High conflict divorces often result in unnecessary and contentious custody or parenting time disputes. The conflict between parents regarding their perceptions as to the fault of the other parent, the involvement of third parties, asset distribution or alimony often compromises the parties’ ability to objectively focus upon the best interests of their children.
When that occurs, the children’s relationship with one or both of the parents is almost always affected and the contentiousness is almost always damaging to the children. The conflict between the parents may become so intense that they are no longer able to focus on the best interests of the children and, in the worst case scenarios, the children often become helpless pawns or "spies" in the parents’ “war.”
There are two very constructive and generally successful alternatives provided by the New Jersey Court system as useful alternatives to mitigate such adverse consequences to the children. Both alternatives can be of significant benefit to the children, but both require an honest and good faith effort by the parties themselves. Each involves utilization of an objective third party with the hope that the objectivity of a third party can help well meaning and well intended, but temporarily misguided parents to see their way through their own divorce or separation conflicts and to refocus on the children’s best interest.
A Parenting Coordinator is a qualified neutral individual (generally a mental health professional) 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 parents are divorced or separated.
The Parenting Coordinator’s goal is to aid the parties in monitoring the existing parenting plan, reducing misunderstandings, clarifying priorities, exploring possibilities for compromise and developing methods of communication that promote collaboration in parenting. The Parenting Coordinator’s role is to facilitate decision making between the parties or make specific recommendations, as may be appropriate, when the parties are unable to do so.
The use of Parenting Coordinators is a growing trend now being used by the Courts on an increasing basis. Parenting Coordinators are, for the most part, mental health professionals who have applied to and been approved by the New Jersey Supreme Court as Parenting Coordinators. Once approved, they are placed on an roster from which the parties, their attorneys or the Court may select the Coordinator who they feel is appropriate for a particular case.
Parenting Coordinators are privately employed and are compensated for their services. The Court Order appointing the Parenting Coordinator will stipulate precisely how the Parenting Coordinator is to be paid--whether by one party or the other, in equal percentages or in proportionate percentages and will often designate the hourly rates for the Coordinator. Unlike the mediator who simply facilitates discussion between the parties themselves, the Parenting Coordinator may act as an impartial person who makes recommendations to the parties when the parties are unable to come to their own agreement.
The parties’ agreement and/or the Order appointing the Parenting Coordinator stipulates the specific areas to be addressed by the Parenting Coordinator. Common issues often submitted to Parenting Coordinators include time schedules, holiday sharing, school vacations, religious schooling or training, involvement in extracurricular activities and elective medial care. A Parenting Coordinator can be utilized while a divorce is pending, but are more often utilized after the divorce (or, with never-married parents, separation), when parenting issues inevitably surface. A skilled Parenting Coordinator will utilize skills as a counselor, parent educator, mediator and, ultimately, arbitrator in bringing the parental disputes to a conclusion. Very often a competent Coordinator can resolve the matters and issues by simply being a good listener and a competent, objective educator.
A Parenting Coordinator is not a therapist, evaluator, or mediator. The role is specific and is uniquely defined.
Although the use of Parenting Coordinators is a relatively new development, it is generally the case that the use of Parenting Coordinators has minimized the parties’ repeated returns to Court for the resolution of parenting issues, and has favorably impacted on the children’s best interests by reducing the conflict between the parents and encouraging good communication.
Information regarding the New Jersey Parent Coordination pilot programs implemented by the New Jersey Supreme Court can be found at www.judiciary.state.nj.us “Notice to the Bar” by the Honorable Phillip S. Carchmen, dated April 2, 2007. There is also an excellent discussion of parenting coordination from a psychological perspective at www.apa.org/monitor/jan05/niche.html.
Although there are very valid reasons that may contra indicate either mediation or the use of a Parenting Coordinator in a given case, both processes are alternatives which should be considered when the implementation of a parenting plan is a contested issue.
Dr. Silikovitz is a Parenting Coordinator who has been approved to be on the roster for the statewide pilot program. He is an experienced Parenting Coordinator and a trained mediator.