I have written a bunch on this blog about the use of parent coordinators. In fact, one of the most read blog posts on this blog, almost 4 years after it was initially published, is titled The Futility of Parent Coordination When a Parent Coordinator Wont be Decisive. Another one, from 2022, addresses the fact that judges cannot give Parent Coordinators binding decision making authority
That all said, today I saw a new unreported (non-precedential) Appellate Division case today (Tzoumas v. Tzoumas) that is largely unremarkable other than a particular quote, which I will discuss in a second, where the Appellate Division that they don’t know the answer to a reasonably fundamental question.
In this post-judgment case, where the court noted that, “the parties have had a contentious relationship and numerous disputes concerning their children”, the court appointed the parent coordinator recommended by the Guardian Ad Litem, after the parties could not agree on who to use for the role.
The Appellate Division noted the basics and history:
Family judges have the authority to appoint a parenting coordinator. See Sup. Ct. of N.J., Notice to the Bar: Parenting Coordinators – Conclusion of Pilot Program: Continued Authority to Appoint in Individual Cases, (Nov. 13, 2012) (2012 Notice). In March 2007, our Supreme Court established a pilot program for parenting coordinators in four vicinages. See Sup. Ct. of N.J., Notice to the Bar: Parenting Coordinator Pilot Program, (Apr. 2, 2007) (2007 Notice). Four years later, in November 2012, the pilot program concluded, and family judges were authorized to “continue to appoint [p]arenting [c]oordinators in specific cases in any vicinage.” 2012 Notice. (Emphasis added)
The court then noted, if appointed, the parenting coordinator must “be qualified to serve either by consent of the parties or by the court in the same manner as other experts.” Further, the court noted that under the pilot program, if the parties could not agree on a particular, coordinator, the court could appoint one on its own from an approved roster of qualified individuals maintained by the Administrative Office of the Courts. Further, the court noted that “To qualify for that roster, an individual needed to be “a social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist, or marriage and family therapist who shall be licensed to practice in the State of New Jersey by the appropriate State board and agencies.” However, once the pilot program ended, so did the approved roster.
So the question arose, for which the Appellate Division didn’t have an answer, was whether a Parent Coordinator now has to have the same qualifications as those who could qualify for the roster when it existed. Their answer to that question boggled my mind, a bit. Specifically, the Court stated:
Consequently, it is not clear that a parenting coordinator now appointed by a family judge needs to meet the same criteria established by the pilot program.
Undeterred, the court sidestepped the issue by finding (1) that the trial court has the authority to appoint a parent coordinator without the parties’ consent and (2) the objecting party did not object to the appointed parent coordinator’s credentials. That’s all well and good but shouldn’t the basic issue of who can serve as a Parent Coordinator be something that is available to courts and litigants alike? Otherwise, seemingly the court could appoint anyone and the parties would not have objective criteria to oppose an appointment.
Eric Solotoff is the editor of the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and the Co-Chair of the Family Law Department 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 is resident in Fox Rothschild’s Morristown, New Jersey office though he practices throughout New Jersey. You can reach Eric at (973) 994-7501, or firstname.lastname@example.org.