A parenting coordinator is a psychologist, social worker, or other mental health professional or lawyer who has training and experience in helping families make decisions around parenting and child issues as they arise. In our practice all of our co-parenting team holds a master’s degree in social work and are licensed and registered with the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers (RSW.)
A parenting coordinator does not make decisions about custody or access, but assists the caregivers in caring out details of the order or agreement. They negotiate and make decisions on behalf of, and in the best interest of, the children. When parents can’t agree on issues, the parenting coordinator makes the final decision and delivers the decision in writing to both parents. The decisions made by the coordinator are informed by interviews with collaterals (doctors, schools, child welfare, therapists etc.), and by the needs and best interest of the children.
What if I don’t want to use a parenting coordinator? Or what if I hate him or her?
Parenting coordination is voluntarily, which means no one can be forced to use parenting coordination services. A judge cannot order the use of a parenting coordinator if one party does not want to participate.
Having said that, in an effort to avoid high conflict parents from abruptly terminating services when they don’t like the decision of the coordinator, families are expected to sign an agreement agreeing to work with the parenting coordinator for a specific amount of time. In general the agreements are for 12 or 24 months in length. During that period of time, both parents agree to work cooperatively and abide by the decisions made by the coordinator. The coordinator, based on a thorough understanding of the situation, decides if the agreement is 12 or 24 months or even longer at the time of the intake process.
What sorts of things does the parenting coordinator help with?
In general, parenting coordinators offer help interpreting court orders that are vague or have not specified details that cause ongoing conflict between parents. They do not make decisions about custody or access. They are neutral and unbiased professionals who help to reduce conflict between parents. They do so by attempting to mediate and negotiate agreements between the parents, and to provide education on the child’s needs, stage of development and other parenting issues. When the parents can’t agree, the parenting coordinator makes the final decision. Parenting coordinators help negotiate and decide things such as:
- participation in and scheduling of children’s extra-curricular activities
- drop off and pick up arrangements (access exchange)
- where children’s belongings are stored or how they travel between homes
- who can attend events and extra-curricular activities
- changes to regular access such as vacation and holiday planning
- the involvement of new partners
- if a child should attend for counselling and where they should attend
- if parents require counselling and where to attend
- creating and maintaining parenting time/access when court orders are vague
Parenting coordinators also work with parents to help parents improve their communication with one another, through teaching and modeling of appropriate communication skills. If communication is highly problematic, they may intervene and manage communications until the parents have demonstrated they are able to communicate effectively and stay on topic. They also assist parents to understand their children’s unique and developmental stages. In cases where one or more children have special needs, parent coordinators can help parents learn more about their child’s needs, particularly when one parent has been historically excluded from medical assessments and appointments.
Is a parenting coordinator safe or appropriate in situations where there has been violence between the parents?
Parenting coordinators have training in mediation, conflict resolution, and collaborative problem solving, even in difficult situations. Despite the history between the parents, the coordinator remains a neutral and unbiased independent party, and makes decisions that are in the best interest of children. A parenting coordinator will assess for historical issues of violence or imbalances of power and control. Where there is a history of violence, or there is a restraining order in place, the coordinator must be able to ensure that each parent is safe and following the terms of any order. Parenting coordination is not appropriate for all cases, which is why a thorough intake assessment will be completed prior to contracts being signed.
How do we know if the parenting coordinator is right for our family?
When you call our offices, we will take your basic information and schedule a phone screening interview with both parents to determine if we’re a good fit to work together. We know our strengths and areas of expertise and we’re not right for everyone. You’re family is special and you don’t want to work with just anyone either. We are happy to arrange joint meeting online with both parents and their counsel to answer any questions and to make sure that we are a good fit to work together. There is no charge for this consultation.
You also know your strengths and needs so you’ll want to assess the following when we chat (or you talk to any coordinator):
- Do you feel comfortable talking with him or her? Yes, first calls are awkward, but does the person seem approachable and open interacting with you?
- Does he or she have training and experience in dealing with your particular issues?
- Answer any questions you have and make you feel like you understand the next steps and the process?
- Can he or she work with any disabilities, special needs, or special circumstances your family faces?
- What fees are involved? What are the rules around payment, fees, and contracts?
- Does the coordinator have the time available to work with your family or do you feel rushed?
- Does he or she have experience with high conflict people and co-parenting?
What happens if we agree we’re a good fit?
Once we’ve agreed we’re a good fit to work together, each parent will be invited to a meeting. There will be one confidential intake screening with each parent to assess for safety issues, power imbalances, and history of domestic violence. If there have been any of the above noted concerns, this does not necessarily rule out parenting coordination, but the management of meetings will be handled differently and safety planning will always be a priority in each intervention and how the parents’ have access to one another.
During the initial meeting, the coordinator will review the history and current court order, and help parents identify areas of concern and conflict. An agreement will be drafted that outlines the role of the parenting coordinator and includes the following:
- How long you’ll work together or the length of the contract,
- Clear information about fees, whether it’s an hourly rate billed monthly, or a retainer billed annually,
- Information about any additional costs, including travel time, mileage, and fees for additional services,
- Who is paying for the parenting coordinator and in what percentage or amount,
- The terms of your current court order, arbitration award, or separation agreement,
- How a parent can terminate the contract,
- Under what circumstances the parenting coordinator will terminate the contract,
- The circumstances and procedure for mandatory reporting should a referral to child welfare be required,
- What, if any part of the process, is to remain private and not admissible to the courts,
- Terms regarding high conflict behaviour, communication, and manner the coordinator will deal with such,
- How the parties and coordinator will communicate with each other,
- When and under what circumstances, the coordinator will meet with the child(ren),
- Any other terms the parents and coordinator agree to.
Ready to talk parenting coordinator services in Ontario? Call us at 548-688-1310 or email Jenna Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org