Whether it is because of busy dockets or the fact that the issues could be hard to decide, especially without a plenary hearing, the use of parent coordinators (PC) began becoming more frequent about 10 years ago. Sometimes it was by consent but other times, it was foisted upon warring parties whether they wanted it
The Summer season can truly be the best time of the year with the kids out of school, great weather, barbecues, pools, baseball and more. Divorced parents, however, often experience stress and conflict at a time when they really just want to sit back and unwind. For those parents, here are a few of the…
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…
Aaron Weems is an attorney in our Blue Bell (Montgomery County), Pennsylvania office and editor of the firm’s Pennsylvania Family Law Blog wrote an excellent post entitled "Trial Court Must Conduct De Novo Hearings on Parent Coordination Appeals." As Aaron notes:
A de novo review means that the Court is taking a completely fresh look
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…
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 of the hardest questions to answer for a client is why a Court doesn’t enforce their own Orders. The next hardest questions to answer are if they found the other side in violation of litigant’s rights, (1) why weren’t there any real consequences for the violation of the order and (2) why didn’t I get counsel fees. The Court Rules suggest that a litigant is entitled to counsel fees if they are required to come to court to enforce an Order. In addition, the court rules in the family part also include numerous provisions, including the imposition of monetary sanctions and counsel fees, for violation of a parenting time (visitation) Order.
As such, it was interesting to see the unreported decision in the case of Friedman v. Friedman decided on March 7, 2011 wherein an awarded of sanctions for violating a parenting time order was affirmed by the Appellate Division. In this case, the father asserted that the mother violated the parties’ parenting schedule when she "signed both children out of school and drove them to [Virginia]." As a result, the father sought sanctions against the mother "for making unilateral changes" to the parenting schedule "and for failing to cooperate with the recommendations of the Parenting coordinator." The trial judge found that the mother violated the parties’ parenting schedule and the recommendations of the parent coordinator by extending "the children’s time with her, in Virginia." As a result, the mother was ordered ordered to pay the father $500.00 as a sanction plus reimburse him for his costs to file and serve the motion. The decision was based upon the court’s finding that the mother had a history of failing to cooperate with the plaintiff. In addition, the mother’s request to relieve the current parent coordinator was denied.
Following on the heels of Eric Solotoff’s recent blog entry addressing the use of parenting coordinators, a new published (precedential) decision from the Appellate Division talks about grievances against parenting coordinators, parenting coordinator fees, and the need for a plenary hearing to address such issues. In Segal v. Lynch, the Appellate Division addressed these issues in the context of a long, acrimonious history of events simply regarding the parenting coordinator’s involvement in the highly contentious matter.
Soon after the trial court appointed the parenting coordinator pursuant to the Parenting Coordinator Pilot Program, the plaintiff called for the coordinators removal from the matter because the coordinator had contacted the trial judge to clarify the terms of an order. In response to the plaintiff’s indication that he would file a motion to have her recused, the coordinator pointed plaintiff to the Grievance Procedure outlined in the Pilot Program Guidelines, which required that plaintiff specifically outline his grievances to the coordinator before notifying the trial court. A major issue of contention at both the trial level and on appeal was the parenting coordinator’s indication that she would charge the plaintiff for her time taken to respond to his numerous grievances.
After the grievances could not be resolved, the plaintiff submitted his grievance letter to the trial judge, who issued an Order to Show Cause why the coordinator should not continue in the matter and why plaintiff should not pay the coordinator’s fees owed. The trial judge ultimately found for the coordinator, concluding that the plaintiff’s grievances were without merit and that the coordinator herself had acted "professionally and admirably" under very difficult circumstances.