What is a Parenting Coordinator/Special Master?
A Parenting Coordinator, also known as a Special Master, is a mental health professional, mediator or family law attorney who specializes in helping parents resolve disputes about what is best for the children and can make such decisions about the children if the parents are unable to do so. Such disagreements include but are not limited to scheduling, overnight visitation, choice of schools, extracurricular activities, troubles with transition times, holiday scheduling, the handling of the children’s behavior, religious training, health issues and problematic behaviors on the part of one or both of the parents. Both parents must agree to use the Parenting Coordinator and a stipulation is submitted to the court to define the tasks and responsibilities of the Parenting Coordinator which becomes a court order after the judge signs it.
Parenting coordination is a child-focused process that combines assessment, education, case management, conflict management and sometimes decision-making functions. The overall goal of the Parenting Coordinator is to assist parents to implement their parenting plan, to monitor compliance with the details of the plan, to resolve conflicts regarding their children and the parenting plan in a timely manner, and to protect and ensure safe, healthy and meaningful parent-child relationships.
Who Uses It?
Hiring a Parenting Coordinator is a serious matter but can be very helpful especially to families where the parents have problematic communication which prevent the children from having their needs met. In high conflict divorces, parenting issues can often occur with greater frequencies that continue to bring the parents back to court for resolution. Unfortunately, this strategy is both untimely and expensive and ultimately the children suffer the consequences. These parents have demonstrated through their past behaviors that they are unwilling to comply with parenting agreements and orders, are unable to reduce their child-related conflicts, and to protect their children from the negative impact of that conflict. In addition, the Parenting Coordinator can serve families where there are concerns about drug and alcohol abuse or the stability of one or both of the parents. In cases of domestic violence where one parent seeks to obtain and maintain power and control over the other, the role of the Parenting Coordinator shifts to an almost purely enforcement function where the Parenting Coordinator works with a court order. Here, the role is to ensure compliance with the details of the order to protect the custodial parent’s autonomy to make decisions based on the children’s needs and to guard against manipulation by the abusing parent.
How it Works
The role of the Parenting Coordinator is to help families learn effective problem solving strategies and how to implement parallel parenting techniques. Parallel parenting is a process of parenting without engaging with the other parent while attending the children’s needs. Click here for more information on parallel parenting. Once there is an order in place then the Parenting Coordinator will meet with the parents and perhaps the children and review all evaluations and other pertinent documents. The Parenting Coordinator shall have the discretion of how to conduct all communications including initial interviews and ongoing communications between the parties and with the Parenting Coordinator. The Parenting Coordinator may collaborate with other professionals such as doctors, therapists, schools and caretakers and may recommend professional collateral services as needed. All resolutions agreed upon by the parties or determined by the Parenting Coordinator will be documented in writing by the Parenting Coordinator. When the parents are unable to reach agreement the Parenting Coordinator shall decide the disputed issues depending on the provisions of the court order and only as defined by the court order shall the Parenting Coordinator submit recommendations to the court for decision.
How to obtain services
A Parenting Coordinator can serve only by the parents’ stipulation and a court order appointing her as the Parenting Coordinator with the scope of authority and responsibilities of the Parenting Coordinator clearly listed. A court order is necessary to provide the Parenting Coordinator authority to work with the parents outside of the adversarial process, to obtain information, and to make recommendations and decisions as specified in the court order. The court order should specify a term of service including a start date and end date. The parents can request a continuance or termination of services for the Parenting Coordinator and likewise a Parenting Coordinator can give notice prior to the end of the term of service that she will not continue to serve on the case. The position of the Parenting Coordinator is one of considerable authority and power so it is important that the parents fully understand the extent of the parental rights and power they are assigning to the Parenting Coordinator in the form of decision-making, the limited nature of the confidentiality of the process and the professional contacts with whom the Parenting Coordinator will be authorized to recommend, consult to or obtain information from.
If you would like a copy of my stipulation and order forms please click here to type in your request .
Deborah Huang, LCSW/April 2008