Questions to ask your Parenting Coordinator

Parenting coordination, a specialized form of mediation-arbitration for high conflict separated parents, is still a new to Ontario.

It is a child-focused process, provided by a professional with child and family dynamics and/or family law training and experience. The PC acts as an educator, coach, facilitator of communication, mediator and arbitrator, as is required. (for a good article on the process read here).

It originated in the US, where many states have laws that clearly define the the PC’s role and permit judges to order parties to attend parenting coordination. There, the PC is part of the court process, often acting as a kind of case manager. Unfortunately, no province has introduced parenting coordination legislation; all PC work in Canada is done strictly by private contract between the parents and the PC.

As a result, we are left to figure out how to adapt the process to meet our Canadian needs. Although the ground-breaking international Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) has created guidelines for the practice, they are based on the court-connected experience and do not provide sufficient guidance for jurisdictions that do not have PC legislation.

Different practices have, understandably, arisen. It is important for lawyers and clients to understand these differences to make an informed choice about the process.

Here are some important questions to ask your proposed parenting coordinator:

1– Is the process “open” or is it confidential? How do parents know which to choose? In many US jurisdictions, parenting coordination is required to be confidential (for example, Florida, Colorado and Texas). In Canada, however, there are no laws defining the process; the parenting coordination procedures and the relationship among the parties is strictly contractual. In many cases it is not confidential. One common version of the PC agreement allows the PC to provide a full report to the court about what happened during the process and permits the PC to testify in court.

Our PC process is a confidential one (except for the usual requirements such as to report a child in need of protection. See our PC Agreement here).

We feel that it is important for high conflict parents to feel safe using the PC process. For some parents, an open process will help them feel safe. Others will be worried about manipulation if there is the option of calling the PC as a witness in court. We feel that, in many cases, confidentiality is essential to creating a ‘safe place for parents to have difficult conversations’, and that interests of the children are often best protected by a confidential process. Our experience suggests open mediation processes often cause parents (and their lawyers) to distrust each other more.

There are of course situations where both parents want an “open” process, one that enables the PC to prepare some kind of report and to testify in court if requested by either parent. Some extremely high conflict cases, such as situations where there are alienation allegations, may require an open PC process to address concerns about the well-being of the children. Although we do not provide open parenting coordination services, many highly respected PCs do, including PC trainers Dr. Barbara Fidler and Linda Chodos at Toronto’s Family Solutions.

If you are choosing an open parenting coordination process, you will want the PC to explain the nature and purpose of any report that may result and how that might impact the PC process, positively or negatively.

2– what aspects of the PC role are most important to the parents? Is the PC comfortable with those aspects? PCs provide a wide range of services, including education, conflict management, coaching parents, mediation and arbitration. Each case may require different strengths in different aspects of the role. PCs who are lawyers are likely to be more comfortable with the decision-making role; PCs who are social workers are likely to be more comfortable with the education, coaching and conflict management roles.

3– Who will be involved in the process and how? PCs include all relevant parties in the process, including teachers, babysitters, counsellors, new partners, doctors, and the children themselves. How will the PC convey the information obtained from these people to the parents? What use will be made of the information if a decision must be made?

4– Under what circumstances will the PC make a decision (arbitrate), and how will the process work? What kind of notice will each parent receive and what input will they have? How will information obtained from children and third parties be taken into account?

Parenting coordination is a unique, creative and flexible process. It is one of the most effective and responsive processes available to separating parents who are having difficulty working together for the sake of their children. It has great potential to help children adjust to and cope with the separation of their parents. It will work best for the children if both parents fully understand what it is and how it works.