of the parties.

Thus, parents involved in high conflict custody and visitation disputes should consider and request the assistance of a parent coordinator for the benefit of their child. However, it is imperative that you understand the parent coordinator’s limitations in ordering resolution of conflicts between parents.

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