If you are a parent with a custody case in PA, you may be familiar with custody mediations, parenting classes, and conciliations. But you may soon hear about another concept – parenting coordination. Due to a recently adopted change to the custody rules, it is likely that Pennsylvania Courts may start appointing parenting coordinators in custody matters when the new rules go into effect in March 2019.
What Is Parenting Coordination?
Parenting Coordination is a process to address and resolve certain types of disputes between parents in a custody matter. A parent coordination is an attorney or mental health professional with specialized training in parenting coordination, family mediation, and domestic violence.
Parenting coordinators are only permitted to recommend resolutions to the court about certain types of issues, such as:
1. Places and conditions for custody transitions between households;
2. Temporary variation from the custody schedule for a special event or circumstance;
3. School issues, apart from school selection,
4. The children’s participation in recreation, enrichment, and extracurricular activities, including travel;
5. Child-care arrangements;
6. Clothing, equipment, toys and personal possessions of the children;
7. Information exchanges between the parties and communication about the children;
8. Coordination of services for the children (such as therapy);
9. Behavioral management of the children;
10. Other related custody issues if the parties mutually agree.
There are also certain types of issues parenting coordinators are not permitted to address. Those issues are:
1. Change in legal custody;
2. Change in primary physical custody;
3. A change in the court-ordered schedule that reduces or expands the children’s time with a party (except a temporary change for a special event or circumstance);
4. A Change in residence (relocation) of the children.
5. Determination of financial issues (other than parent coordinator fees);
6. Major decisions affecting the health, education or religion of the children.
History of Parenting Coordination in PA
From approximately 2008 through 2013, Pennsylvania courts appointed parent coordinators pursuant to the
Pennsylvania Superior Court’s holding in
Yates v. Yates, 963 A.2d 535 (Pa. Super. 2008). In Yates¸ the Court held that the trial court’s appointment of a parenting coordinator in a custody case was reasonable, provided that the parties had the right to request the court to review the decision of the parenting coordinator.
In 2013, parent coordination was abolished in Pennsylvania, somewhat unexpectedly, when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Domestic Relations Procedural Rules Committee adopted a rule which provided that the courts were not permitted to appoint any individual, other than a master or hearing officer, to make decisions or recommendations in child custody case. The new rule took many family law attorneys and judges throughout Pennsylvania by surprise, as many felt that parent coordination provided an alternative venue to resolve certain types of custody disputes in an efficient and cost-effective way. In 2018, after hearing input from lawyers and judges throughout the state regarding the benefits of parenting coordination, the Supreme Court Domestic Relations Rules committee adopted an amended version of 1915.11 which permits each judicial district to choose whether to implement a parenting coordination program. This new Rule will go into effect in March 2019.
How Does Parenting Coordination Work?
The role of a parenting coordinator in Pennsylvania is first to attempt to resolve issues by facilitating an agreement. When this is unsuccessful, the parenting coordinator’s role is to a resolution to the court.If either parent objects to the parenting coordinator’s recommendation by filing a petition within five days, the court must conduct a record hearing on the issues set forth in the petition. However, the parenting coordinator’s recommendation becomes an interim order of court in the meantime.
How Can I Get a Parenting Coordinator Involved in My Case?
The new parenting coordination rule does not go into effect until March 2019. Once it goes into effect, parenting coordinators must be court appointed pursuant to the Rules. Either party can request a parenting coordinator in their case by filing a motion, or the court can appoint one without a motion from either party at the court’s discretion.
What Is the Benefit of Parenting Coordination?
Many divorce professionals believe that parenting coordination helps parties to more efficiently navigate through issues when there is conflict. In the absence of parenting coordination, if the parties are unable to reach agreement on issues such as whether to change the custody schedule to accommodate a family wedding, or whether a child should be permitted to sign up for a certain extracurricular activity, the court may not be able to resolve their disagreement quickly enough, leaving the parties in a stalemate situation which is often not in child’s best interest. By permitting the court to appoint a parenting coordinator who can more quickly and efficiently provide a recommendation for resolution, it is more likely that parties’ disputes will be heard and addressed fairly and in timely manner, bringing relief to parents and children who have been frequently mired in unresolvable conflict. Hopefully, this process will also serve to reduce some of the frustration many custody litigants experience when trying to negotiate with difficult parenting partner without the benefit of a neutral third party to help guide them through the process.