I’m involved in a difficult child custody case with the other parent. We cannot seem to agree on much of anything from bedtimes for our children, how to handle parent teacher conferences, to holiday schedule. My lawyer has suggested I consider employing a parent coordinator to help us resolve these issues. What I cannot understand is how a parenting coordinator is different than a lawyer and why I would incur the costs of one?
– Perturbed Parent
If your custody case is “difficult,” that’s a sign that a parenting coordinator (PC) may be a good option to consider. Under North Carolina’s parenting coordinator statute, a judge can appoint a PC in high-conflict cases to work with the parents on making day-to-day decisions. The PC is a neutral third party brought into a custody matter to reduce tension by helping parents effectively communicate, solve problems and co-parent.
Some examples of high-conflict cases are those that involve:
• Excessive litigation (constantly going back and forth to court);
• Anger and distrust between parents that affects decisions they make regarding their child(ren);
• A history of abuse of any kind rendering communication between parents a bad idea;
• Difficulty communicating about daily decisions that must be made by parents in order to raise their child(ren).
PCs exist, in part, due to the severe backlog that family law courts are experiencing in child custody cases. We often think of contentious court proceedings as involving major issues, such as where to send a child to school or whether one parent can move to another state with the child. These conflicts do occur, but more commonly it is something small that sets off a parent and lands them both in front of the judge. This costs time, money and delays other parties that need to have their cases heard.
The PC cannot modify a child custody order or make fundamental custody decisions; that’s the role of the judge in your case. The PC can be appointed at the request of a party or with the parents’ consent.
One major benefit of having a PC is his or her neutrality in making a decision about daily matters like what is a reasonable bedtime for your child or holiday visitation schedule. This is done after having received input from you and your former spouse. Thus, instead of waiting months to get in front of a judge, leaving your child in limbo, and increasing tension between the parents, the PC can quickly resolve the issue and help both parents forward.
If the judge appoints a PC, he or she will also set forth the specific issues that the PC can assist with and bring to decision. If the PC makes a decision in your matter, that decision will be enforceable as if it were an order of the court. For that reason, you should consult your attorney for guidance on the PC’s authority in your case.
A PC’s fee will depend largely on his or her experience and qualifications. In order to be eligible to be a PC, an individual must meet all of the following requirements:
• Hold a masters or doctorate degree in psychology, law, social work, counseling, medicine or a related subject area;
• Have at least five years of related professional post-degree experience;
• Hold a current license in the parenting coordinator’s area of practice, if applicable;
• Participate in 24 hours of training in specific topics before they are licensed.
Parents can generally expect to pay anywhere from $175 to $350 an hour for the services of a PC. However, this will likely be less expensive than numerous court hearings between you and the other parent. Oftentimes, the PC fee is split equally between the parents.
It is important for you and your attorney to discuss the pros and cons of a PC from all angles, including costs. This is especially true if you and the other parent have a history of conflict and poor communication. In any event, talk to your attorney about the history of your relationship with the other parent so the two of you can make an informed decision on whether to employ a parenting coordinator to help reduce the conflict and the costs associated with a difficult custody case.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is general in nature and not to be taken as legal advice, nor to establish an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Jennifer Fleet or Weaver | Budd, Attorneys at Law. Submit questions for The Fine Print to: firstname.lastname@example.org.