Parenting co-ordination is a dispute resolution process which includes elements of education, coaching, mediation and arbitration.
Parenting co-ordination is appropriate for parents who have experienced significant conflict over a period of at least one or two years and who continue to experience conflict which prevents them from making important and necessary decisions for the benefit of their children. They require the assistance of a third party to either help them make decisions or to make decisions on their behalf.
Given the nature of my work with separated families and my ongoing professional training, I have a good understanding of how long-term conflict affects every member of a family and how children’s development may be negatively impacted by parental conflict.
As a parenting co-ordinator, my role is to educate and coach parents, mediate and arbitrate disputes, and refer family members to appropriate community resources.
Currently, in Ontario, there is no statute which gives a court the authority to make an order requiring parents to participate in parenting co-ordination. It is available only to parents who consent to participate in the process.
Despite the fact that the parenting co-ordination process may not be imposed on parents through court orders or arbitration awards, parenting assessors, judges and lawyers routinely recommend it as the preferred dispute resolution process for families who, without access to a parenting co-ordinator, would spend most of their time in court requesting court orders to address every dispute between them, as it arises, the cost of which would be prohibitive.
Important Things You Need to Know About Parenting Co-Ordination
In Ontario, most parenting co-ordinators are trained either as lawyers or mental health professionals. You need to choose a parenting co-ordinator with the appropriate professional education, training and experience to work with your family.
Typically, a parenting co-ordinator is appointed as a term of a comprehensive parenting plan set out in a court order or separation agreement.
A parenting co-ordinator is not appointed to create a comprehensive parenting plan.
A parenting co-ordinator cannot be appointed without first consenting to the appointment.
Generally, a parenting co-ordinator will be appointed to work with a family over a period of one to two years.
Before agreeing to take on the role of parenting co-ordinator with a particular family, the parenting co-ordinator is required to meet individually with each parent to screen them for suitability for the parenting co-ordination process. Parenting co-ordination is not a suitable process for everyone.
In addition to any document (court order or agreement) through which they agree to appoint a parenting co-ordinator, the parties are required to sign a formal parenting co-ordination contract which defines the working relationship between the parents and the parenting co-ordinator and, in particular:
the issues which the parties may address in mediation and which, if not resolved in that process, will be resolved through arbitration;
the issues about which the parenting co-ordinator has no authority to make decisions;
the structure of the parenting co-ordination process;
the parties’ appeal rights relating to arbitration awards made during the term of the contract; and
the renewal, expiration or termination of the parenting co-ordination contract.
The role of a parenting co-ordinator is to:
assist the parents with the implementation of their parenting plan as reflected in their separation agreement, minutes of settlement, court order or arbitration award;
monitor the children’s adjustment to the parenting plan;
facilitate the children’s relationships with both parents;
if required, assist the parents with improving their communication;
if required, assist the parents with disengaging to reduce the conflict between them;
educate the parents about their children’s needs and the impact of parental conflict on the children’s development;
if required, assist the parents with their exchange of necessary information about the children;
mediate disputes between the parents by facilitating their discussions; and
if the parents are unable to resolve their disputes through mediation, arbitrate the disputes.
The ultimate goal of parenting co-ordination is to help the parents reach the point where they are able to co-parent their children without any ongoing involvement of professionals.
Referrals for Parenting Co-Ordination Services
A family may be referred to me for parenting co-ordination services by:
a mental health professional who has prepared a parenting assessment for the family in which longstanding conflict has been identified;
the lawyers for both parties;
local judges, who recommend the process as part of the overall settlement of parenting issues; and
parents themselves who are seeking a more stream-lined dispute resolution process.
Parties may be referred for parenting co-ordination services at various stages of their negotiation or court proceedings. For example, it may become evident during negotiations between lawyers that there are many issues which create conflict between parents which are not likely to subside over time. The lawyers may negotiate a fairly extensive parenting plan and refer the family to parenting co-ordination services so that the existing plan may be implemented, monitored and adjusted to meet the changing needs of the children or to reflect special circumstances.
Alternatively, as a term of a final settlement of a court action, in order to avoid trial, many parents will appoint a parenting co-ordinator to work with their family because they know that given their history, new conflicts will arise regularly and they can no longer tolerate the emotional and financial cost of court proceedings.
My Parenting Co-Ordination Process
My parenting co-ordination process involves the following steps, however, depending on the source of the referral for parenting co-ordination services, the extent of the conflict between the parents and when the referral is made in the context of the parties’ negotiations or litigation, the order in which the steps are taken may be somewhat different.
I will speak to both parties’ lawyers about the family to inform myself about the relationship between the parents, the level of conflict they have experienced, how long the conflict has existed, the types of issues which create conflict, what resources the family has accessed to address the conflict and the stage of the parties’ negotiations or court proceedings.
I will meet individually with each parent in order to find out how they are experiencing the relationship with the other parent and screen for a variety of issues which will allow me to determine whether or not, in my view, the family is suitable for the parenting co-ordination process and whether, given my professional training and experience, I am an appropriate parenting co-ordinator for the family. This meeting is confidential.
In addition to my own screening, I sometimes refer parents to a third party for additional screening if I feel that doing so will assist the parents with their decision about participating in the parenting co-ordination process.
I will review the terms of my parenting co-ordination contract with the parents and their lawyers and draw to their attention the choices that I have made about terms that I require be included in or excluded from the contract and the choices that they are required to make about terms they may wish to have included in or excluded from the contract.
I will discuss with the parents and their lawyers the appropriate duration of the parenting co-ordination process so that everyone knows the length of their commitment to the process.
I will discuss the cost associated with the parenting co-ordination process, depending on the specific circumstances of the family.
Once both parents, their lawyers and I have signed the parenting co-ordination contract, as disputes arise, I will schedule a mediation session with the parents to help them discuss and resolve the issues. If the parents agree about how the specific disputes should be resolved, I will either draft an agreement which reflects what they have agreed to which they will sign either with or without legal advice or, I will prepare a consent arbitration award which will become binding.
As new disputes arise, I will continue to offer the parents mediation services, with a view to helping them decide how the issues should be resolved.
Any time the parties are unable to mediate a resolution of an issue which is in dispute, I will schedule an arbitration hearing to provide both parents with the opportunity to put forward their proposals about how the issue should be addressed and a summary of the facts which support their proposals. Before scheduling the arbitration hearing, I will discuss with the parents (and possibly their lawyers), the type of process and the level of formality that is most suitable for the parents to permit them to properly address the issues in dispute. For example:
the arbitration of a time-sensitive, relatively straight-forward issue such as whether the parenting schedule may be changed to permit a child to attend a parent’s wedding could be addressed through a telephone conference;
the arbitration of a dispute relating to whether or not a child should be enrolled in dance classes two or four times each week would most likely be addressed by the parties delivering written submissions to me and to the other parent within a specified period of time and then delivering further submissions in response to the other parent’s materials;
the arbitration of a dispute relating to the choice of a child’s school and the language of education would most likely be addressed through a more formal hearing, at which both parents present oral evidence.
During the parenting co-ordination process, I may:
require the parents to sign consent forms authorizing me to receive information from one or more of the following sources:
the children’s teachers, principal, vice-principal or the applicable school board
the children’s healthcare providers
the children’s care givers or babysitters
the children’s counsellors or therapists
a hospital through which a child has been assessed or treated
a child protection agency
a police force
any other record holder
require one or both parents and / or the children to attend counselling or therapy with a named counsellor or therapist
speak with the children’s teachers, daycare providers, counsellors or therapists
speak with the parents’ counsellors or therapists
request an update to an existing parenting assessment or a new parenting assessment
request a voice of the child report which is a report that summarizes the views and preferences of the children which have been shared with a neutral mental health professional who has been asked to interview the children
monitor the parents’ communication with each other and the children
refer the parents and / or the children to mental health and legal professionals or to community resources