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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 section 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.|