By Jenny McDonald, Jones Law Firm, P.C.
WHAT IS A PARENTING COORDINATOR?
A parenting coordinator provides intervention and assistance to parties in high-conflict divorce and allocation of parental responsibility cases. This person is a neutral third party who helps parents resolve conflicts and disputes that arise concerning parental responsibilities. The parenting coordinator has the ability to implement a court-ordered parenting plan. With the use of a parenting coordinator, it is hoped that parties will work through disputes as they arise and will not have to resort to formal court proceedings for each and every conflict that arises.
The parenting coordinator works with the parties to help them reduce conflict with the other parent by communicating more effectively and more positively with each other. This will also reduce the risk of harm to children involved in high-conflict situations. Colorado courts have been assigning parenting coordinators to domestic cases for many years, but in 2005 a statute was written establishing specific guidelines for what a parenting coordinator does.
A parenting coordinator must be an individual with appropriate training and qualifications, and must have a perspective acceptable to the court.
WHEN CAN A PARENTING COORDINATOR BE APPOINTED?
A parenting coordinator can be appointed by the court at any time after the entry of an order concerning parental responsibilities. Either party, or the court, can make a motion to appoint a parenting coordinator, or the parties can agree to the appointment.
If the parties do not agree to the appointment of a parenting coordinator, the court must make the following findings in order to make an appointment:
- That the parties have failed to adequately implement the parenting plan;
- That mediation has been determined by the court to be inappropriate, or, if not inappropriate, that mediation has been attempted and was unsuccessful; and
- That the appointment of a parenting coordinator is in the best interests of the child or children involved in the parenting plan.
The court must also consider the effect of any documented evidence of domestic violence on the parties’ ability to engage in parent coordination.
WHAT ARE THE DUTIES OF A PARENTING COORDINATOR?
It is the parenting coordinator’s job to assist the parties in implementing the terms of the parenting plan. The duties of a parenting coordinator include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Assisting the parties in creating an agreed-upon, structured guideline for implementation of the parenting plan;
- Developing guidelines for communication between the parties and suggesting appropriate resources to assist the parties in learning appropriate communication skills;
- Informing the parties about appropriate resources to assist them in developing improved parenting skills;
- Assisting the parties in realistically identifying the sources and causes of conflict between them, including but not limited to identifying each party's contribution to the conflict, when appropriate; and
- Assisting the parties in developing parenting strategies to minimize conflict.
WHO CAN BE A PARENTING COORDINATOR?
There are a few limitations on who can be a parenting coordinator. The statute says that a parenting coordinator has to be a neutral third-party. A person who serves in a domestic case as an evaluator or a representative of the child cannot also serve as the parenting coordinator in that case. And, after a person is appointed as a parenting coordinator in a case, the court may not subsequently appoint the person to serve in the same case as an evaluator or a representative of the child. This is because the parenting coordinator must be a neutral third party.
The court is allowed appoint a parenting coordinator who has served, or is serving, in the same case as a child and family investigator upon the agreement of the parties. After appointing a person to serve as a parenting coordinator in a case, the court may not later appoint the person to serve as the child and family investigator in the same case. This is because courts prefer to have a child and family investigator who can begin with a fresh perspective, who does not have an ongoing relationship with the parties, and who has not previously viewed the day-to-day conflicts and interactions of the parties. A parenting coordinator has a relationship with the parties and is likely to have witnessed the parties’ conflicts and interactions.
WHAT ARE THE RULES FOR BEING A PARENTING COORDINATOR?
The parenting coordinator must comply with any applicable provisions of the Colorado
Supreme Court Chief Justice Directives, as well as with any other practice or ethical standards that regulate the profession of the parenting coordinator. Parenting coordinators are often attorneys and mental health professionals. Therefore, if the parenting coordinator is an attorney, he or she must abide by the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct. If the parenting coordinator is a mental health professional, he or she must abide by the applicable professional standards.
The court must specify how long the parenting coordinator’s appointment will last; but the appointment cannot exceed two years. If the court does not specify how long the appointment is meant to last, it is assumed that the appointment lasts for two years. The parties are allowed to agree to extend, modify, or terminate the appointment of the parenting coordinator. In the event of such an agreement, the parties can extend the appointment beyond the original two years. The court may terminate the appointment of the parenting coordinator at any time for good cause and the court must allow the parenting coordinator to withdraw at any time.
The parties will have to pay for the services of the parenting coordinator. When a court orders the appointment of a parenting coordinator, it is required to include a statement of how the payment of all of the parenting coordinator’s fees should be divided between the parties. The state will not pay for the fees of a parenting coordinator.
Parenting coordinators are immune from civil liability in any claim for injury that arises out of an act or omission of the parenting coordinator the performance of his or her duties, or during the performance of any act that a reasonable parenting coordinator would believe was within the scope of his or her duties unless the act or omission causing the injury was willful and wanton.
A parenting coordinator cannot be called to testify in a judicial proceeding, administrative proceeding, or other similar proceeding between the parties to the action. And, a parenting coordinator cannot be required to produce records of any statement, conduct, or decision that occurred during the parenting coordinator's appointment to the same extent as a judge acting in a judicial capacity.