Yesterday, Judge Grant, the Acting Administrative Director of the Courts, announced that effective November 26, 2012, the Parenting Coordinator Pilot Program would be ending. The notice further provides that judges may still appoint parenting coordinators (PCs) and even provides model, but not mandatory, Orders for the their appointment.
To those who oppose the use parenting coordinators, they may see this announcement as a victory of sorts. However, I would not start jumping for joy, right away. The good thing about the pilot program is that there were at least published guidelines approved by the New Jersey Supreme Court that could be followed. In fact, as I wrote on this blog in September of this year we learned from the Milne v. Goldenberg reported decision that even in non-pilot program counties, if a PC was appointed, the Pilot Program guidelines had to be followed. Query how this provision of the Milne case jibes with the above announcement but only time will tell.
If the Guidelines don’t apply, are we going to return to a wild west environment like we had before the Guidelines? In fact, I blogged about the pre-Guidelines madness all the way back in 2008. As I noted then, 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.
The problem was that there was no uniformity to what this person, whatever they were called, could do. Even Pre-Milne but post-Guidelines, I had cases where parent coordinators in non-Pilot Program counties were vested with incredible powers bordering on, if not crossing the line of the abdication of judicial authority, which is not supposed to happen.
Only time will tell whether the role of parent coordinator will go the way of the dinosaurs or go back to the free for all that existed pre-Guidelines. Until then, we watch and hope that the dissolution of the Guidelines will not make things worse, instead of better.
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.