Parenting coordination is an alternative dispute resolution process primarily used in cases involving high conflict between the parents. This field is still developing and is authorized by statutes or rules in Maryland and a minority of states. The interdisciplinary Association of Family and Conciliation Courts approved Guidelines for Parenting Coordination for jurisdictions wanting to develop and implement parenting coordination programs. These parenting coordinators may be granted limited authority to decide certain matters or to make recommendations, but courts generally don’t delegate judicial decision-making authority to a third party.
A parenting coordinator is an impartial professional—usually a licensed mental health or legal professional—who has mediation experience and parent coordination training. This professional may (1) help parents implement and comply with court orders or their parenting plan; (2) resolve parenting disputes and make timely decisions that promote the child’s best interests; (3) reduce conflict between the parents that could harm the child; and (4) foster cooperation between the parents.
An important parenting goal is the reduction of parental conflict for the benefit of the children. The parenting coordinator would establish the protocol and structure of parenting coordination, including determining when and where the sessions occur and whether particular sessions will include one or both parents. Some goals of the parents’ work with the parenting coordinator could include the parent coordinator’s facilitating and improving parental communication, strengthening parental problem-solving and conflict management skills, developing processes for communication and decision-making, and assisting the parents to resolve impasses and to reach decisions. A parenting coordinator could assist the parents in addressing issues involving the children’s education or day care, extra-curricular and summer activities (e.g. camp), health care management, concerns about access exchange or transitions (e.g. adjust transfer time, exchange location, persons transporting child), and minor modifications to access schedules – such as tweaking holiday and vacation schedules – that do not substantially alter the parents’ basic time share arrangement. The parenting coordinator could also interact with other professionals and collateral sources, and provide the parents information concerning child development and resources. Information about children’s developmentally appropriate behavior may inform a parent’s expectations; conflict resolution skills may help parents to get past their issues and reduce their conflict; and improved problem-solving and communication skills may help them to work more efficiently and effectively in their decision-making.
Because parenting coordination does not fall under standard privilege or confidentiality statutes, these coordinators must clearly communicate the nature and extent of any confidentiality—and be sure that the parents understand. The coordinators should address these items at least:
The parenting coordinator’s access to court records
Whether a parent is required to release any confidential or privileged information
The extent to which the parenting coordinator may testify in court regarding communications with a parent
Whether the parenting coordinator may disclose to one parent confidential or privileged information—received by consent—regarding the other parent
Some states permit appointment of a parenting coordinator only when both parents consent to the appointment. If the court is authorized to appoint a parenting coordinator without parental consent, the court should consider whether it is realistic that the parents could collaborate with some assistance to effectively co-parent. There are several situations where appointment of a parenting coordinator might be appropriate: early intervention in a case where a high degree of parental conflict is affecting the child; on an interim basis during the litigation to implement, manage, and monitor an access schedule; part of a custody determination to implement and maintain a parenting plan schedule; to minimize conflicts and adverse effects on children where parental high-conflict is present; as part of joint legal custody determination to help the parents in their joint decision-making. Parent coordinators can present status reports to the court and helpful information about the parents’ participation in the process.
Appointment of a parenting coordinator may be inappropriate in situations involving domestic violence, sexual abuse, or a protective order prohibiting contact between parents; a parent’s untreated substance abuse; a parent’s mental health illness or disorders such as psychosis or untreated major depressive disorder or untreated bipolar disorder; a parent’s past threats to professionals; a parent’s repeated disrespect toward the other parent; a parent’s past noncompliance with court orders; and a parent’s unwillingness to participate.
 Maryland Rule 9-205.2(f)(4)(B) says that “if there are allegations of domestic violence committed by or against a party or child, any provisions the court deems necessary to address the safety and protection of the parties, all children of the parties, other children residing in the home of a party, and the parenting coordinator[.]”
 Maryland Rule 9-205.2 designates some of the services that a parenting coordinator my perform, as appropriate: “(1) if there is not operative custody and visitation order, work with the parties to develop an agreed plan for custody and visitation; (2) if there is an operative custody and visitation order, assist the parties in amicably resolving disputes about the interpretation of and compliance with the order and in making any joint recommendations to the court for any changes to the order; (3) educate the parties about making and implementing decisions that are in the best interest of the child; (4) assist the parties in developing guidelines for appropriate communication between them; (5) suggest resources to assist the parties; (6) assist the parties in modifying patterns of behavior and in developing parenting strategies to manage and reduce opportunities for conflict in order to reduce the impact of any conflict upon their child; (7) in response to a subpoena issued at the request of a party or an attorney for a child of the parties, or upon action of the court … produce documents and testify in the action as a fact witness; (8) if concerned that a party or child is in imminent physical or emotional danger, communicate with the court or court personnel to request an immediate hearing; and (9) decide post-judgment disputes by making minor, temporary modifications to child access provisions ordered by the court if (A) the judgment or post-judgment of the court authorizes such decision-making, and (B) the parties have agreed in writing or on the record that the post-judgment parenting coordinator may do so.”
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John S. Weaver, Of Counsel
Z Family Law, LLC 51 Monroe Street, Suite 1501, Rockville, MD 20850