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Custody: Parenting Coordination

By Richard E. Santee Jr.

Why a Parenting Coordinator?

After practicing family law for more than 47 years, I’ve come to the conclusion that the courtroom is very often a “bad fit“ for addressing the issues, dealing with the emotions, and facilitating compromise and settlement in family law matters, especially custody matters. Going to court, especially to address the day-to-day issues that get in the way of collegial co-parenting, very often results in increasing anger and animosity between parents, resulting in an even greater unwillingness to cooperate and focus on the best interests of children.

Going to court to address parenting issues is also very expensive and time-consuming.

Because of that, I’ve decided to fill what I perceive to be a gaping “hole“ in the way difficult family law and custody issues are addressed in the Lehigh Valley, by serving as a “Parenting Coordinator” in custody proceedings, even (especially) where you already have counsel representing you.  I can also provide parenting coordination where there is no pending custody action by means of a written agreement between parents.

“Parenting Coordination” is a valuable tool available to parties in custody cases—especially in contentious custody cases—that aims help the parties address, interpret, and implement the day-to-day provisions of an existing custody agreement or Order without repeated visits to court.

Please understand that Parenting Coordination is not designed to replace or supplant your lawyer.  Rather, as a Parenting Coordinator, I can provide an alternative process—and additional option—to address the day-to-day issues that so often get in the way of moving toward an overall custody agreement that is in the best interest of your children.

Among the things that I can help parties in a custody proceeding resolve without  repeated trips to court:

  • Dates, times, places and conditions for transitions between households;
  • Temporary variation from the schedule for a special event or particular circumstance;
  • Minor adjustments to a physical custody schedule as set forth in a current Custody Parenting Plan/Order;
  • School issues, apart from school selection;
  • Child[ren]’s participation in recreation, enrichment, and extracurricular activities, programs and travel;
  • Financial issues related to child[ren]’s activity fees or other expenses related to custody and not covered by a support order;
  • Child-care arrangements;
  • Clothing, equipment, toys and personal possessions of the child[ren];
  • Behavioral management of the child[ren];
  • Information exchange (school, health, social, ) and communication with or about the child[ren];

Coordination of existing or court-ordered services for either of the parties or child[ren] (e.g. Psychological testing, alcohol or drug monitoring/testing, psychotherapy, counseling, anger management, parenting class, etc.);

Where parents are represented by counsel, the scope of my authority as a Parenting Coordinator’s authority is governed by a written agreement between parents, approved by their attorneys.  That authority is generally relatively narrow and focused and is intended to resolve day-to-day custody disputes while still deferring to the court and the parties’ lawyers to address more substantial custody issues. Parenting coordination provides a time and place for parents to meet and resolve day-to-day disputes. Its overarching goals are to minimize the use (and expense) of court proceedings to deal with  day-to-day custody disputes over the smaller issues and reduce the effects of conflict your child(ren).

What are the Advantages of a Parent Coordinator?

Parenting coordination is an alternative dispute resolution method that provides an alternative to repeated court visits to address day-to-day issues that accompany sharing physical and legal custody of children.

Parenting coordination is not designed to supplant or replace parents’ representation by legal counsel.  Very often, however, parents have a hard time communicating (or they are embroiled in other issues in divorce proceedings), and the assistance of an impartial mediator—before resorting to court proceedings—to address the smaller day-to-day issues that very often cloud and complicate the negotiation of a “global” custody agreement, very often can result in financial savings and other benefits to parents.

A parenting coordinator is a tool for the parties and their counsel that provides an option to litigating each and every of child-rearing issue.  It designed to help parents communicate, diffuse tension, and mediate and reach agreement on day-to-day child rearing decisions without “going to Court”.

As a Parenting Coordinator, my goals are:

  • Protecting the best interest of your children;
  • Encouraging cooperation between parents;
  • Encouraging, respectful interaction between parents;
  • Keeping parents out of court;
  • In the absence of an agreement between the parents, making a recommendation, reviewable by the court, to resolve contentious issues;

The benefits of parenting coordination include:

  • Providing an alternative process for your lawyer that promotes mediation and resolution of minor custody issues without incurring the expense of repeated trips to court;
  • Reducing the chance of returning to court;
  • Encouraging techniques for cooperation and discussion designed to result in fewer arguments;
  • Reducing conflict in order to promote a more positive home environment you’re your children;

Providing an outside perspective and opinion that specifically places the best interests of your children at the forefront

What Can I Expect From Rick Santee, as A Parenting Coordinator In My Custody Case?

Once parents and their counsel decide to retain me as Parenting Coordinator for their case, I will have them sign a Stipulation—a written agreement—that clearly sets forth how the process works, what kind of matters are open for discussion, how disputes are resolved, what kinds of decisions and recommendations you can expect, the way my decisions or appeal to the court, and the payment of fees.

If you both have lawyers, I will have them review the Stipulation before you sign it and present that signed Stipulation for “incorporation” into a Court Order, that will confirm your willingness to appoint me as their Parent Coordinator.

As Parenting Coordinator, my task is to help you make timely decisions so that you can tend to your children’s needs in a timely fashion. I will meet with you individually and/or together, as needed, to help you:

  • Interpret or follow Court Orders
  • Resolve disputes
  • Improve communication
  • Minimize Court costs and expenses for repeated Court appearances

Of course, the frequency of parenting coordination meetings depends on the case.

I generally request, at the outset, that both parents schedule sessions with me individually so that I might familiarize myself with the situation—and so that you can get used to the process.  While it is my preference that the initial sessions be in person, we can utilizing zoom or some other form of remote technology if necessary.

After that, I will meet with you when you are at odds over parenting, child-rearing and similar issues.   I will keep an open line of communication through phone, email and other remote methods in the meantime.

I will, in the first instance, attempt to mediate disputes between parents to reach a mutually agreeable compromise and solution for the issue.  I will make a decision resolving a dispute only if I am unable to achieve compromise and agreement among parents and their attorneys.  My decisions are always subject to review by the Court.

Please know that I cannot modify court orders, but I can make minor changes to parenting plans, such as:

  • Placing limits on where parents can take the kids during visits
  • Keeping parents from discussing certain things in front of their kids
  • Deciding which sports kids participate in

You, with the advice of your lawyers, will specify ahead of time what kinds of decisions I can make in the event mediation and compromise are not successful.

If either of you disagrees with my decision, you can take the issue to court.

In the absence of an agreement to the contrary, the cost of my services is shared equally.

How Do I Request Parenting Coordination?

A Parenting Coordinator helps parents communicate, diffuses tension, facilitates compromise, and, as a last resort, makes day-to-day child rearing decisions when parents are unable to agree. A Parenting Coordinator is not intended to replace the attorneys for the parents involved in a custody proceeding.  A Parenting Coordinator does not represent either party. Rather, parenting coordination is an alternative to the more expensive process of repeated visits to court to address, in a timely fashion, the day-to-day issues that so often cause tension, increased hostility, animosity and anger between parents.

If you have legal representation in a current custody matter, ask them about parenting coordination as an alternative to going to court over day-to-day child-rearing and custody issues.  If they agree that parenting coordination is a worthwhile alternative, I will prepare a written Stipulation for them to review with you, setting forth the parameters of the parenting coordination process, recourse in the event the you are unable to agree, and the financial expectations and responsibility for payment of the Parent Coordinator’s fees. This Stipulation, signed by both of you, is then presented to the court by your lawyers for incorporation as a Court Order.

The process always requires the consent of both of you, after consultation with your lawyers, confirming your willingness to have the Court appoint me as your Parenting Coordinator, to serve as an alternative to court proceedings to address, minor, but very often contentious, child-rearing and custody issues that frequently occur between parents.

As a family law practitioner in the Lehigh Valley for more than 47 years, chances are that I know the lawyers who are representing you both.  I trust they will vouch for my integrity, reputation for fairness and work ethic as you consider retaining me as a parent coordinator in your case.

Please feel free to reach out to me directly to discuss further any questions you might have.  I am also very often contacted by one of the lawyers for the parties in a case, who confirms the parties’ interest in parenting coordination.  I do not represent either party in custody matters.  It is critical that I maintain neutrality and avoid even the appearance of partiality or bias.