In a perfect world, there would be no need for parent coordinators. Parents, even those that really just cannot get along, would put their differences aside and focus on what was best for their child or children. Unfortunately, this standard is impossible for some parents to achieve for various reasons and conflict over parenting decisions takes the place of cooperation.
When this dynamic exists, enter the Parenting Coordinator – a neutral professional (usually an experienced family law attorney, mediator, or mental health professional) that works with parents to establish a positive co-parenting environment that minimizes the stress children experience from being caught in the middle of parental conflict.
Benefits of Working with a Parenting Coordinator (PC) in Massachusetts
Parenting coordination is a child-centered process for parents that have significant disagreements related to raising their children. PCs work with parents after they have reached a settlement on custody/parenting issues, or the Probate and Family Court issues a judgement or order.
Parenting Coordinators in Massachusetts assist families in numerous ways, including:
- Assist parents in following their parenting plan;
- Avoid frequent court appearances over parenting matters that can get expensive due to legal fees;
- Reduce a child's exposure and his/her reaction to stress stemming from parental conflict
- Encourage both parents to participate appropriately in children's lives;
- Work with parents to improve anger management, conflict resolution, and communication skills.
- Educate parents about the negative impact of high-conflict parenting dynamics on children;
- Provide an efficient and fair resolution of daily or otherwise routine parenting issues.
Examples of Issues That Can Benefit from a Parenting Coordinator
A Parenting Coordinator does not take over parenting decisions, and parents may make mutually agreeable decisions when things come up, as they always do. But when parents are unable to agree due to an unwillingness or inability to reach joint decisions, a PC works with parents to resolve issues such as
- Adjustments to parenting schedules
- Decisions around extracurricular activities
- Scheduling holiday events
- School trips
- And more
Parenting coordinators can also help with matters involving third parties, such as grandparents and a parent's new significant other for examples.
New Rules & Procedures for Parenting Coordinators in MA
In 2017, the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court released new rules in Standing Order 1-17 for anyone wanting to serve as a PC and receive referrals from the court. The new regulations go into effect in July of 2017 and mandate certain training and experience requirements, and ongoing continuing education requirements. For example, Parenting Coordinators in Massachusetts must also have at least 30 hours of mediation training. The new Standing Order also outlines permissible responsibilities of PCs, and duties that are not allowed.
Certainly, it is important the role of the PC is clear to everyone involved. The parents may agree to the scope of the parenting coordinator's services, and/or the court may include such details into an order. The role and responsibilities of the PC must be specific, and a Parenting Coordinator will have the parents sign an agreement further outlining details of the engagement, including communications, confidentiality, and fees.
A PC does not have the authority to change the legal or physical custody status of a child in Massachusetts. This authority belongs to the court, it may not be usurped by a Parenting Coordinator. The 2014 Massachusetts case of Bower v. Bournay-Bower provides additional insight into the status of PCs in Massachusetts. The MA Supreme Judicial Court ruled that a judge may appoint a Parenting Coordinator, stating
“Therefore, probate court judges possess the inherent authority to refer parties to a parent coordinator in appropriate circumstances in order to conserve limited judicial resources and aid in the probate court's functioning and capacity to decide cases, or if in the judge's discretion such referral is necessary to ensure the best interests of the children in a divorce- or custody-related proceeding.”
The decision also stated that the court's authority may not be improperly delegated to a PC, noting in this case that one parent did not agree that the PC should have binding decision-making authority.
Searching for a Parenting Coordination Services in MA?
If you are frustrated by parenting conflict, including unsatisfying communications and an inability to compromise to resolve parenting issues, then please contact Stephen McDonough, Esq. at Next Phase Legal in Medfield, MA. Stephen is an experienced divorce and family law attorney and mediator, and provides parenting coordinator services.