Earlier this year, we blogged about of our colleague, Aaron Weems' post on our firm's Pennsylvania Family Law Blog, which advised that any recommendations by a parent coordinator would be given a de novo review by a court. A de novo review means that the Court is taking a completely fresh look at the issue and is not obligated to make or accept the same conclusions, interpretations, or issue the same Order as the prior level did (in this case, the Parent Coordinator); their job is to look at all of the information as though it is brand new to everyone and reach a decision based on the evidence presented.
Only judges may make decisions in child custody cases. Masters and hearing officers may make recommendations to the court. Courts shall not appoint any other individual to make decisions or recommendations or alter a custody order in child custody cases. Any order appointing a parenting coordinator shall be deemed vacated on the date this rule becomes effective (Editor’s Note: May 23, 2013)....
Aaron noted that this ended the quasi-judicial role of parent coordinators. He also wondered whether this would result in increased enforcement and modification proceedings.
As I noted when commenting on Aaron's prior post regarding the de novo review:
Isn't that was it supposed to happen in NJ? Under the now defunct Parent Coordination Pilot Program which we have blogged on many times in the past, recommendations of a parent coordinator, if accepted, were to immediately become a court order. However, either of both parties objected, either or both could bring the matter to the court for review. That said, it really wasn't a de novo review because the court would have the recommendation made by the parent coordinator. All too often, thought the judge is not supposed to defer to the parent coordinator, this is exactly what happened,
So bravo to Pennsylvania for requiring a true de novo review, where judicial authority is not abdicated to a third party and evidence is actually considered. On the other hand, a malevolent party will object to every recommendation, totally vitiating the purpose of a parent coordinator in the first place, and causing the other party to incur fees, first for the parent coordination and then for the inevitable subsequent litigation.
As I blogged previously, New Jersey, while ending the pilot program, does not preclude the appointment of parent coordinators. If courts defer blindly to the recommendations of parent coordinators, without thoroughly reviewing the issues, will New Jersey be next to totally bar their use?
Eric Solotoff is the editor of the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and the Co-Chair of the Family Law Practice Group of Fox Rothschild LLP. Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Lawyer and a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys, Eric practices in Fox Rothschild's Roseland, New Jersey office though he practices throughout New Jersey. You can reach Eric at (973)994-7501, or email@example.com.