What Parenting Coordinators are Not!

One of the most common misconceptions regarding parenting coordinators (PCs) is the suggestion that they can exercise delegated judicial power to make decisions of a binding nature. They cannot. So, what can and can’t PC’s do?

The PC role is varied but it does not include a decision-making function. This common misconception likely comes from the fact that PCs in other countries sometimes have a decision-making role. This is not the case in Australia; this would render the appointment of a parenting coordinator unconstitutional. Domestically, parenting coordination is not a decision-making process, but rather an appointment made to assist parents with the implementation of orders that have already been made by a Court.

What are the goals of Parenting Coordination?

Unlike an arbitrator or other judicial officer, a PC in Australia is not authorised to listen to disputes between parents and then impose decisions of a binding nature. Their first role, and indeed their priority above all else, is to assist parents in making orders work for them — with as little conflict as possible.

The main objectives of parenting coordination are to:

  • Help parents understand and implement a parenting plan, consent orders or parenting orders made by the Court.
  • Monitor the ongoing implementation of, and compliance with, orders.
  • Assist parents in dealing with conflict that might arise over day-to-day issues such as
  • changeovers, movement of belongings between residences, attending functions, extra-curricular
  • activities, and holidays.
  • Maintain the parents’ focus on their children’s best interests.
  • Educate the parents in effective communication techniques and conflict resolution strategies.
  • Reduce the overall levels of conflict within the parents’ relationship.

Decision-making during the Parenting Coordination period

During the course of the PC’s appointment, which can be for a period of up to two years, the coordinator may only provide recommendations as to what they consider to be in the best interests of the child, related to the implementation of orders.

They can then work with the parents — both individually and together — to discuss the recommendations in detail, improve communication, reduce conflict over an issue, facilitate a suitable arrangement between the parents and then monitor compliance.

Parenting coordinators work with high conflict families and given the dynamics, sometimes agreement cannot be reached over a particular issue. When this happens, rather than impose a decision, the PC or the parents themselves, will seek assistance from a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (FDRP) to resolve the matter. Alternatively, they may seek legal advice about their other options including an application to the court for new orders.

Complementary Process

The process of parenting coordination is complementary to our existing family law system in Australia. It alleviates the pressures on the Court by removing from the system the high conflict families who may have repeatedly engaged in litigation over parenting disputes. Parenting coordination aims to reduce the levels of conflict children are exposed to thereby breaking the cycle of long-term disadvantage that children from high conflict families may experience.

Most importantly, parenting coordination does not replace established dispute resolution practices such as mediation and FDR. It is simply an additional piece in the complex, and continually evolving, family law ‘tool kit’. Parenting coordination provides assistance for clients at a time that is traditionally under- serviced in the family law process: post-orders — a period when many need assistance with ongoing co- parenting disputes.

Parenting coordinators are usually professionals such as family lawyers, mediators, counsellors, psychologists and social workers who have undertaken special training in the process of parenting coordination. They are highly skilled at working with separated couples in conflict, and assisting with communication and dispute resolution. The parenting coordination process reminds them that they do indeed still have a common goal — good outcomes for their children.

© Anne Purcell PhD and Cassandra Pullos, Co-founders of Parenting Coordination Australia