Quick Summary: A parenting coordinator is the “solution” that we alluded to in our previous blog post, Dispute Resolution Steps in a Parenting Plan. We recommend every new co-parent volunteer for this arrangement for at least the first 12-24 months. There is no downside and it could mean all the difference in the world.
What is a Parenting Coordinator?
It was not until we discovered something called a parenting coordinator that Mom and I finally started working together constructively. It may go by different names in different states, but parenting coordination is essentially a form of binding mediation. The keyword is binding. Parent coordination is different from basic mediation in that mediation has no legal authority to impose decisions.
Hopefully, parenting coordination is available in your locality, but if not, you may be able to find someone who does it remotely. It is a voluntary arrangement whereby both parties agree to use a specific mediator as their parenting coordinator for a length of time, usually twelve or twenty-four months. At the end of the term, the parties can agree to renew the arrangement or terminate it.
With a parenting coordinator arrangement, you agree to participate in regular mediation sessions, perhaps weekly or monthly, or maybe only “as needed.” In these mediation sessions, you and your co-parent hash out your disagreements in a constructive way.
The parenting coordinator (I’ll call him/her the PC from now on) has the ultimate legal authority to settle any disputes, but this is the last thing she wants to do. She aims to help the two of you compromise on your differences.
She will intervene with a “must follow” proclamation that has the weight of the law behind it only if there is a situation that endangers the child or if the discussion hits a wall and the two parties are at an impasse over a particular topic, such as where to meet for transitions or how to share holiday time.
For example, if Mom and I were working with a PC during that Christmas vacation argument mentioned in the previous blog post, we would have skipped all those initial dispute resolution steps and just scheduled an appointment with our PC (or at least written our arguments out in an email if there was no time for a meeting).
Our PC would then spend an hour or so trying to bring us to a compromise, and if that didn’t happen, she would eventually decide the issue for us. This cuts through all the meaningless steps Mom and I had written in our original parenting plan about contacting a friend or an expert who had no authority to do anything anyway.
When she was not solving disputes for us, our PC spent time hearing our opposing points of view on all sorts of issues and helped us come to practical agreements that just worked. For example, when we couldn’t agree on where to meet for visit transitions, because I liked to use the Amtrak train and Mom liked to drive, our PC helped us find a creative solution (all meetings to take place at the train station from now on).
Our PC always stressed the value of putting important dates and information in writing so there were no verbal miscommunications. This may sound obvious, but until then, Mom had largely refused to communicate via email with me, so there was always confusion about who, what, where, and when things were supposed to happen.
Our PC taught us how to communicate effectively, and she made sure we each did what we said we would do. For example, if Mom needed to “check her calendar and get back to me by Friday” with possible makeup visit dates, then our PC would make sure she followed through on that promise.
A PC is Voluntary
In short, our PC was a godsend, in my opinion. But again, signing up for a PC is voluntary, and the legal system cannot force you to use one for more than a few months while you await your trial. If you want one longer-term, then both parties must voluntarily agree to it.
This is a shame because it really is a better solution than the legal system, but the law in most states says that you cannot force someone to work outside of the litigation process. You cannot force someone into binding parental coordination if they prefer the traditional legal system. They must volunteer for the PC. They must realize it is a better way forward and then sign on the dotted line to give the PC binding legal authority for a given amount of time.
After four terrible legal battles over four terrible years, Mom finally agreed to use a PC for one year when she realized the courts just won’t help co-parents like us. Our stated goal that year was to rewrite our parenting plan now that our daughter was getting closer to school age. However, we never accomplished that goal, in my opinion, because Mom was not willing to commit to any new parenting plan without the “gun to the head” that a pending trial provided.
After about a year of semi-productive sessions with our PC, Mom was unwilling to renew the arrangement despite making some constructive progress. Even though it was a temporary arrangement and we didn’t achieve our goal, the PC did help us make great leaps in our previously dysfunctional relationship.
We are still somewhat dysfunctional, but not nearly as bad as before our year with the PC. I can’t say precisely why Mom refused to renew the PC arrangement. Maybe after a year she just got tired of being told she was not always right. Or perhaps she grew sick of our scheduled argument every few weeks.
I admit that after a year of sessions, I was growing tired of it too. I realized Mom would probably never sign a rewritten parenting agreement, so frequent meetings started to feel pointless. Still, I wanted to keep the PC arrangement on hand for the next significant dispute that arose. I would have gladly renewed the PC agreement every year going forward if Mom had agreed to keep her on standby.
The result of our year with a PC was that although we are now functioning better than before, we are still far from the relationship you would want to have with your co-parent. We don’t follow our old dispute resolution steps anymore because they never worked to begin with. And we don’t have a PC anymore because Mom refuses to renew the arrangement.
Unfortunately, now that our daughter is over ten years old, we have settled into a sort of “let’s just get through this” existence. It’s unfortunate because she is now old enough to realize her parents can’t even be in the same room without tension, and there are tools out there like a PC and apps like Our Family Wizard, that can help, but Mom just won’t use them anymore.
In contrast, Jess gets along great with her son’s father. They had one battle in the beginning, and since then, everything has been smooth sailing. They don’t follow their old parenting plan much anymore except for the financial terms it laid out. They are one of these co-parents who tossed the agreement aside after a few years and now just do what works for them and their child.
They never had to go back to litigation like Mom and I did. They never had a parenting coordinator, nor did they ever exercise formal dispute resolution steps. They just respected each other and made sensible, selfless decisions with their child’s best interest at heart.
The idea of paying lawyers to update their out-of-date parenting plan is just silly to them because, well, what’s the point? Their son will be eighteen in six short years, and they have been able to solve any dispute that has arisen in the past twelve years just fine.
If you think you can co-exist in harmony with your co-parent like Jess does, then, by all means, write a generalized parenting plan and don’t try to anticipate every conceivable future situation in one document.
On the other hand, if you think you are more like Mom and me (oil and water), then you will want to spell out more details in your plan and come up with some dispute steps that solve problems in a timely and efficient manner.
Insist on a PC From the Beginning
No matter who you are, the best way to ensure a constructive co-parenting existence that avoids future run-ins with the legal system is to agree to use a binding parenting coordinator. These people are licensed and trained to deal with you fairly and constructively and put your child’s needs first.
Since that is essentially your end goal, you should have nothing to fear from this arrangement. We strongly recommend everyone write a parenting plan that includes an agreement to use a binding parenting coordinator for at least the first twenty-four months, to be renewed annually after that as needed.
As a side note, if your co-parent simply refuses to sign up for a PC, that doesn’t leave you totally on your own. Anyone going through a baby-out-of-wedlock-situation will need help, especially if they are in a high-conflict situation.
Find a good coach, therapist, or other counselor to help you work through the issues you can control. It won’t be as effective as a PC, but it’s better than going it alone. Remember, half the battle is dealing with your own emotional responses during this difficult time in your life.
-Jim & Jessica
Jim and Jessica Braz are not lawyers. While they have real-life experience in the issues discussed here, they do not give legal advice on this website. Furthermore, child custody laws, child support calculations, and family law, in general, vary from state to state. Be sure to consult an attorney in the appropriate state for your custody litigation.
Jim and Jessica Braz are not doctors. While they have real-life experience in the issues discussed here, they do not give medical advice on this website. Be sure to consult your doctor on your specific medical situation.
Jim and Jessica Braz are not licensed therapists, mediators, or counselors. While they have real-life experience in the issues discussed here, you should consult licensed professionals as needed.
The advice given on this website does not hold Jim and Jessica Braz legally liable for any adverse outcomes you may have from following their advice.
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