A difficult aspect of being a New Jersey Divorce Attorney is when children become affected by the demise of the family unit. Even worse is when one or both parents are unable to co-parent during or after their New Jersey divorce or “break up.” At worst, the parents cannot even agree on basic, day-to-day decisions regarding their children. The good news is that in recent years, New Jersey Family lawyers and judges have enjoyed great success by appointing Parenting Coordinator. Let’s explore.
While married, a mother and father vow to each other to love one another no matter what the circumstances may be. They are members of a lifelong partnership and share a special bond that can’t be broken. Unless, of course a divorce occurs, shattering that bond, ending that partnership. When this happens, a mother and father often need all the help they can get to ensure that their children will continue to have normal lives had they never split up. Since help is much needed during this difficult time, the first step that most parents take is to establish a parenting time agreement to map out when they will each spend time with the children.
Creating such a parenting time schedule is not the hardest part of the process though. Instead, enforcing the parenting time schedule is the real conflict, especially in high-conflict cases of divorce. This is the case because in a high-conflict divorce case, it is common for one parent to not be compassionate of the other parent’s relationship with the children. While litigation is often a super effective route to take to get a parenting time schedule enforced, it can get a little messy and upset the children. That is why in a lot of instances, it is helpful as an attorney to bring in a parent coordinator to get the parenting time agreement actually implemented.
Pursuant to the Parenting Coordinator Pilot Program Guidelines, a parent coordinator is “a qualified neutral person appointed by the court, or agreed to by the parties, to facilitate the resolution of day to day parenting issues that frequently arise within the context of family life when parties are separated.” The court will typically appoint a parent coordinator in cases where children are minors and their parents are incapable of sticking to their original parenting time agreement.
In New Jersey, parent coordinators have two major roles: (1) to smooth the progress of decision making between the divorced parties; and (2) to make recommendations to the parties when they can’t enforce their parenting time agreement on their own. While there are not many specific qualifications to be a parent coordinator, it is more desirable and effective for people that typically interact with children to become parent coordinators. Ideal candidates include psychologists and social workers, yet all other people of educational backgrounds are welcome to go through the parent coordination training program.
Parent Coordinators are especially useful in cases where parents have fallen victim to parental alienation syndrome. In a recent piece, “What is Parental Alienation”, I discussed what parental alienation is and how is can be avoided or overcome. However, it is a more challenging issue to tackle in some cases as opposed to others. The reason why parent coordinators are particularly useful in these types of cases is because they are neutral third parties with no biases toward either the mother or the father. Unlike an attorney where our role is to advocate for our client, the parent coordinator is an advocate for the two parents and wants to resolve whatever the conflict may be.
Although it would be idyllic for a parent coordinator to just help the parents to enforce their own parenting time agreement, this is also not always such an easy task. When even the parent coordinator can’t get the parties to enforce what they initially agreed upon, he or she may begin to make his or her own personal recommendations for the parties to follow. For example, a parent coordinator might suggest which parent will take the children back-to-school shopping, how the parents will get in touch with each other in case of an emergency involving the children, or even what day-care facility the children should attend. More specifically, the Guidelines set forth a list of areas in which they may make recommendations. Some of these topics include, but are not limited to, minor changes in the regular parenting schedule, transportation issues, health care of children, holiday sharing and summer vacations.
While the parties are not typically legally obligated to abide by the parent coordinator’s suggestions, there are instances in which the court will mandate that the parties do abide by the suggestions.
While parent coordinators are there to help parties resolve difficult conflicts, sometimes the parties will not want the help and petition to the court for termination of the parent coordinator. Although not usually recommended, there is a provision in the Parenting Coordinator Pilot Program Guidelines that allows for termination of parenting coordinators. It gives the court the authority to terminate the appointment of such a person if his or her services are not enough to help the parties in need. Additionally, if the parties have children who are older than eighteen years of age, they can petition to the court to have the parenting coordinator terminated.
If you or a loved one faces a situation wherein basic co-parenting issues are adversely affecting your children during a New Jersey divorce or afterwards, please contact my office so that we may assist you. Thank you.