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What is a Parenting Coordinator?

A Parenting Coordinator (‘PC’) helps separated parents resolve parenting disagreements.  PC’s are usually social workers and psychologists, although there are a growing number of lawyers now working as PC’s.  PC’s receive their authority from a Parenting Plan, Separation Agreement, Court Order or Arbitral Award. That is, the types of disputes that PC’s resolve relate to the implementation of a parenting schedule – not the creation of such a schedule.  That is why section 59.7(2) of the Family Law Act refers to this service as a ‘secondary arbitration’. By definition, a secondary arbitration “means a family arbitration that is conducted in accordance with a separation agreement, a court order or a family arbitration award that provides for the arbitration of possible future disputes relating to the ongoing management or implementation of the agreement, order or award.”

Before arbitration is invoked, PC’s use a variety of tools to help parents solve their disagreements ranging from parent education, to coaching, to mediation. Only if the parents still cannot agree upon a solution, do PC’s resort to arbitration.  That is, PC’s have the power to arbitrate parenting disputes, but usually after education and mediation have failed.  The idea is that the PC attempts to enable the parents to problem-solve and develop the skills to better communicate and arrive at mutual decisions regarding their children.  However, if such efforts have been exhausted, the PC renders an arbitral decision, which must be followed by the parents, as if ordered by a judge.

The implementation of Parenting Coordination varies among jurisdictions.  In Ontario, a judge cannot order parties to use a Parenting Coordinator, as that would constitute a delegation of authority. The consent of both parties is required.

In 2012, the Ontario Court of Justice in Sehota v. Sehota [2012] O.J. No. 835, took judicial notice of PC’s and specifically the 2005 Guidelines for Parenting Coordination, which were produced by the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts.

The court stated:

The Guidelines suggest that the Parenting Coordinator has considerable authority, albeit about only minor issues.  A list of the types of issues that might be addressed by a Parenting Coordinator is as follows:

  1. Minor changes or clarification of parenting time/access schedules or conditions including vacation, holidays and temporary variation from the existing parenting plan;
  2. Transitions/exchanges of the children including date, time, place, means of transpiration and transporter;
  3. Health care management including medical, dental, orthodontic, and vision care;
  4. Child-rearing issues;
  5. Psychotherapy or other mental health care including substance abuse assessment or counseling for the children;
  6. Psychological testing or other assessment of the children and parents;
  7. Education or daycare including school choice, tutoring, summer school, participation in special education testing and programs or other major educational decisions;
  8. Enrichment and extra-curricular activities including camps and jobs;
  9. Religious observances and education;
  10. Children’s travel and passport arrangements;
  11. Clothing, equipment, and personal possessions of the children;
  12. Communication between the parents about the children including telephone, fax, e-mail, notes in backpacks, etc.;
  13. Communication by a parent with the children including telephone, call phone, pager, fax, and email when they are not in that parent’s care;
  14. Alteration of appearance of the children haircuts, tattoos, ear and body piercing;
  15. Role of and contact with significant others and extended families;
  16. Substance abuse assessment or testing for either or both parents or a child, including access to results; and
  17. Parenting classes for either or both parents.

Parenting Coordinators have become a critical component of matrimonial law, post-separation family counseling and dispute resolution. Family court judges value the work of such professionals for their help in easing many of the difficulties parents face, in a manner that protects the interests of children.
PC’s help parents put their children’s interests first, help them understand how conflict hurts children and teach them how to communicate and cooperate so as to achieve the very best outcomes for children of divorce.