| Attorneys: why should
you consider a parent coordinator for your client?
You have probably
heard the old joke: How many psychologists does it take to change a
light bulb? One -- but it really has to want to change.
Many family law
clients don’t really want to change. You may receive phone calls
from these clients almost daily, complaining about their ex-spouses.
Even the most trivial matters, which could be easily settled by third
parties, become a fight between the ex-spouses. Are you drowning in
correspondence with opposing counsel, and in court every month
presenting emergency petitions? Clients like this may frustrate you and
probably don’t follow your advice.
Although this type
of client can generate billings for your firm, you may lose patience
with your client, and the Court may lose patience with both of you.
Some judges are now embracing a new way to keep these types of clients
out of the courts and free up the system for other, more important
Judges have started
introducing parent coordinators to these clients.
Some courts have already assigned
parent coordinators. I have served as a parent coordinator in
Philadelphia and Bucks County. Other courts will
likely follow this trend in the future. Who can be a
attorneys experienced in dealing with high-conflict families are the
best fit. The coordinator must have experience with clients who do not
want to change. They also need some legal background to interpret
complicated court orders, and the ability to carry out the instructions.
The Pennsylvania Bar
Association and the Pennsylvania Psychological Association joined
forces in September 2006 to present a lengthy educational program about
this issue. I had the privilege of presenting with judges, other
psychologists, and attorneys to a sold-out house. If you missed this
presentation, others are sure to follow; check with your
are a coordinator’s duties?
Although the judge
may write an extensive court order outlining the duties and limitations
of a coordinator, the basic duty is to help parents reach decisions
about the best interests of their children. When the parents cannot do
so, the coordinator may impose a binding decision.
The coordinator may
not decide the ultimate question of custody, but can make decisions
about the conflicts in the daily lives of the clients. These can
include issues such as scheduling, pick-up and drop-offs, doctor
visits, after school activities, conflicts about exceptions to the
custody schedule for family events (weddings, bar/bat mitzvah, birthday
of grandparents, etc.), as well as myriad other day-to-day conflicts
that plague these parents.
Written reports to
the court may be ordered, and in some cases the court may ask the
coordinator to impose punitive actions if there is non-compliance.
are a coordinator’s limitations?
The coordinator does
not act as the therapist or legal advisor. They are there to handle
disputed issues. They act on behalf of the court to help implement the
custody order of the court.
to tell clients:
If one of your
clients agrees to use, or is ordered to use a parent coordinator, tell
them to cooperate completely.
A coordinator may be
required to report to the Court about parent participation. Remind them
this is not a choice, but a court order. If they do not comply, they
may be back in court, which may be viewed unfavorably by the judge.
This coordinator is not just your kindly family therapist; the court
has given him or her a specific duty.