An issue that has vexed us in the past is whether the rules enacted by the Supreme Court regarding parent coordinators were to be applied to all parent coordinators appointed by the Court. In 2006, the New Jersey Supreme Court implemented a pilot program in four vicinages (Bergen, Morris/Sussex, Union and Middlesex) for parenting coordinators. The link above provides the Supreme Court mandated guidelines and procedures which have also been discussed on this blog previously.
The problem arose when a parenting coordinator was appointed outside of one of those vicinages. To my chagrin, I have heard judges state and lawyers argue that since their vicinage was outside of the pilot program, they did not have to follow the guidelines. This was often in the context of a court improperly vesting a parent coordinator with authority which approached or could be argued to be an abdication of the judicial role.
Finally, we have an answer to this question in the reported (precedential) case of Milne v. Goldenberg decided on September 12, 2012. The case seems like a never ending, "war of the roses" type custody battle and also has some interesting discussion regarding the role of a Guardian ad Litem and procedures related thereto. That said, the parent coordinate issue was addressed because the court appointed an attorney who was not on the court approved, pilot program parenting coordinator list.
One party objected to this and of course, the other party argued that since the case was in Essex County, the pilot program rules did not apply. The Appellate Division disagreed, holding:
We conclude parties to a matrimonial dispute may agree to comply with defined obligations regarding their use of a PC, which do not violate the public policy of this State. However, any Family Part judge ordering the appointment of a PC must comply with the Supreme Court’s established Guidelines. Because the Guidelines were not followed, that provision in the March 23, 2010 order is reversed.
Judge Lihotz’s well reasoned rationale for this decision was as follows:
The use of a PC is designed to aid parents by providing a different forum to discuss parenting problems. The use of a PC may not substitute for a judge’s determination in contested parenting issues pending before the Family Part. Parish v. Parish, 412 N.J. Super. 39, 53 (App. Div. 2010).
Although we are aware of no reported authority binding a non-pilot county to the Guidelines, we have no hesitation in ordering such a result. The pilot program is designed "to test the parenting coordinator concept," Notice to the Bar, supra, 18
N.J.L.J. 169, which was developed after receipt of input from judges, lawyers, mental health professionals, and other interested persons. The Guidelines establish the Supreme Court’s operational details for a uniform approach to
appointment of PCs and impose purposeful boundaries on the PC role and those providing PC services.
Thus, this opinion clearly can be applied not only to the selection of a PC in non-pilot counties, but also, but to force all parent coordinators to follow the guidelines established by the Supreme Court, uniformly throughout the state.
It’s about time.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.