Custody disputes are too often emotionally and financially taxing on families. For many years, the only way families could resolve issues surrounding custody was to seek relief from the Court. In some jurisdictions, parties may be required to first participate in mediation before proceeding to a Master or Judge, but in other jurisdictions, such as Philadelphia County, mediation is not required. Therefore, when parties turn to the courts, not only can the judicial system be difficult to navigate, but the idea that there is a “Plaintiff” and “Defendant” in a family matter can frequently create a stigma that causes even more tension and animosity between the parties. The idea of litigation is unsettling, and the often-drawn-out process, which consists of waiting months to have your day in court, adds to the awkwardness while parties attempt to co-parent on a daily/weekly basis.
At last, after many years of hibernation, Parenting Coordination has been revived and fine-tuned in Pennsylvania. On March 1, 2019, Pa.R.C.P. 1915.11-1 went into effect authorizing the use of a Parenting Coordinator (PC) in custody cases “involving repeated or intractable conflict between the parties affecting implementation of [a] final custody order.” If appointed, a Parenting Coordinator will act in the role of a neutral facilitator, helping parties resolve custody disputes in an expeditious manner by issuing a recommendation within TWO days after hearing from the parties on a particular issue.
Pa.R.C.P. 1915.11-1(d) delineates the scope of authority of a Parenting Coordinator, and it is crucial that everyone involved understands exactly what the PC is and is-not permitted to do. First, it is important to understand that the PC does not issue recommendations that make changes to legal and physical custody, financial issues, and other specific provisions of the final custody order. In accordance with Pa.R.C.P. 1915.11-1(d)(1), the PC “is authorized to recommend resolutions to the court about issues that include, but are not limited to:
- places and conditions for custodial transitions between households;
- temporary variation from the custodial schedule for a special event or particular circumstance;
- school issues, apart from school selection;
- the child(ren)’s participation in recreation, enrichment, and extracurricular activities, including travel;
- child-care arrangements;
- clothing, equipment, toys, and personal possessions of the child(ren);
- information exchanges (e.g., school, health, social) between the parties and communication with or about the child(ren);
- coordination of existing or court-ordered services for the child(ren) (e.g., psychological testing, alcohol or drug monitoring/testing, psychotherapy, anger management);
- behavioral management of the child(ren); and
- other related custody issues that the parties mutually have agreed in writing to submit to the parenting coordinator, which are not excluded in subdivision (d)(2).”
The PC must undergo specialized training, including mediation and domestic violence training, and may be an attorney or a mental health professional, whose primary focus is to advance the best interests of the child. If utilized appropriately, the use of PC’s will significantly curtail the amount of unnecessary litigation and provide families with a mechanism to resolve disputes timely and efficaciously.