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 matters.

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 coordinator?

Psychologists and 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 association’s website.

What 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.

What 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.

What 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.


© 2006 All rights reserved. |  Last revised by R. Cohen on January 21, 2006