Friday, 30 January 2009

Has anyone heard of parenting co-ordinators?

Bitter intractable disputes between parents can be much like the Western Front:

  • they last years;
  • there is usually no let up in hostilities;
  • they cost a fortune;
  • fights are often about (what might seem to an outsider to be) a relatively minor point;
  • they cause devastation all around, for no apparent purpose;
  • everyone loses, in one way or another.

Almost 30 years ago, a Family Court judge stated that this type of litigation was unlike any other-

The problem about the jurisdiction under the Family Law Act at least in relation
to children is that obsessive litigants can in effect continue to relitigate the matter ad nauseam. They have a whole galaxy of subsequent applications which they can work their way through...

The problem, unfortunately, is not confined to Australia. In the US, one of the experiments that is being trialled to help solve this problem is the role of a parent co-ordinator.

The idea of a parenting co-ordinator is that the parenting co-ordinator can make the day to to day decisions about the seemingly minor disputes between the parties, so that it can be dealt with presumably via mediation or correspondence, rather than having to go to court.

Parenting co-ordinators are not free. They are not funded by the governments there, which means that in addition to their own lawyers, the parties have to fund the cost of one of these. Therefore parenting co-ordinators can really only apply in cases where the parties have money.

In one state, Pennsylvania, standards are now being considered for parenting co-ordinators. These include a requirement that they are either experienced family lawyers- of a minimum of 5 years' standing, or experienced social scientists, such as psychologists or social workers. Presumably the parties would agree on who was to be the parenting co-ordinator, and failing agreement to be decided by the court.

Why would you want a parenting co-ordinator?

Quite simply it might be cheaper, quicker and more effective to have one of these than have to keep going back to court. Going through this process probably also avoids the worst part of inflammatory affidavits and criticism in the court room, which in themselves often worsen disputes.

Could they happen here?

Probably not; or at least not in the way that they are happening in the States. The reason is rather technical, so bear with me...

Back in the 1920's the High Court held that the only people who could exercise judicial power of the Commonwealth were judges- either Federal or State. A later decision concerning the Family Court said that judges of that court could delegate their power to Registrars, but only if the judges were truly supervisory, and that there were rights of review from the Registrars to the judges.

Long story short- I think that parenting coordinators here would, in making binding decisions (which is their advantage as opposed to going to court), be exercising judicial power, which they could not do.

1 comment:

Cindy Harari said...

Parenting coordination is catching on as a cost-effective alternative dispute resolution mechanism. I participate in an online discussion forum amongst practioners, and if you would like additional information, you may wish to look at the web site for the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts located at This group is an interdisciplinary organization dedicated to resolution of family conflict. There are several Australian members of this group.
Cindy Harari, Esq.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida