Staying in your own lane: Can you be appointed as a parenting coordinator if you have worked with a family in another capacity?

One of the most common questions to arise about the parenting coordination process is whether a client’s family lawyer, family dispute resolution practitioner (FDRP), therapist or report writer can also act as their Parenting Coordinator.

When separated couples are in conflict and cannot reach an agreement over parenting arrangements, there are a number of avenues available to them to try and resolve their dispute.

The separating couple may have been to counselling but if separation is the outcome one of the first strategies to employ is a confidential FDR/mediation process, wherein the parents may work with family lawyers and/or a FDRP/Mediator to isolate the issues in dispute, understand any differing goals and positions, and try to agree – and commit – to a unified approach.

If an agreement is not reached in FDR/mediation, or if FDR has been deemed not appropriate in their particular situation, the FDRP can also issue a Section 60i certificate that allows the couple to file an application in Court for Orders to be made on their behalf. A family report can often be the next step toward reaching parenting agreements.

The goal of these processes is to finalise a parenting plan or Court order in relation to parenting arrangements. But, following a parenting plan or Order can be difficult for some. Now what? Have the conflicts with the other parent regarding the children suddenly stopped just because there is an agreement? How about communication? Does signing an agreement suddenly make it so that the co-parents magically start to effectively communicate? Likely not.

This post-agreement environment is when a Parenting Coordinator may be called upon to work with the parents to develop and apply strategies to manage and resolve conflict, help them to interpret and adhere to family court orders, and guide them to make day-to-day decisions regarding parenting arrangements that are in the best interests of their child.

So, can a professional who has previously worked with one or both of the parents (e.g., a therapist lawyer, FDRP, mediator or family report writer) also act as their Parenting Coordinator?

The answer to that is simple.  If you have already worked on the matter in any capacity, you cannot then be appointed to work with them as a Parenting Coordinator.  This not only maintains the integrity of the process and the impartiality of the practitioner, it also demarks a boundary between other processes that are most often privileged, or confidential and parenting coordination, which is not.

Parenting Coordination is not a confidential process, and a Parenting Coordinator may also be called on by the Court to provide evidence and report on the actions and behaviour of parents if required.

By necessity, a Parenting Coordinator must remain a ‘neutral’ and independent professional.  It is their role to assist the parents in making quick day-to-day decisions in line with any Court Orders (such as ‘handover’ arrangements or ‘swaps’ of time over holidays) that have already been made while improving each parties’ communication and conflict resolution skills.

Being trained as a PC complements your FDR or mediation accreditation and allows you to work with clients at any stage of a conflict over parenting arrangements.  “Staying in your own lane” and maintaining a separation between the legal process and parenting coordination is essential for the ongoing integrity of the practice.

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