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NJ Family Legal Blog Pertinent Information As It Relates To New Jersey Family Laws

HIGH CONFLICT DIVORCES: PARENT COORDINATORS AND OTHER PROFESSIONALS ENLISTED TO HELP WITH PARENTING TIME ISSUES

Posted in Custody, Practice Issues, Visitation/Parenting Time

Over the years, judges began to make numerous appointments to attempt to, if not rid the courts, at least create a buffer for parenting and visitation issues that arose daily/weekly/monthly in high conflict divorce and post-divorce matters.  Sometimes the professional was called a parent coordinator, other times it was a therapeutic monitor, a mediator, a parenting coach, etc.  The role was generally the same, that is, to present these issues to a neutral third party that had either a legal or mental health background, or both, to assist the parties work out the differences and in many instances, make recommendations if they could not. 

These appointments were being done even though there was no specific authority for the appointments in the Court Rules or statutes.  In April of 2007, the Supreme Court started a parent coordinator pilot program in four vicinages, Morris/Sussex, Bergen, Middlesex and Union. To see the Notice from the Supreme Court and the standard form of parent coordinator Order, click here.

The Court saw the program to serve the following purpose:  "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."

Parent coordinators cannot be appointed in cases where there is a domestic violence restraining order.

A court cannot abdicate it’s authority to a parent coordinator nor can a parent coordinator modify an Order or parenting plan, except for temporary and/or minor changes.  There are there to make recommendations regarding day to day issues, time sensitive issues and issues regarding minor issues.  They cannot make recommendations regarding custody. 

Another tool to assist regarding parenting time issues is reunification therapy. This is typically done when one party has been estranged from a child due to their conduct or perhaps the conduct of the other parent.

Further tools are supervised therapeutic visitation or  therapeutic monitoring.  In these instances, because of a parent’s conduct,  a court orders the parenting time to take place before a mental health professional in order to safeguard the children from the parent’s conduct.  In these cases, the therapist can cease the session if the conduct is inappropriate and/or correct the conduct of the parent. 

Another tool that has been used is therapeutic mediation.  In this case, a mental health professional serves as a mediator.  I have seen this defined as an approach that assists families in dealing with emotional issues in high conflict divorces in order to develop more effective communication, cooperation, and co-parenting practice.   Another goal can be to help the children cope with their parents post divorce actions and interactions. 

In short, there are many tools to assist the high conflict custody and parenting time matter.  Picking the right one is the key.  If you and your spouse cannot do it, a court just might.

  • Anonymous

    The Parenting Coordinator is a joke. It is simply another method for an attorney or psycho-socio \”professional\” to charge you, for nothing. My Parenting Coordinator (PC)went on vacation for three months and did not advise me or my ex. In fact, when called on whether he was out on vacation, he denied it saying the reason why he did not get involved was because we were working things out so well with each other. In the meantime, my ex took the opportunity to cheat me out of holiday parenting time, withdraw our child from school activities for weeks without telling me, steal clothing I purchased and refuse to turn over our child\’s school books for class. All of these issues are day to day issues that need to be addressed timely. When I communicated with the PC, he never responded, so I complained to the court who didn\’t want to be bothered and chastised me for failing to wait it out with the PC. Meanwhile my kid is getting poor grades, not being allowed to attend extra-curricular activties etc… Lesson learned…No one wants to be bothered with your day to day battles. Not the PC and definately not the court. You\’re out there on your own and you need to think creatively to get your ex-spouse to do what is right for the child. The PC has never met with my kid and doesn\’t seem concerned that the kid has a definate negative impression of my ex as an undependable person, who is more interested in getting back at me by using his own child, than helping the kid. It is very difficult to get rid of a PC even one as bad as this. The PC in my case has gone as far as to make recommendations on our equitable distribution of property that has nothing to do with parenting. When I objected to his involvment, he said he had every right because it affected our attitude towards one another which in turn affected the child. He then demanded that we meet on it, which he then advised would require me to be prepared to show up at his office with another retainer check. It has been two years of having this guy and he has never produced a bill. Yet everytime he decides we must meet (I can\’t refuse because I don\’t want to appear the \”uncooperative parent\”) I have to pay him for doing nothing. It is such a racket.

  • Kent

    Agreed. Parent Coordination is a \”dumping ground\” for the courts. I to had a PC appointed by the court. For months both the PC and my daughter\’s therapist would tell me how \”estranged\” and \”alienated\” my daughter was from me due to my ex-wifes behavior patterns. The PC was to handle the reunification therapy.. never took place. She did not put togther a schedule of time, nor one progrees report to the court. After meeting with good therapists like Dr. Bone and Dr. Darnall that handled alinated children, they brough to my attention numerous mistakes made by the PC and my daughter\’s therapist. Get\’s even better, we find out later that the therapsist and PC have a very intimate relationship with one another.. the therapist is the good father of the PC kid!!! Talk about a conflict of interest!! After 16 months of paying for both.. over 10K… nothing and i mean nothing has changed. The exwife still plays the ame games and continues to do what she wants, when she wants. Now our daughter is fully involved in the campaign. I\’m back in court again next month. The PC process has a very long way to go before it should be implemented by the courts. Unfortunaltley, many of these therapsist pray upon families in need. The courts need to step up tpo the plate and enforce their own orders… get some backbone already.

  • Michael

    there are alot of therapists jumping on the PC bandwagon becuse it is a money makeer for them. many therapists claim to have experience in the parent coordination arena, however, they do not. there are not statuesor laws in place to guide the PC process. that initself is a big mistake.

  • mary

    I am searching for the answers to my Parent coordinator problems. I have to agree with these comments that it is just a money making scheme. My Parent coordinator has made matters worse. He is not impartial and has made decisions that he admits are harmful to my kids but in the interest of avoiding conflicts with my ex and daycare providers etc. he had made a decision that is unjust. In other words he has let my ex off the hook for common decency and payment for daycare services rendered. It is totally a joke!!! and I\’m paying for it and there doesn\’t seem to be a way to get rid of them.