Why Every Family Law Firm Needs a Parenting Coordinator

Parenting Coordination is not a new discipline, having been used in the United States since the 1990s, however it has gained considerable traction in Australia over the last few years and is growing in popularity. As the Courts issue more Consent Orders to appoint a Parenting Coordinator in high conflict cases, family law practices around Australia are gearing up to ensure that they can offer this service to meet the needs of clients at every stage of the family law process.

Why is Parenting Coordination so important?

Unlike mediation, Family Dispute Resolution and arbitration, Parenting Coordination (PC) does not attempt to negotiate a resolution or develop a parenting plan. Instead, it is focused entirely on helping parents to navigate and implement existing parenting Orders when they can be most at risk: Post Orders – the ‘back end’ of the Court process where intractable conflict can see transitioning families return to Court multiple times for contravention and enforcement applications.

This is a vulnerable time for transitioning families and one that is underserviced in the dispute resolution space. Unfortunately, for many couples, conflict over parenting Orders and decisions imposed by the Court is ongoing.  Once Orders have been made, they find it difficult to comply with them and, without further court action, almost impossible to negotiate any variations.

In high conflict cases, where couples are continually engaged in litigation and bitter disputes, the social, emotional, and even academic damage to the children is both significant and long term.  The appointment of a Parenting Coordinator is becoming increasingly common to help these cases exit the Court system.

A Parenting Coordinator is a neutral, trained professional, who is appointed to work with the couple in conflict for a set period of up to two years.  Parents attend regular sessions with their Coordinator, either alone or as joint sessions, to resolve issues and learn how to communicate more effectively moving forward.

The Parenting Coordinator remains available to the couple as required for the duration of their appointment and may be called upon at short notice if conflict flares over issues such as change-over location, pick up or drop-off times, change of schools and so on.

Who can be a Parenting Coordinator?

Parenting Coordinators come from a variety of disciples and include family and relationship lawyers, psychologists, social workers, mediators and FDRPs. While family lawyers can’t act as a PC for a client whom they have previously represented, they do take – and make referrals – from and to other lawyers. Referrals also come by way of orders from judicial officers, and increasingly, by way of the recommendation of a family report writer.

Experienced family lawyers are the ideal candidates to undertake training as a Parenting Coordinator and work with other couples in conflict.  Their understanding of the family law system and the way in which the Court decides parenting issues, combined with their ability to negotiate, and mediate, and understand family conflict means that they are perfectly positioned to work with clients over the term of the PC appointment.

With the projected increase in Court ordered Parenting Coordination, and couples voluntarily seeking the service, the demand for professionally trained coordinators is increasing.   Many family law practices across Australia are positioning Parenting Coordination as a key component of fresh service offering – in much the same way as mediation and collaborative practice developed as significant alternative dispute resolution (ADR) practices before it.

By offering Parenting Coordination as a service, law firms also ensure they are meeting the needs of clients at every stage of their family law process.

Becoming a Parenting Coordinator

There are no formal pre-requisites for training, and family lawyers can qualify to practice as a Parenting Coordinator by participating in a three-day course.

These courses are available in person, or online and are attended by family lawyers, family report writers, mediators, FDRPs, social workers and psychologists. This makes for new professional networks and attendees often establish their own ongoing cross-referral and support networks.

For more information on training as a Parenting Coordinator, click here.

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