Here is some helpful information about parenting coordinators in Arizona child custody cases. Family courts sometimes appoint parenting coordinators and you may be wondering what parenting coordinators are, why they are appointed in certain cases, who pays for them, and what kinds of things parenting coordinators can and cannot do.
What Is A Parenting Coordinator?
Parenting coordination is a child-focused alternative dispute resolution process. The overall objective of parenting coordination is to assist parents with implementation, compliance, and timely conflict resolution regarding their parenting plan and legal decision-making orders so as to protect and sustain safe, healthy, and meaningful parent-child relationships.
A parenting coordinator is a person, usually a psychologist or an attorney, who is a source for parents in high-conflict custody cases to turn to for input or decisions when the parties are unable to reach an agreement between themselves, which of course, happens frequently in high-conflict custody cases. These experts are trained in specific techniques on handling very contentious disputes and finding ways to improve the parents’ quality of communications with each other.
The parenting coordinator can be appointed if the parties agree that one should be appointed. Or one can be appointed if the parties do not agree on whether one should be appointed.
The court may appoint a third party as a parenting coordinator in proceedings under Title 25, A.R.S., at any time after entry of a legal decision-making or parenting time order only if each parent has agreed to the appointment either by written stipulation or orally on the record in open court.
The stipulation must state:
- each parent understands how the parenting coordinator bills for services, including the parenting coordinator’s hourly rate, and the parents can afford the parenting coordinator’s services;
- the manner in which the parenting coordinator’s fees will be allocated between the parents;
- the method by which the parenting coordinator will be selected or the name of the agreed-upon parenting coordinator;
- the parents agree to the release of documents the parenting coordinator deems necessary to the performance of the parenting coordinator’s services;
- the term of the appointment; and
- the parents agree to be bound by decisions made by the parenting coordinator that fall within the scope of the parenting coordinator’s authority and relate to issues submitted to the parenting coordinator for decision.
Parenting coordination assistance can also be sought through the court’s conciliation court services, if available. Parents obtaining parenting coordinator services through the court’s conciliation court services must agree to the points listed above.
A Question That Often Arises Is: How Is A Parenting Coordinator Selected?
A parenting coordinator appointed by the court must qualify as a parenting coordinator. There are specific standards involved that will be explained below. A person appointed as a parenting coordinator cannot serve in any other function or role in the case, except that each parent and the parenting coordinator may agree that a person who is serving or has already served in a legal, treatment, evaluative, or therapeutic role in the case can be appointed as the parenting coordinator.
The following persons can serve as a parenting coordinator:
- an attorney who is licensed to practice law in Arizona;
- a psychiatrist who is licensed to practice medicine or osteopathy in Arizona;
- a psychologist who is licensed to practice psychology in Arizona;
- a person who is licensed to practice independently by the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners;
- professional staff of a court’s conciliation services department; or
- a person with education, experience, and expertise who is deemed qualified by the court’s presiding judge or a designee.
The court can set additional requirements for service as a parenting coordinator if so desired.
Another Question That May Arise Is: How Long Will A Parenting Coordinator Be Assigned To My Case?
The term of the parenting coordinator will be designated in the order of appointment. A parenting coordinator’s initial term cannot exceed one year unless each parent and the parenting coordinator agree to a longer term. The parenting coordinator cannot be reappointed at the end of the term unless each parent and the parenting coordinator agree to the reappointment in writing or orally on the record in open court. By agreeing to the reappointment, each parent is acknowledging the parent’s understanding and acceptance of the points listed above. The reappointment term cannot exceed one year unless each parent and the parenting coordinator agree to a longer term.
Also, both parents can agree to replace the existing parenting coordinator by stipulating to the replacement in writing or orally on the record in open court. The stipulation that replaces the parenting coordinator must also contain the points listed above.
Keep in mind that the parenting coordinator can resign upon notice to each parent and order of the court. Alternatively, both parents can jointly agree to discharge the parenting coordinator during the term of appointment. If only one parent wishes to discharge the parenting coordinator, that parent must file a motion with the court that establishes good cause for the requested relief. Disagreeing with one or more of the parenting coordinator’s decisions does not constitute good cause for discharging the parenting coordinator.
How Will The Parenting Coordinator Get Paid?
The parenting coordinator must fully disclose all fees and charges to each parent before services requiring payment can begin. A parenting coordinator cannot increase the parenting coordinator’s hourly rate during a term of appointment. Both parents may agree to a change in the allocation of fees by amending the agreement in writing with the parenting coordinator. Without the parents’ agreement, a parenting coordinator cannot reallocate fees based on a change in a parent’s financial circumstances.
What if the other parent abuses the parenting coordinator process? This will drive up the cost. I cannot afford that. What can I do?
Where one parent is reasonably believed to be using parenting coordinator services excessively or to harass the other parent, a parenting coordinator or a parent can recommend, as a sanction, an adjustment to the allocation of the parenting coordinator’s fees. (Normally fees are shared 50/50 or in proportion to each parent’s income.) Any recommendation must be filed with the court in writing and must explain in detail the reason for the recommended fee reallocation. The recommendation must be provided to each parent or counsel, if represented, if filed by the parenting coordinator, and if filed by a parent, to the parenting coordinator and the other parent or counsel, if represented. The non-recommending parent may file an objection to the recommendation within 20 days after the date the written recommendation is filed. If an objection is filed, the court must hold a hearing before reallocating fees.
Is The Parenting Coordinator Process Confidential?
Parenting coordination is not a confidential process. Therefore, the communications between the following are not confidential:
- each parent and the parenting coordinator;
- the child and the parenting coordinator;
- the parenting coordinator and other relevant parties to the parenting coordination process; and
- the parenting coordinator and the court.
It is also important to note that counsel cannot attend parenting coordinator meetings with their clients unless each parent and the parenting coordinator agree or if ordered by the court. The parenting coordinator can meet with each counsel separately to obtain information relevant to the issue before the parenting coordinator.
What Kinds Of Things Can A Parenting Coordinator Do?
The court order appointing the parenting coordinator must specify the scope of the appointment.
A parenting coordinator’s scope of appointment can include:
- helping the parents address disputed issues, reduce misunderstandings, clarify priorities, explore possibilities for compromise, develop methods of collaboration in parenting, and comply with legal decision-making authority and parenting time orders;
- making decisions regarding implementation, clarification, and minor adjustments to parenting time orders;
- making decisions regarding parenting challenges not specified in the parenting plan that the parents are unable to resolve. By way of example, these challenges can include disagreements about: pick-up and drop-off locations, dates and times; holiday scheduling; discipline; health issues; personal care issues; school and extracurricular activities; choice of schools; and managing problematic behaviors;
- interviewing and requesting documentation from anyone who has relevant information necessary to resolve a matter currently before the parenting coordinator; and
- recommending that the court order the parents or child to participate in ancillary services, to be provided by the court or third parties, including but not limited to physical or psychological examinations or assessments, counseling, and alcohol or drug monitoring and testing.
A parenting coordinator must attempt in a timely manner to facilitate agreement on disputed issues between the parents. If the parents are unable to reach an agreement, the parenting coordinator will timely decide any disputed issues within the scope of the parenting coordinator’s authority.
However, there are things that a parenting coordinator cannot do. A parenting coordinator cannot make a decision that will:
- affect child support, spousal maintenance, or the allocation or property or debt;
- change legal decision-making authority; or
- substantially change parenting time.
An exception occurs in cases in which there is an emergency. If, based upon the parenting coordinator’s personal observation, the parenting coordinator determines that a parent’s functioning is impaired and the parent is incapable of fulfilling either the court-ordered legal decision-making or parenting functions, or the parent’s conduct will expose the child to an imminent risk of irreparable harm, a parenting coordinator is authorized to file a motion for temporary orders without notice. The court must accept the motion for filing even though a formal petition to modify has not been filed.
A parenting coordinator usually issues a report to the court regarding the parenting coordinator’s decision in matters where the parties are unable to reach an agreement either on their own or with the assistance of the parenting coordinator. The parenting coordinator’s decision on an issue must be written in a format substantially similar to the format required by the court. The parenting coordinator must:
- mail or transmit the report to the assigned judge–but not the clerk of the court–not later than five business days after receipt of all information necessary to make a decision; and
- mail or transmit a copy of the report to each parent or counsel on the same day it is mailed or transmitted to the court.
The court, upon receipt of the parenting coordinator’s report, must file the report. If the report contains confidential or private information, it must be filed in a manner that prevents the public from accessing the report. Once the report has been filed, the court can do any of the following:
- adopt the decision as an order of the court;
- reject the decision and report in whole or in part as outside the scope of the parenting coordinator’s authority and affirm all or part of the current court order; or
- set a hearing regarding the decision.
But, if the parenting coordinator issues a report that you don’t like, what are your options? Can you object to the parenting coordinator’s report?
Provided that the parenting coordinator acted within the scope of his/her authority, the parenting coordinator’s decision is binding. If a parent believes that the parenting coordinator’s decision exceeds the scope of the parenting coordinator’s authority, the parent may object to the parenting coordinator’s decision by filing a pleading with the court entitled “Objection.” The objection must be filed within 20 days after the date of the filing of the parenting coordinator’s report. The objection must explain in detail the reasons why the parent believes the parenting coordinator exceeded the scope of authority and whether a hearing is requested on the parent’s objection. If either parent files an objection, any court action will remain in effect pending resolution of the objection.
So you should carefully consider, with the assistance of your attorney, whether it would make sense to request the appointment of a parenting coordinator. There are pros and cons involved. Each case is different and there is no easy rule that applies to this kind of significant process. This page was written in 2016. If your parenting coordinator was appointed prior to 2016, you do have the right to object and request a hearing on a decision you do not like. But rule regarding objections changed for those parenting coordinators who were appointed after January 1, 2016, to eliminate the option of objecting to a decision you do not like – assuming the decision was within the scope of the parenting coordinator’s authority. Hopefully this rule will change back to the way it had been for many years so that parties would have the right to their day in court if they believe the parenting coordinator made a bad decision. So if you are reading this page after 2016, you should check with our office to see if the rule has been changed to permit good faith, meritorious objections to decisions made by parenting coordinators.