Child custody is one of the most difficult and emotional parts of any contested divorce. It is not uncommon for two parents to agree on all of the financial issues, child and spousal support, and property division, only to find it impossible to come to any agreements about how their children will be raised post-divorce. It is understandable too; we love our children and we want what is best for them. This point, wanting the best for our children, is the great irony of child custody litigation. Ask any parent whether they believe dragging their children through months or years of custody litigation is healthy for them. They answer will be a resounding, “No.” Yet that is exactly what happens in so many family law cases.
Almost all parents going through a divorce case involving children will go to child custody mediation at least once. Here the parents will strive to come up with a child sharing plan for the children. If an agreement cannot be reached, the mediator will issue a recommendation and there will be a court hearing. This process, attending mediation and having a hearing can take several months and cost thousands of dollars. Initially, mediation and a hearing may be unavoidable to create a base order from which to work when the need for change arises.
So what do you do when life requires a change to our current child custody orders? You could go back to mediation and have a hearing where a Judge decides what the orders will be. That is an expensive and time consuming route, not to mention very taxing on your family and your children. In certain cases the issues are serious enough to require judicial intervention. In cases where the stakes are not as high, a “Parenting Coordinator” may be the answer for your family.
In layman’s terms, a parenting coordinator is a hybrid between a mediator and a decision maker. Think of a parenting coordinator as the tie breaker. When two parents have an issue they cannot agree upon, they submit the issue to a parenting coordinator. The parenting coordinator will speak with both parents (and infrequently the children based on their age) and then make the decision for them.
An example might be helpful. Let’s imagine Mom wants their 13 year-old daughter to go to overnight camp for three weeks because it is only her first time going to overnight camp. Dad on the other hand wants the daughter to go for the whole six weeks, because her best friend is going for six weeks and when he was her age he attended the same camp for all six weeks. Both parties have their reasons and both think they are right. There is no disagreement about the camp in general; the only issue is the amount of time daughter will attend. This is a perfect assignment for a parenting coordinator, but nearly any child custody issue the parents cannot agree upon can be submitted to a parenting coordinator.
In the above example, the parenting coordinator would issues an opinion which would be the decision of the parties. It is important to understand that parenting coordinators are not Judges so they cannot make orders. In the typical scenario, the parenting coordinator would make their decision. If the parents agreed to go along with the decision, they would submit the agreement to the Judge for entry. If one parent did not agree, they would be required to file a motion with the Court objecting to the parenting coordinator’s decision. The Judge would ultimately make whatever order they felt was appropriate.
In essence, employing a parenting coordinator is an attempt by both parents to avoid a full legal battle, without depriving either party of their right to submit matters to a Judge for a ruling. This can be very helpful and cost effective in high conflict custody matters.
But this is not only for high conflict custody matters. Parenting coordinators are similarly effective in cases where the parents get along very well. As children get older or time passes life finds a way of changing. So too must your custody schedule. Having a parenting coordinator available provides both parents and opportunity to discuss their thoughts and get a decision without the need for a costly courtroom battle.
Choosing the right parenting coordinator is a very important part of the process. Not all coordinators are right for all families. Similarly, not all families are right for a parenting coordinator. The attorneys at the Law Office of Nancy J. Bickford and the knowledge and experience to help guide you through this process.
Feel free to contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding parenting coordinators. Nancy J. Bickford is the only Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) in San Diego County who is also a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.