I have written many times over the years regarding parent coordination, both during and after the end of the Supreme Court pilot program. A parent coordinator is a person, sometimes a mental health professional and sometimes a lawyer, that is appointed to assist parties in high conflict custody disputes. The description and function of
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…
For whatever reason, it is not unusual for a Marital Settlement Agreement and/or Custody Agreement to have a mediation clause in it which requires parties to go to mediation before bringing an issue to the Court by way or motion. For some issues, like enforcement, one questions the obligation to go to mediation. Either someone violated the agreement or they didn’t. Other issues require a more swift decision and mediation could only slow the resolution down, especially for the party who might benefit from the delay. And while we see these clauses all of the time, I have also seen many judges ignore the clause and adjudicate the dispute.
This, however, is not what happened in the Decilveo n/k/a Woolf v. Decilveo case decided today by the Appellate Division in an unreported (non-precedential) opinion. In this case, the parties divorce agreement stated:
In the event that any differences arise out of the interpretation, construction or
operation of this Agreement, the parties further specifically agree as follows:
(a) They shall first attempt in good faith to resolve such differences amicably and directly with each other, retaining the right to seek advice of counsel;
(b) If they are unable to resolve any dispute between themselves or with the assistance of counsel, or through mediation, either side may submit same to a Court of competent jurisdiction for resolution.
Arguably, this provision does not appear to specifically apply to enforcement or modification, two major parts of this litigation but the trial judge interpreted the agreement broadly, forcing the parties to mediation to address their numerous disputes.
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.
Parent Coordinators in New Jersey are nothing new and have been an arrow in the quiver of judges for years to address high…
The article describes how the woman tried to keep the father and his daughters apart for weeks at a time and that she even falsely…