The Role of Parenting Coordinators post-Bower
By Amanda Castro, Esq.
The role of a parenting coordinator can be puzzling for parents going through separation or divorce. Many parents will ask themselves: “Why would I want someone else besides myself and my former spouse making important decisions regarding my children’s lives?” Right off the bat, the situation can sound rather undesirable; however, parents should seriously consider the true role of a parenting coordinator and the benefits he or she can provide their family.
Having a parenting coordinator is a form of alternative dispute resolution that is centered on making decisions that involve the children of divorce or separation. The parenting coordinator is a neutral third-party professional who is used as a mediator between high-conflict parents to assist them in implementing their parenting plan.
The main purpose for having a parenting coordinator is to avoid parents making numerous court appearances to file claims of contempt, or for minor temporary adjustments to the existing parenting plan. Going into court and having a judge make these decisions is much more costly and time consuming than having a parenting coordinator on hand to mediate such conflicts as they arise.
Prior to September 2014, judges in the Commonwealth would use their authority to involve a parenting coordinator to mediate these high conflict cases. However, in the case of Bower v. Bournay-Bower, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that Probate and Family Court judges can no longer grant parenting coordinators binding decision-making power over the objection of one of the parties. What this means is that only the parents themselves can agree to have a parenting coordinator make binding decisions regarding their parenting plan.
Practically speaking, a parenting coordinator enters the picture through the separation agreement. The parents can agree in their divorce agreement that in the event that the two cannot agree on issues regarding the children, the parenting coordinator will make a recommendation that will be binding on the parties. Of course, because it is an agreement, the parents can request that their attorney’s adjust the language and provisions as they see fit. However, because either parent is always allowed to then take that recommendation to court if they do not feel it was in the child’s best interest, many attorneys recommend that there also be a provision awarding attorney’s fees to the other parent if the parent who appeals the parenting coordinator’s decision to the judge loses their appeal. In this way, there is less opportunity for bad faith claims against the parenting coordinator to be brought into court, which would defeat the whole purpose of having a parenting coordinator involved.
If you are going through a separation or divorce and you and your former spouse are experiencing many conflicts with regard to parenting decisions, attorneys suggest you strongly consider agreeing to have a parenting coordinator involved in the decision making process. In this way, if you and your former spouse cannot agree on issues involving the children, a neutral third party can mediate and make recommendations in order to avoid numerous court actions. As such, the benefits of parenting coordinators far outweigh the costs in these high-conflict situations.