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.