Parenting coordination is a process which assists divorced or separated parents to co-parent on an ongoing basis, regardless of whether they have primary or shared parenting. Parenting coordination typically commences after parents have received a Parenting Order or have completed a Separation Agreement. Parents must mutually agree to the parenting coordinator, whom is usually a Family Lawyer or a Mental Health Professional with extensive training in parenting coordination, Mediation and Arbitration. Once the parenting coordinator has been chosen and an agreement signed, the parenting coordinator will address any immediate issues but will also help to determine issues as they arise over a period of time. The parenting coordinator will first attempt to mediate the issues but if the parties are unable to reach resolution the parenting coordinator has the authority to arbitrate the issues and make a binding award. The parenting coordinator can assist in many ways including:
- Setting up communication protocols to decrease conflict. Co-parenting conflict often arises due to communication difficulties. Typical complaints include abusive emails, too frequent calls/emails, parents who do not respond to emails or calls, and communication through the children. If parents are unable to agree upon communication protocols, a parenting coordinator is able to set detailed rules in arbitration which will be binding.
- Help interpret confusing terms in the Order/Agreement. Often parents have trouble deciphering the meaning of certain clauses in their agreements/orders. A parenting coordinator can help the parents to determine the meaning or may make an arbitrated binding decision as to the interpretation if agreement cannot be reached.
- Assist by enforcing terms in the Order/Agreement which are being breached. Parents are often frustrated by breached parenting rules. A parenting coordinator is able to direct that there be consequences for such behavior. Often times the consequence includes costs against a parent or extra make up time.
- Help parents make difficult decisions. Difficult decisions arise often and typically include choice of school, activity/sports choices, holiday/special occasion issues, health concerns, and pick up/drop off difficulties. As these issues arise, a parenting coordinator can quickly help mediate these concerns and if necessary, will make an arbitrated decision that is binding.
- Educate parents to co-parent without conflict. The ultimate goal of a parenting coordinator is to assist parents to co-parent without the necessity of a parenting coordinator, lawyers and/or the Courts.
What are the steps involved to start and proceed with Parenting Coordination?
- Once parents have a Separation Agreement or Court Order, they both decide upon a parenting coordinator. The parties should jointly contact their preferred parenting coordinator and ensure that they have adequate time in their schedule to take on the file.
- A Parenting Coordination Agreement is signed with the parenting coordinator. Often times the parties will also obtain a Consent Order from the Court setting out their agreement to engage in parenting coordination. The Parenting Coordination Agreement will include terms giving the parenting coordinator jurisdiction under the Arbitration Act of Alberta to arbitrate issues which cannot be mediated.
- Every parenting coordinator has their own individual process, however typically they will have individual meetings with both parents and will read any required documents to provide them with a history of the family and their circumstances. Immediate issues will be canvased and a plan will be made to address them. Usually the parents attend for a mediation session (in office or zoom) to address these issues and to set up other basic protocols. If needed, further discussion and mediation continues by meeting, telephone, or email.
- If the issues cannot be resolved in mediation, the parenting coordinator will arbitrate the problematic issues using a process that is as cost and time efficient as possible. The decision will be set out in a binding Arbitration Award which may be put into a Court Order.
- Should other issues arise during the term of the parenting coordination (2 years is recommended), the concerned parent may contact the parenting coordinator by phone or email. Typically, the parenting coordinator will attempt to mediate the dispute with meetings, phone calls or emails, which ever is most time and cost effective given the concern. Once again, if the issue cannot be resolved with mediation, it will be put to arbitration and a binding decision made.
- If issues arise which require other professional services such as counselling for the children, this decision will be made by consensus or arbitrated decision.
Are Parenting Coordination decisions binding?
If the parenting coordination includes arbitration powers, the arbitrated decisions are binding in accordance with the Arbitration Act of Alberta. If desired, a parent may seek to have the Court enter the award terms in a Court Order. The decisions are appealable to the Court of King’s Bench of Alberta pursuant to the terms of the Parenting Coordination Agreement and/or the Arbitration Act of Alberta.
If the parties resolve issues by consent, they may be entered into a Consent Arbitration Award.
What are the benefits of Parenting Coordination as compared to proceeding to Court or negotiating with lawyers?
- Parenting coordinators are often able to offer immediate attention to problems which arise. Proceeding to court usually takes significantly longer to obtain a resolution.
- Parenting coordination is designed to be convenient and time efficient for families. Much of the communication between the parenting coordinator and the parents is by way of email or telephone calls as opposed to the preparation and filing of formal documents to the court or letters and/or meetings through legal counsel. The arbitration process is often tailored to be much less formal depending on the issue.
- The parenting coordinator becomes familiar with the family and their particular challenges and history. Understanding the family results in better tailored solutions to their issues. It is rare when proceeding through the court system to have the same Judge or Justice hear a case more than once.
- It is typically much less costly to share the cost of a parenting coordinator as opposed to 2 lawyers and court costs.
- Most parenting coordinators have specialized training and a passion for mediation, arbitration, parenting coordination, interest-based dispute resolution and child psychology.
- Parenting coordinators can work with 3rd parties who may have helpful information such as teachers, family and counsellors.
How long is the term of the Parenting coordinator?
A two-year term is recommended to give the parenting coordinator an opportunity to understand the family and the issues which are preventing a healthy co-parenting relationship. Neither party will be able to unilaterally withdraw from parenting coordination during the term except for rare circumstances as outlined in the Arbitration Act.
Do I need a lawyer for Parenting Coordination?
No, it is not necessary to have a lawyer, however it is always helpful to have legal advice.
Are the children involved in Parenting coordination?
If the parties’ consent in the Parenting Coordination Agreement, the parenting coordinator will have the option to speak to the children if necessary. Involving the children should always be done with great caution and only if the parenting coordinator has training in speaking/interviewing children. As another option, a parenting coordinator may arrange counseling for the children and consult with the children’s counsellor when necessary.
How much does Parenting Coordination Cost?
Typically, the parenting coordinator will charge an hourly rate for all time spent on the file. Often times the parties will share the cost equally.
Does Kirk Montoute Dawson LLP offer Parenting Coordination?
Yes, Gary Kirk, Nigel Montoute, and Wanda Dawson are experienced and trained mediators, arbitrators and parenting coordinators. Wanda Dawson also has specialized training in Speaking to Children and Parents through Dr. Lorri Yasenik and Jonathan Graham, LLB, (Sydney Australia).
They are passionate about helping families through difficult parenting challenges upon separation/divorce and take every opportunity to develop and enhance their training and skills in this important area of practice.
Written by Wanda Dawson
Related Articles: Parenting in a time of Pandemic The importance of positive co-parenting in the family law process Can Children Choose Which Parent to Live With?