Exploring the Distinction between a Parenting Coordinator and a Mediator

In situations of separation or divorce, parents often encounter challenges when it comes to co-parenting their children. Seeking professional assistance can be beneficial, however understanding the roles of various professionals can be confusing. Two common figures involved in assisting families are Parenting Coordinators and Mediators. This blog post aims to clarify the differences between these two roles, shedding light on their unique contributions to the co-parenting process.

1.  The Role of a Mediator:

A Mediator is a qualified and neutral professional and their primary focus is to assist parents in reaching an agreement about the parenting arrangements for their children. A Mediator listens to each parent and assists in identifying the disputed issues, as well as the needs and goals of each parent. They explore options available to resolve each issue and reality-test proposals. This includes where the children will live, when the children will spend time with each of their parents and how long each parent will have with their children. They facilitate productive communication and negotiations between parents to reach mutually agreed-upon solutions. Mediators empower parents to make their own informed decisions, emphasising the importance of cooperation and compromise. The Mediator will assist the parties in moving towards achieving outcomes and will possibly enable an agreement to be reached with the capability to finalise the dispute, avoiding going to court or resolving ongoing court proceedings.

2.  The Role of a Parenting Coordinator:

A Parenting Coordinator is also a neutral third party, with expertise in family dynamics and child development. Their primary role is to assist parents in the implementation of their parenting orders or agreements. Parenting Coordinators also facilitate communication and cooperation between parents to resolve ongoing day-to-day disputes and create a harmonious co-parenting environment. Parenting Coordinators can assist by offering recommendations on specific parenting issues if parents cannot reach an agreement. Parenting Coordinators also educate separated parents on how to remove the conflict from their communication and how ongoing parental conflict impacts their children’s development. They also assist in removing conflict from the daily decision-making required to implement their parenting orders and agreements.

3.  Scope of Involvement:

Mediator:  Mediation is often a more time-limited process, where the Mediator’s involvement concludes once an agreement is reached or if it becomes apparent that an agreement cannot be reached.

Parenting Coordinator:  Parenting coordination commences on a parenting order or agreement being made (after mediation or after a hearing). It usually involves a more ongoing and continuous process, particularly in high-conflict cases. The Parenting Coordinator is actively involved, over a period of time, in addressing multiple parenting disagreements, which arise in the day-to-day parenting of children according to parenting orders or agreements. The Parenting Coordinator also takes on the role of educator and coach with the aim of parents learning healthy future focused problem-solving approaches to those day-to-day parenting disagreements – with the ultimate goal of parents transitioning into healthy resolution practices without the support of the Parenting Coordinator.

4.  Objective of the Process:

Mediator:  The primary goal of a Mediator is to foster open communication and collaboration between parents, encouraging them to work together to develop solutions that work for both parties and reach an agreement. The Mediator does not provide recommendations or enforce decisions but ensures that both parents have a voice in the negotiation process.

Parenting Coordinator:  The main objective of a Parenting Coordinator is to help parents implement parenting orders or parenting plans, manage ongoing conflicts, and promote effective co-parenting practices. They work towards finding resolutions and guiding parents through the process post orders or agreement, with the child’s best interests as the primary consideration. The ultimate objective of the Parenting Coordinator is for parents to be able to exit the Parenting Coordination process with a new set of communication and problem-solving skills to apply to their ongoing parenting relationship with each other and with their children.

In summary, both Parenting Coordinators and Mediators play essential roles in assisting separated or divorced parents in resolving co-parenting issues. Both are neutral professionals facilitating communication, the key distinction lies in their objectives and scope of involvement. The Mediators role usually starts prior to parenting orders or agreements being made and is focused on assisting parents reach those agreements. The Parenting Coordinators role starts after parenting orders or agreements are made and is focused on assisting parents in implementing those agreements. Mediators focus on empowering parents to reach their own, primary, agreements about the parenting arrangements for their children. Parenting Coordinators work on an ongoing basis with parents assisting them to implement those parenting orders or agreements with as little conflict as possible and in a healthy and functional way – even if the parents remain divided about their views about the terms of the parenting order or agreement. Depending on the specific needs and dynamics of the family, and the stage at which their parenting dispute is at, either or both professionals can be valuable assets in fostering a cooperative and child-centric co-parenting relationship.

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