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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, 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 may have a separation agreement or court order that establishes a parenting plan. If that's the case but they are still fighting over the details, the parents may agree, or a court may order, that a parenting coordinator assist the parents to resolve their disputes instead of repeatedly getting the courts involved. Parenting coordination is a child-centered dispute resolution process aimed at high conflict personalities. 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 members of the BC Parenting Coordinators Roster Society and governed by the Society as well as the Family Law Act, and the Family Law Act Regulation.
What a parenting coordinator does
The parenting coordinator provides parties who cannot agree on aspects of parenting with a relatively quick and informal way to resolve their disputes. Regardless of how detailed a parenting plan or order may be, some parents will always find things to argue about and it is the children who pay the price for this kind of parental behavior. A parenting coordinator may be useful in minimizing that conflict by attempting to educate and coach the parents on how to manage conflict in a healthy way. 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 enable the parents to parent in a healthy and supportive way, without the need for a parenting coordinator or frequent applications to court. That goal may not be attainable for some parents.
Some examples of what a PC may do are:
- deciding extra curricular activities and how they will be paid
- deciding what school the child will attend
- determining if a child needs tutoring, therapy or medical treatment
- arranging parenting time for special events
- deciding how a child’s belongings should be distributed between their parents' homes
- deciding the specifics of parenting time if the agreement or order is more general (for example the agreement says the parents will share time approximately equally but doesn't say exactly how)
What a parenting coordinator doesn't do
A parenting coordinator does not:
- make original orders for Parenting Time
- 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
The parenting coordinator is appointed by agreement or court order. 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. Because the parenting coordinator role is relatively invasive in a family's life, 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 the parents and the parenting coordinator agree, they will enter a Parenting Coordination Agreement for which they should have independent legal advice. The parenting coordinator agreement sets out in some detail what the parenting coordinator will do, how it will be done, the cost and how it is to be paid. The agreement also provides for the term of the arrangement. It may be as short as 6 months but most parenting coordinators will require that the term be at least 12 to 24 months with an opportunity for the parents to renew the contract if the parenting coordinator remains willing. Most parenting coordinators will require a retainer and/or a deposit of $5,000 to $10,000 and up. The parents must each then pay their share of the parenting coordinator's retainer. As with a lawyer retainer, the parenting coordinator retainer is security for the parenting coordinator's future bills. When bills are issued, parenting coordinators pay themselves out of retainer.
Some parenting coordinators may 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 their retainer. Parenting coordinators charge by the hour for all time spent working with the family, so they are expensive. They can still be cheaper in the long run than paying lawyers for numerous applications to court, but they may nonetheless be more expensive than 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 Agreement has been signed and the retainer paid, the parents usually have some issues which have accumulated and the parenting coordinators will then meet with the parties, usually in person and usually together, at least for the first meeting. The PC may also meet with the children and any other people, such as teachers, therapists or doctors who may be helpful. The parenting coordinator will attempt to educate, coach, mediate, and as a last resort, arbitrate, the resolution of the issue. As other issues develop, the same process applies. Some issues may be resolved relatively quickly by phone or email, other issues will require in person meetings. Either or both parents may bring an issue to the parenting coordinator for resolution. Although the parenting coordinator has no power to force anyone to do anything, it is worth noting decisions of parenting coordinators may be enforceable by the Court. Parents who fail to meet their obligations under the parenting coordinator 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, 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.
- Family Law Act
- Family Law Act Regulation
- Arbitration Act
- Supreme Court Family Rules
- Provincial Court Family Rules
- 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 Sandy Thomson and Taryn Moore, August 1, 2016.|
|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.|