Parenting Coordination

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Parenting coordination is a child-focused dispute resolution process for separated families. Parenting coordination 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, mediators and arbitrators, counsellors, social workers and psychologists.

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.

Introduction[edit]

Parenting coordination uses aspects of mediation and arbitration to resolve disputes about parenting, once the parties have reached a final order or agreement dealing with parenting arrangements and contact. Parenting coordination is only useful for parents who seem to always find themselves arguing about parenting despite their order or agreement. Parenting coordination is not for people who don't argue about parenting or who are able to resolve their disagreements without intervention.

Parenting coordinators are family law lawyers, mediators and arbitrators, counsellors, social workers and psychologists with special training in mediation, arbitration, parenting coordination, family violence, communication skills development, and high-conflict family dynamics, as required by the Family Law Act Regulation. Parenting coordinators are hired on a long term-basis, for renewable terms of between six months to two years.

Once a parenting coordinator has been retained, either parent may ask the parenting coordinator to resolve a dispute. The parent with the concern will contact the parenting coordinator and explain the problem and his or her preferred solution. The parenting coordinator will discuss the problem with the other parent to get his or her perspective on the issue and will then work with both parents to find a resolution everyone can agree to. However, if the parents can't reach agreement or if the issue is very urgent, the parenting coordinator may arbitrate the dispute and impose a resolution. This process repeats whenever a new issue arises that needs to be resolved.

Parenting coordinators and the parenting coordination process are governed by the Family Law Act, the Family Law Act Regulation and the codes of conduct and practice standards established by any practice group a parenting coordinator may belong to, such as the BC Parenting Coordinators Roster Society.

What parenting coordination deals with[edit]

Parenting coordination addresses how final orders and agreements about parental responsibilities, parenting time and contact are interpreted and implemented. Although parenting coordinators also have the authority to make minor, usually temporary, changes to those orders and agreements, parenting coordinators do not have the ability to make changes about important issues like guardianship or the allocation of parental responsibilities.

Parenting coordinators can also deal with minor, often temporary, issues that aren't covered by an order or agreement, like:

  • the arrangements for a special event,
  • the distribution of a child's clothing and toys between homes,
  • where a child will go to school,
  • the child's need for counselling, therapy, or tutoring, and
  • the child's participation in sports and other extracurricular activities.

Parenting coordination also tries to address some of the problems that contribute to the parties' disagreements. This might include helping the parties to work on how they communicate with each other or how they manage conflict, or it might include helping the parties better understand how their children experience their conflict.

What parenting coordination might deal with[edit]

Parenting coordination usually does not deal with child support or children's special expenses. However, if the parents and the parenting coordinator agree, the parenting coordinator may assist the parents with things like:

  • reviews of child support, where the review is required by an order or agreement,
  • deciding which expenses qualify as a special expenses, and
  • determining the amount of each parent's contribution to the children's special expenses.

Many parenting coordinators won't address these issues. The parenting coordinators most likely to agree to address issues like these are parenting coordinators who are also family law lawyers.

What parenting coordination won't deal with[edit]

Parenting coordinators cannot assist with any subjects that are expressly excluded by an order or a parenting coordination agreement. As well, parenting coordinators cannot deal with:

  • the division or possession of property or the division of debt,
  • appointing or removing a guardian of a child,
  • changes to the allocation of parental responsibilities between guardians,
  • giving parenting time or contact to a person who does not have parenting time or contact,
  • substantial changes to parenting time or contact, and
  • the relocation of a child.

Parenting coordinators should not help with a person's entitlement to receive spousal support, problems with the payment of spousal support, or changing an order or agreement about spousal support.

The parenting coordination process[edit]

Parenting coordinators are hired by the agreement of the parties or a court order. Orders for the appointment of a parenting coordinator can be made under s. 15 of the Family Law Act with or without the agreement of the parties. An agreement or order appointing a parenting coordinator should specify who is being appointed; a list a of parenting coordinators is available at the website of BC Parenting Coordinators Roster Society.

Signing the parenting coordination agreement[edit]

First, the parties and their parenting coordinator will sign a parenting coordination agreement that talks about the scope of the parenting coordinator's services and authority, how parenting problems will be addressed, and how the parties will manage the parenting coordinator's fees. In general, the parenting coordinator's fees will be split equally between the parties, unless they agree otherwise or unless the parenting coordinator has a good reason to assign responsibility for a certain amount of fees to a particular person.

It is always helpful if the key terms of the parenting coordination agreement are set out in the order or agreement appointing the parenting coordinator, including:

  • the scope of the issues the parenting coordinator may address, and any specific issues the parenting coordinator must address,
  • a description of the dispute resolution process, including the parenting coordinator's capacity to arbitrate a dispute in the event that consensus cannot be reached,
  • confirming that the parenting coordination process is not confidential,
  • the length of the parenting coordinator's retainer, and
  • the circumstances in which the parenting coordinator can withdraw or be terminated from a case.

Many parenting coordinators use the signing of their parenting coordination agreements as an opportunity to have the parties execute releases and authorizations allowing the parenting coordinator to speak to people like the children's doctors, counsellors, and teachers. Under s. 16 of the Family Law Act,

A party must, for the purposes of facilitating parenting coordination, provide the parenting coordinator with

(a) information requested by the parenting coordinator, and

(b) authorization to request and receive information, respecting a child or a party, from a person who is not a party.

The retainer and deposit[edit]

The parents must each then pay their share of the parenting coordinator's retainer. As with a lawyer, the retainers paid to the parenting coordinator are security for the parenting coordinator's future bills. When such bills are issued, parenting coordinators will pay themselves by drawing on parties' retainers.

Some parenting coordinators will also ask for an additional retainer, called a deposit. This money is held in reserve to enable the parenting coordinator to finish dealing with a problem in the event that a party's retainer runs out in the middle of a dispute and the party refuses to replenish his or her retainer.

The introductory meeting[edit]

Next, the parenting coordinator will meet separately with each party to explain the parenting coordination process in more depth and take a detailed history of the parties' relationship and proceedings in court. Depending on the age of the children, the parenting coordinator may want to meet the children as well.

Once these introductory matters have been taken care of, either party can bring a parenting problem to the parenting coordinator when a problem arises. Parenting coordinators will often deal with dozens of these disputes during their retainer.

Dealing with disputes[edit]

Where there is a problem, the parenting coordinator will listen to the party raising the issue and then contact the other party to get his or her take on things. Depending on the nature of the parties and the nature of the problem, the parenting coordinator may:

  • meet with the parties separately or together about the issue,
  • interview the children to get their input on the issue,
  • speak to the children's counsellors, doctors, teachers, instructors, or coaches, and
  • speak to any other third party who may have helpful information about the issue.

The consensus-building phase[edit]

Except in cases of real urgency, the parenting coordinator will try to resolve the dispute by attempting to help the parties reach their own agreement on this issue, much in the manner of a mediator. This process can take time and requires lots of communication. As a result, when an issue is genuinely urgent, the consensus-building phases may be shortened or skipped altogether.

Most parenting coordinators will do everything possible to help the parties reach a settlement of a parenting dispute. Imposing a resolution on a dispute should be a last resort only.

The determination-making phase[edit]

When settlement is impossible, or if a problem is urgent and must be dealt with quickly, the parenting coordinator will make a decision, called a determination, resolving the problem, much in the manner of an arbitrator. The parenting coordinator will warn the parents when it becomes necessary to make a determination, and, depending on the time available, will make sure that each party has provided all of the information and arguments they wish to provide and has had the opportunity to address the information and arguments provided by the other party.

The parenting coordinator's determination will be given to the parties in writing, even if the parenting coordinator first made his or her determination orally. This is a written statement of the determination and the reasons for that determination.

Enforcing a determination[edit]

Parenting coordinators' determinations may be enforced by filing them in court, either under Rule 12 of the Provincial Court (Family) Rules or Rule 2-1.1 of the Supreme Court Family Rules.

Concluding the retainer[edit]

At the end of the parenting coordinator's term, all parties — the parents and the parenting coordinator — must agree in order to renew the parenting coordination agreement. If the agreement isn't renewed, the parenting coordination process is concluded.

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.

Resources and links[edit]

Legislation[edit]

Links[edit]


This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by JP Boyd, March 24, 2013.


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