Friday, April 08, 2011

Supporting parenting coordinators in New Jersey

What is a parenting coordinator?  A parenting coordinator acts as a liaison between parents to help them communicate regarding decisions, priorities and planning that involve their children.  When necessary, a parenting coordinator can make decisions so that the parties do not have to rely on the court system for every dispute.

Recently, the Superior Court of New Jersey issued an opinion in Segal v. Lynch (2011) that strongly supported the use of parenting coordinators.  Parenting coordinators are often used to help parents in the most contentious custody cases.   They are an invaluable resource for parents who cannot agree on any decisions and continually fail to communicate.  In other words, parenting coordinators are a priceless tool in situations where the parents often cannot see past their own disagreements to unify for the best interests of their children.  As the court acknowledges, parenting coordinators have a difficult job that is often thankless because they become the target of an unhappy parent’s frustration and anger.

In the toughest cases, a parent may only see a parenting coordinator as a roadblock to getting what they want.  In Segal v. Lynch, it appears that the parenting coordinator fell victim to a father’s frustrations.  The result of the case strongly supports parenting coordinators because it protected a parenting coordinator from the merit-less claims of a parent by requiring the parent to pay the parenting coordinator’s fees.  Furthermore, the court upheld as appropriate the actions taken by the parenting coordinator.

The court time-and-again reiterated that public policy supports using parenting coordinators and providing protection to them because they ease the burden on a burgeoning court system.  By using the parenting coordinators, parents’ claims often can be addressed without having to litigate minor concerns, like whether a child should play soccer after school.  

New Jersey has established a program through which courts and parents can utilize parenting coordinators.  Under the program, there are specific and detailed guidelines establishing the procedures and policies.  Included within these policies are systems for filing grievances.  The Segal court demanded that the procedures be followed.  When the procedures were followed, the court found that a parenting coordinator could receive fees as outlined in the parenting coordinator retainer agreement.  In fact, the court went so far as to acknowledge that it would be “crippling” to the parenting coordinator program if parenting coordinators where not compensated for their time, even when the time was spent responding to grievances filed by one of the parents, especially when the grievances were baseless.

When utilizing a parenting coordinator in New Jersey, it is important that the parties fully understand the state guidelines and the parenting coordinator’s retainer agreement, because, as was demonstrated by Segal, the courts likely will uphold the parameters established.  The guidelines specifically address issues such as filing grievances, hearings and parameters for the relationship.  In short, parents must understand the guidelines for parenting coordinators so that the use of a parenting coordinator is beneficial for all parties.

Ultimately, in difficult parenting cases, a parenting coordinator can be a valuable tool for parents so that they can reach decisions that benefit their children.  That said, parents should fully understand the terms of the arrangement and the parameters of New Jersey’s guidelines prior to signing the retainer agreement.  By being prepared, all parties stand to receive benefits from the relationship.

Written by Elizabeth A. Bokermann, Esquire, associate at Law Offices of Linda A. Kerns, LLC.


Anonymous said...

While a parent coordinator may be useful in some instances the excuse that it relieves the burden of the court has been nullified in Parish V Parish whereing the court found that the court can not abdicate their duty to a coordinator and in any instance a PC can not change any orders and can not function in enforcement matters. What they can do is to aid in things like "Johnny has a game today who will pick them up". Pretty much useless stuff and most of this should be spelled out in parenting orders.
Another big issue with the PC is they end up being a tool for the party with the most money. The PCs for the most part are not trained in law but in social work. Yet they receive a premium over what a therapist would charge of about 500%. In other words, they have a built in annuity. They can call meetings whenever they want and guess what. The parents pay 50/50. Most demand weekly meetings for a year or so and then scale it back. When it should only be on an as needed basis when there is a disagreement on how to handle something.
So in other words in a situation where a father earning 100K per year while the custodial mother earns 20K, the PC asks for weekly meeting with a cost of $150 per meeting or more. That means a mother is turning over $75 per meeting out of her take home pay of about 250 after deductions. In addition she would need to hire a baby sitter, pay tolls and fuel to get there. Leaving her with about 150 or less to live on and costing her about 50% of her pay. In the father's situation he would be clearing about $1500 per week and have no babysitting cost. Leaving him with $1425 to live and costing him just about 5% of his take home.
The result is the father can get whatever he wants because anytime there is a disagreement all he has to due is raise the issue of bring in the PC, full knowing the mother can not afford it.

D3 ITEms said...

this is just as well great for phrases! :)
great job!