In New Jersey, When May A Parenting Coordinator Appointed By A Family Judge?
Pursuant to the New Jersey Parenting Coordinator Pilot Program Guidelines, a parenting 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 usually appoint a parenting coordinator in cases where kids are minors and their parents are incapable of sticking to their original child custody and parenting time agreement. As a New Jersey divorce lawyer, I frequently refer to the case of Shakoor v. Mohammadi to help explain how this works.
In Shakoor, the parties were married for twelve years and divorced in May 2009. Two children, both of whom had special needs, were born of the marriage. Upon their divorce, the parties executed an agreement regarding custody of their children and the methods they would implement to resolve any parenting disagreements. Pursuant to the agreement, the parties were to share joint legal custody of their children with the wife being the primary residential custodian. Furthermore, the agreement required each party to notify the other in advance of all major and non-emergent decisions concerning each child’s health, education, and welfare. Moreover, the agreement stated that no unilateral decisions would be permitted regarding major issues concerning the children.
In October 2011 the husband filed a motion with the court, alleging that his former wife had violated the custody agreement. Specifically, he stated that his former wife had not told him that a new therapist was treating their son. He insisted that he should have been notified of the non-emergent medical matter and that he be granted relief by the court. In particular, the husband sought to compel his former wife to give him the names and addresses of all of their son’s medical providers. Additionally, he sought to compel his former wife to inform him of all of the children’s medical visits and therapeutic sessions.
The wife filed a cross-motion with the court. Not only did she seek sole legal custody of the children, but she also sought the court to limit her former husband’s involvement in the children’s education. First off, she stated that she did in fact inform her ex about the new therapist for their son. Additionally, the wife stated that the new therapist was using the same program as provided by the boy’s school. Ultimately, the wife alleged that her former husband was trying to control her and that he was not looking out for their children’s best interests.
The court granted the motion in part. It placed restrictions on the husband’s involvement in the kids’ education and non-major and routine daily matters. The husband, instead of appealing the decision, sought the court to reconsider. He believed that his interactions with his children should not be limited. Yet, the wife cross-moved again, stating that her former husband’s over-involvement impaired her ability as the primary residential custodian to properly take care of the kids.
Finally in February 2012, the court decided to appoint a parenting coordinator. Both parties agreed to the appointment. Three weeks later in March, the court appointed a new parenting coordinator because it felt the first one was not capable of doing his job correctly. The court also entered another order dated March 26th, stating that the kids’ school was required to contact the husband only if a major emergency arose. Furthermore, the court noted that the parenting coordinator could change or modify the March order as necessary.
The husband, furious with the court’s decision, appealed. He refused to accept the restrictions and stated that the parenting coordinator should have never been appointed. On appeal, the Appellate Division agreed with the lower court’s decision to appoint the parenting coordinator. It held that “the back-and-forth motion practice and the extent to which the husband was attempting to micromanage his children’s medical care and schooling, with its consequential adverse effects, underscored the need for neutral intercession by a third party.”
The Shakoor case is a classic example of when the court will appoint a parenting coordinator to help resolve the parties’ issues. For more information on parenting coordinators or to discuss the possibility of one being appointed for your case, please contact my office today. Thank you.