It is widely known that a hard-fought custody battle between two parents can become adversarial, antagonistic and hostile. Unfortunately, finding a win-win scenario in these situations is rare. Finding a win-win-win-win scenario is even rarer. Yet, for many high conflict custody cases in New York, this win-win-win-win scenario is just what a parenting coordinator can accomplish. Parenting coordinators, like Dr. Shinar, help parents (win) by teaching them how to make decisions together and reduce the daily conflict over quotidian decisions. By helping parents to resolve these small daily issues, parenting coordinators reduce the crushing load on courts and judges (win) by limiting or eliminating many of the hearings and conferences that can choke the system.
Additionally, by acting as neutral, well-trained third parties in the middle of highly contentious custody cases, parenting coordinators reduce the gigantic amounts of time spent by lawyers (win) in counseling their clients and negotiating with opposing counsel. Most importantly, the use of parenting coordinators reduces the overall amount of conflict the divorcing family experiences. This means that the final “win” is for the most defenseless victims of difficult custody battles: the children.
What is a Parenting Coordinator (PC)?
Parenting coordinators are a child-focused method of alternative dispute resolution used in high conflict child custody cases. A parenting coordinator is a neutral third-party brought into custody cases to reduce the level of conflict by helping the parents make better decisions concerning the parenting of their children.
Intervention for a high conflict custody case
High conflict custody cases may have many of the same types of problems that exist in the average custody case, but the intensity level is markedly higher. The definition of a high conflict custody case in New York State is one in which the parents demonstrate an ongoing pattern of any one or more of the following:
- excessive litigation
- anger and distrust
- verbal abuse
- physical aggression or threats of physical aggression
- difficulty communicating about and cooperating with one another in the care of the minor children
- other conditions that the judge believes warrant the use of a parenting coordinator
It is not unusual for parents in a typical custody battle to have difficulty communicating and cooperating, or for a certain level of anger and distrust to be present.
When is a parent coordinator appointed?
There are two situations in which a judge may appoint a parenting coordinator:
- if the parents agree and consent that a parenting coordinator should be utilized in their case, the judge may appoint one at any time, even before the judge has entered an order.
- the judge can appoint a parenting coordinator even if the parents do not agree and consent that one should be utilized in their case.
If the judge, referee, or attorneys determine that it is a high conflict custody case, and the children’s best interests would be served by the appointment, a parenting coordinator will be assigned to the case.
THE PARENTING COORDINATOR’s TWO PRIMARY AREAS OF AUTHORITY.
Fundamentally, parent coordinators (PC’s) like Dr. Shinar help parents resolve problems and make decisions related to their children. The parenting coordinator (PC) is authorized to help the parents figure out which issues are in dispute, to reduce the misunderstandings and miscommunications between them, and to foster collaborative decision-making by the parents.
The parenting coordinator will often help the parents clarify their mutual and individual priorities, as well as develop methods to reach a consensus regarding those priorities. The overall goal of this work is to teach the parents the skills required to resolve their disputes and make decisions in the future, without lawyers, courts, judges or even parenting coordinators. A parenting coordinator is sometimes given a second area of authority by the court to actually make decisions and resolve issues between the parents. A parenting coordinator may only decide issues regarding parenting which are not specifically governed by a judge’s order. When a parenting coordinator utilizes authority to make a decision, the parents must comply with that decision just as if a judge handed it down. Until such time as the judge reviews the decision rendered by the parenting coordinator, that decision is law.
These two areas of authority combine to make the parenting coordinator position incredibly effective, efficient and beneficial to everyone involved in a high conflict custody case. They combine collaborative teaching and consensus building skills with the authority and ability to make the difficult decisions when necessary.
Dr. Shinar believes the most effective parenting coordinators spend the bulk of their time and energy teaching the parents skills they will need to co-parent for a lifetime. However, when the process becomes derailed, as it does with some frequency in high conflict cases, the skilled parenting coordinator will not hesitate to step into the breach and make decisions.
The use of parenting coordinators is one of the most helpful and beneficial forms of alternative dispute resolution to come along in high conflict custody cases in many years. Parenting coordinators such as Dr. Shinar become a still, safe, neutral spot at the middle of the swirling maelstrom of anger, hurt, hostility and conflict. They are a benefit to the children, parents, lawyers and judges in these exceptionally challenging and often damaging cases. They provide immediate relief from critical issues by offering short-term solutions, as well as providing lasting aid by teaching the parents the skills they need so that they, and their children, can have a brighter, more hopeful and harmonious future.