Parenting coordination is a child-focused dispute resolution process for separated families that deals with parenting disputes arising after an agreement or order has been made about parental responsibilities, parenting time, or contact. Parenting coordinators are experienced family law lawyers, mental health professionals (counsellors, social workers, family therapists, and psychologists), mediators, and arbitrators.
This section provides a provides a brief introduction to parenting coordination, an overview of the process, and links to some additional resources on parenting coordination.
Parents who have a separation agreement or court order that establishes a parenting plan but are still fighting over the details may seek the assistance of a parenting coordinator to help resolve their disputes instead of repeatedly getting the courts involved. A parenting coordinator may be appointed by agreement or by order of the court. As with all family dispute resolution professionals, the parenting coordinator will meet with the parties separately prior to starting the process to screen for the presence of family violence.
What a parenting coordinator is
A parenting coordinator has specialized training in family law, mediation, arbitration, communications skills development, high conflict family dynamics, and child development. Parenting coordinators are governed by the Family Law Act, and the Family Law Act Regulation. In British Columbia, the BC Parenting Coordinators Roster Society administers a roster of parenting coordinators who have met additional standards of training and experience and who abide by established practice guidelines.
What a parenting coordinator does
Regardless of how detailed a parenting plan or order may be, some parents repeatedly find things to argue about. This kind of parental behaviour has a particularly negative impact on children. A parenting coordinator can be useful in minimizing that conflict by coaching parents on how to:
- manage conflict,
- make better parenting decisions,
- compromise positions in the best interests of their children.
If that doesn't work, the parenting coordinator will mediate or, as a last resort, arbitrate the dispute between the parents. The long term goal of the parenting coordinator is to improve the parents' ability to communicate, problem solve, and make parenting decisions in a healthy and supportive way, without the need for third party interventions like a parenting coordinator or frequent applications to court. That goal may not be attainable for some parents.
Some examples of what a parenting coordinator may do are:
- settling disputes or ambiguities about parenting schedules, extra-curricular activities, travel arrangements, holidays, and special events,
- resolving issues about how child expenses will be paid,
- deciding what school a child will attend,
- determining if a child needs tutoring, therapy, or routine medical treatment, and
- working out a protocol for a child’s belongings, inter-parent communications, parent-child communications, and attendance at a child's events.
What a parenting coordinator doesn't do
A parenting coordinator does not:
- make original parenting plans or parenting orders,
- make decisions changing custody or guardianship agreements or orders,
- deal with property division, spousal support, or child support (with the possible exception of special expenses),
- deal with relocation.
How the parenting coordinator works
A parenting coordinator is appointed by agreement or court order. The appointing agreement or order should specify who is being appointed and a deadline for signing the parenting coordination agreement and making payment of the required deposits and retainers. A list of parenting coordinators is available at the website of the BC Parenting Coordinators Roster Society. Some parenting coordinators invite parents to a short meeting to discuss the parenting coordinator's role prior to the formal appointment. This meeting might have a fixed cost or no cost. Once parents agree, or are ordered, to appoint a parenting coordinator, they will enter a parenting coordination agreement for which they should have independent legal advice. The parenting coordination agreement sets out in detail what the parenting coordinator will do, how it will be done, the cost, and how the costs are to be paid. The agreement also provides for the term of the appointment. Section 15(4) of the Family Law Act says that the maximum term is for 24 months, which is also the recommended term for most appointments. 12 month appointments are fairly common, however. Shorter appointments (6 months) have been made in specific circumstances, but the process of parenting coordination generally requires longer term engagement with the family for the best outcomes. Parenting coordinator contracts may be renewed for successive terms if the parenting coordinator and the parents agree.
Most parenting coordinators require a deposit and retainer, the price of which typically depends on the length of the appointment, the urgency of any specific issue, the number of issues, and the level of conflict between the parents. Retainers commonly start at $5,000, plus deposits which are set by the specific parenting coordinator appointed. Each parent must each pay their share of the retainers and deposits. As with a lawyer's retainer, the parenting coordinator's retainer and deposit are security for their accounts. When bills are issued, they are paid from the retainer. Deposits are generally held until the end of the appointment and applied to the last account. Any balance remaining is returned to the parent who provided the funds.
Parenting coordinators charge by the hour for all time spent working with the family, so the service can be costly, especially if over-used. However, when compared with the cost of numerous applications to court, the process can be quite cost effective, especially with high conflict families. That said, the services of a parenting coordinator may be more expensive than some families can afford.
Depending on the circumstances and the age of the children, the parents may also be asked to sign a number of consent forms giving the children's doctors, care providers, teachers, therapists, and any other relevant people, permission to discuss the family with the parenting coordinator. After the parenting coordination agreement has been signed and the deposits and retainer paid, the parenting coordinators will meet with the parties, usually in person. Until the presence of family violence has been screened for and an assessment of the level of conflict has been made, most parenting coordinators will meet with the parties separately. The parenting coordinator may also meet with the children and relevant third parties, such as teachers, therapists, or doctors who may be helpful. The parenting coordinator will attempt to coach, mediate, and as a last resort, arbitrate, the resolution of the parenting issues raised. As other issues develop, the same process applies. Some issues may be resolved relatively quickly by phone or email, while other issues will require in person meetings. Either or both parents may bring an issue to the parenting coordinator for resolution, although there is an obligation on parents to make reasonable efforts to resolve disputes directly before engaging the parenting coordinator. For issues within the parenting coordination mandate, decisions of the parenting coordinator are enforceable by the court. Parents who fail to meet their obligations under the parenting coordination Agreement or fail to attend meetings arranged by the parenting coordinator may be penalized in costs, and their lack of cooperation may be reported by the parenting coordinator to the court.
Enforcing a determination
Concluding the retainer
At the end of the parenting coordinator's term, parents and the parenting coordinator may agree to renew the parenting coordination agreement. If the agreement isn't renewed by unanimous agreement, the parenting coordination process is concluded unless the court orders a renewal or further appointment.
Under s. 15(6) of the Family Law Act, a parenting coordination agreement can be terminated before the end of a parenting coordinator's term in one of three circumstances:
(a) in the case of an agreement, by agreement of the parties or by an order made on application by either of the parties;
(b) in the case of an order, by an order made on application by either of the parties;
(c) in any case, by the parenting coordinator, on giving notice to the parties and, if the parenting coordinator is acting under an order, to the court.
- Family Law Act
- Family Law Act Regulation
- Arbitration Act
- Supreme Court Family Rules
- Provincial Court Family Rules
- BC Parenting Coordinators Roster Society: Standard Parenting Coordination Agreement Template (April 2015)
- BC Parenting Coordinators Roster Society
- Association of Family and Conciliation Courts
- AFCC's Guidelines for Parenting Coordination (PDF)
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Morag MacLeod, Feb 13, 2019.|
|JP Boyd on Family Law © John-Paul Boyd and Courthouse Libraries BC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada Licence.|
Normally referred to as the "Supreme Court of British Columbia," this court hears most court proceedings in this province. The Supreme Court is a court of inherent jurisdiction and is subject to no limits on the sorts of claims it can hear or on the sorts of orders it can make. Decisions of the Provincial Court are appealed to the Supreme Court; decisions of the Supreme Court are appealed to the Court of Appeal. See "Court of Appeal," "jurisdiction," "Provincial Court" and "Supreme Court of Canada."
A court established and staffed by the provincial government, which includes Small Claims Court, Youth Court and Family Court. The Provincial Court is the lowest level of court in British Columbia and is restricted in the sorts of matters it can deal with. It is, however, the most accessible of the two trial courts and no fees are charged to begin or defend a court proceeding. Small Claims Court, for example, cannot deal with claims larger than $25,000, and Family Court cannot deal with the division of family property or matters under the Divorce Act. See "judge" and "jurisdiction."
A person who is younger than the legal age of majority, 19 in British Columbia. See "age of majority."
The processes used to conclusively resolve legal disputes including negotiation, collaborative settlement processes, mediation, arbitration and litigation.
A mandatory direction of the court, binding and enforceable upon the parties to a court proceeding. An "interim order" is a temporary order made following the hearing of an interim application. A "final order" is a permanent order, made following the trial of the court proceeding or the parties' settlement, following which the only recourse open to a dissatisfied party is to appeal. See "appeal," "consent order," "decision" and "declaration."
A term under the Family Law Act which describes the various rights, duties and responsibilities exercised by guardians in the care, upbringing and management of the children in their care, including determining the child's education, diet, religious instruction or lack thereof, medical care, linguistic and cultural instruction, and so forth. See "guardian."
A term under the Family Law Act which describes the time a guardian has with a child and during which is responsible for the day to day care of the child. See "guardian."
A term under the Family Law Act that describes the visitation rights of a person who is not a guardian with a child. Contact may be provided by court order or by the agreement among the child's guardians who have parental responsibility for determining contact. See "guardian" and "parental responsibilities."
A child-focused dispute resolution process used to resolve disputes about parenting arrangements and the implementation of a parenting plan set out in a final order or agreement. See "alternative dispute resolution" and "parenting coordinator."
A contract intended to resolve all or some of the legal issues arising from the breakdown of a relationship and intended to guide the parties in their dealings with one another thereafter. A typical separation agreement is signed following a settlement reached through negotiations and deals with issues including guardianship, parenting arrangements, contact, support, the division of property and the division of debt. See "family law agreements."
A lawyer or mental health professional with special training in the mediation and arbitration of family law disputes, family dynamics and child developmental psychology who meets the training and experience requirements set out in the provincial Family Law Act Regulation.
A dispute resolution process in which a specially-trained neutral person facilitates discussions between the parties to a legal dispute and helps them reach a compromise settling the dispute. See "alternative dispute resolution" and "family law mediator."
A dispute resolution process in which an arbitrator hears the evidence and arguments presented by the parties to a legal dispute and makes an award which resolves the dispute and is binding on the parties. See "alternative dispute resolution" and "family law arbitrator."
A person named in a court proceeding or joined to a proceeding who is neither the claimant nor the respondent. A third party may be joined to a proceeding where the respondent believes that the person has or shares some responsibility for the cause of action. See "action," "cause of action" and "party."
In family law, the natural or adoptive father or mother of a child; may also include stepparents, depending on the circumstances and the applicable legislation; may include the donors of eggs or sperm and surrogate mothers, depending on the circumstances and the terms of any assisted reproduction agreement. See "adoptive parent," "natural parent" and "stepparent."
In family law, an antiquated term used by the Divorce Act to describe the right to possess a child and make parenting decisions concerning the child's health, welfare and upbringing. See "access."
Something which can be owned. See "chattels" and "real property."
Money paid by one spouse to another spouse either as a contribution toward the spouse's living expenses or to compensate the spouse for the economic consequences of decisions made by the spouses during their relationship.
Money paid by one parent or guardian to another parent or guardian as a contribution toward the cost of a child's living and other expenses.
A calculation of the allowable legal expenses of a party to a court proceeding, as determined by the Supreme Court Family Rules. The party who is most successful in a court proceeding is usually awarded their "costs" of the proceeding. See "account, "bill of costs," "certificate of costs," and "lawyer's fees."
The act of hiring of lawyer; the money paid by a lawyer to secure their services; the terms and extent of a lawyer's services on behalf of a client.
In law, a lawyer's bill to their client or a statement; one person's recollection of events.
A duty, whether contractual, moral or legal in origin, to do or not do something. See "duty."
In law, a court proceeding; a lawsuit; an action; a cause of action; a claim. Also the historic decisions of the court. See "action," "case law, " "court proceeding," and "precedent."