A high-conflict divorce or family law case is an emotionally draining experience for both parents and children. In such situations, a parenting coordinator can be a valuable resource to help manage parenting plans, help you solve disputes, improve communication, and ultimately prioritize the best interests of the children. Parenting coordinators can help bridge the divide of the modern family. The role and scope of parenting coordinators, how to select the right professional for your family, and the legal process involved in parenting coordination are all important pieces of the puzzle. Discover how coordinators can positively impact your family during a difficult time by getting a better understanding of what it means to have a parenting coordinator in your divorce case.
- Parenting coordinators are trained professionals who help parents through challenging situations in order to help the parties make decisions by agreement and that are in the best interests of their child.
- Parenting coordinators use alternative dispute tools in the nature of mediation, negotiation, and problem-solving techniques to resolve disputes early on, which can help foster healthier relationships between parents and children in general.
- The Illinois Supreme Court has adopted Parenting Coordination to reduce post-divorce or custody related co-parenting conflicts by giving the parents a resource to help coordinate the co-parental relationship between the parties.
- Illinois family law adopted parenting coordination on May 24, 2023, which was later than other states. Illinois family law provides that each judicial circuit may establish a parenting coordination program by local rule. As such, the manner in which the coordinator will be used by the Court is not fully settled and somewhat yet to be determined, as the device is relatively new by legal standards.
Understanding the Role of Parenting Coordinators
Parenting coordinators are professionally trained individuals who assist parents in making parenting decisions that are in the best interests of their child, particularly when parents are unable to reach an agreement. When parents are unable to reach an agreement, even on issues that are relatively minor, there can be a domino effect that permeates through the entire co-parenting relationship. Coordinators can intervene before a minor disagreement turns into a major disagreement. Early intervention can prevent a small problem from mushrooming into a large problem that neither problem desires for the family.
Parenting coordinators can provide assistance with a wide range of matters, including daily parenting decisions, lingering disputes, and extraordinary circumstances not specified in parenting plans. There are plenty of opportunities for reasonable parents to end up on completely different pages based on situations that are not necessarily the fault of either party. This can range from terms of the custody agreement are differently interpreted by the parents to situations that are simply left unaddressed in the parenting plan. Coordinators can act like an arbiters, facilitate negotiations, and help parents resolve disputes about decisions for their children amicably instead of having the dispute resolved by the judge or requiring the parties to litigate. This can involve addressing issues involving communication, decision-making, holidays or special events, and compliance with court orders.
In addition to facilitating the resolution of disputes, coordinators often work closely with family courts to ensure that the parents cooperate as best as possible so that the children’s best interests are prioritized in all decisions. Although fundamental disagreements may still require the assistance of the Court and possibly the intervention of the divorce judge, coordinators can help reduce parental conflict on an ongoing basis. The issues or categories of decision making that parenting coordinators may assist with include:
- religious matters
- child’s wishes
- special events
Parenting coordinators can offer support in these areas and in many other areas of concern, as well. The guiding light remains the custody agreement or the terms of the parenting plan of the parties, however, coordinators can also help provide dispute resolution assistance for situations that are not even contemplated or considered by the parenting plan. Parenting coordinators help provide the parents a fair interpretation of the parenting plan. The parenting plan not providing any guidance for a particular problem, however, is one of the places where the coordinator is most helpful. Regardless if the parenting plan includes rules for a particular dispute or not, parenting coordinators can help parents make timely and appropriate decisions for their children and lead the family to a more tranquil and collaborative environment.
The Scope of Parenting Coordination Services
While the statutory defined scope of parenting coordinators is addressed below, there is not a rigid scope for coordinators. The idea is that the focus of parenting coordinators is that which causes a divide between the parents and, ideally, having the coordinator bridge that divide between the parties. The Illinois Supreme Court Rule 909 outlines four goals of parenting coordination.
Illinois Supreme Court Goals of Parenting Coordinator
- assisting coparents with clarifying, implementing, and complying with their parenting plan orders;
- helping coparents reduce misunderstandings, clarify priorities, explore possibilities for compromise, and develop methods of collaboration in parenting their children;
- educating coparents about their children’s needs in order to make timely and appropriate decisions in a manner consistent with the children’s developmental and psychological needs; and
- timely resolving conflicts that may arise concerning parenting plans in order to reduce the amount of damaging conflict between coparents to which children are exposed and diminish a pattern of unnecessary litigation about child-related issues.
Duties of a Parenting Coordinator per Rule 909
Parenting Coordinators have five specific possible duties specified in Rule 909. Parenting coordinators are not automatically assigned in all divorce or family law cases, as coordinators typically need to be ordered by the Court in order to be in place. As such, the court order or agreement should ideally specify which duties will apply to a specific case:
- monitor parental behaviors, including their compliance or lack thereof, with orders entered in their case by the court;
- mediate, and make recommendations with respect to, disputes between the coparents upon request of a coparent or court order;
- make recommendations to the coparents for outside resources as needed and/or guidelines or rules for communication between the coparents;
- document allegations of noncompliance for the court;
- make recommendations to the court upon proper notice and petition.
Difference between a Parenting Coordinator and a Guardian ad Litem
A Guardian ad Litem is a player in the courtroom who is similar to a Parenting Coordinator, but the role of the Guardian ad Litem is different in some important ways. Although they are both appointed by the judge, the Guardian ad Litem is considered to be the Court’s expert witness for the purpose of providing recommendations to the Court. While a Parenting Coordinator can have courtroom involvement, Guardians ad Litem are more directly involved with the Court process on a regular basis than Parenting Coordinators. For example, Guardians ad Litem normally appear more frequently in Court than Parental Coordinators.
According to 750 ILCS 5/506(a)(2), the Court may appoint an attorney as a Guardian ad Litem to investigate the facts of the case and interview the child and the parties to either testify or submit a written report to the Court regarding his or her recommendations in accordance with the best interest of the child. The Guardian ad Litem role is to be the eyes and the ears of the Court, while the Parenting Coordinator’s primary role is more involved with working with the parents directly to resolve disputes.
The coordinator is focused on monitoring and mediating disagreements between co-parents for the benefit of the children, and Guardians ad Litem serve more of an investigative role. While both the Guardian ad Litem and the Parenting Coordinator’s roles have an impact on the children as it relates to the case, the way their roles impact the children differ. For example, the Guardian ad Litem, after completing their investigation, will give their recommendations to the Court to assist the Court in its determination of the custody decision or with the allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time.
Parenting Coordinators will help parents cooperate and help mediate the disputes between co-parents regarding issues of decision-making or parenting time. One of the purposes of the Coordinator is to prevent the parents’ disputes from reaching the Court level. However, the Guardian ad Litem’s role in the case mostly takes place in the courtroom while a Parenting Coordinator’s role usually takes place outside of the courtroom.
Difference between a Parenting Coordinator and a Custody Evaluator
Another court involved resource for parents is a Custody Evaluator, but that person is different than a parenting coordinator. Unlike a parenting coordinator, a Custody Evaluator is not meant for the purpose of helping the parents resolve their disputes. A Custody Evaluator is more clinically trained and is not necessarily used on an ongoing basis, unlike a Parenting Coordinator. Pursuant to Illinois law a Parenting Coordinator cannot be the Custody Evaluator in the same case, according to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 909 (i).
The role of a Custody Evaluator is normally used to help the Court make a decision, while the role of the Coordinator is to help the parents make a decision. According to 750 ILCS 5/640.10 (b), (c), and (d), a Custody Evaluator is a professional, either retained by the Court or a party to the case, to do an assessment to help the Court determine the best interests of the children. While both the Parenting Coordinator and the Custody Evaluator’s roles are generally centered around the best interests of the children, the two roles are different in important ways.
The Custody Evaluator’s role more directly involves the Court by providing assistance to the Court in determining the allocation of parental rights, decision making responsibilities, and issues of parenting time. The Custody Evaluator assesses the best interests of the children based on the various arrangements, which the Custody Evaluator supports with testimony or written reports. In contrast, the Parenting Coordinator does not usually focus on assisting the Court. The primary role of the Parenting Coordinator takes place outside of the courtroom by providing assistance to parents to resolve their disputes on their own.
When Should You Consider a Parenting Coordinator?
A coordinator may be a viable option for those involved in a high-conflict divorce, post-divorce, or non-marital custody cases. Parenting coordinators can be particularly helpful for parents who have difficulty communicating with the other party, those who are going through challenging circumstances or are facing ongoing litigation, including cases pending a custody trial. When mediation has failed or is not suitable for the situation, both parents may decide to opt for a coordinator. The court will appoint this person based on the discretion of the court and whether doing so would serve the best interests of the children. Working with parents individually and together, parenting coordinators can help resolve disputes to minimize conflict.
Parents entangled in ongoing custody disputes, parents engaged in ongoing co-parenting disputes, or parents simply struggling with communication, could find a parenting coordinator beneficial. A coordinator can:
- Mitigate disputes
- Guide communication and co-parenting
- Diminish conflict
- Nurture healthier relationships between parents and their children
- Help the parties interpret unclear language
- Document disputes for later court review
The Parenting Coordinator’s Approach to Resolving Disputes
Parenting coordinators employ mediation, negotiation, and other methods of alternative dispute resolution to help parents resolve disputes and make impartial decisions regarding the children and help parents get past their prior disputes. Through conflict analysis, intervention selection, and different mediation techniques, parenting coordinators aid in communication and decision-making between parents and ultimately help bridge the divide from which the source of conflict arises.
In certain circumstances, parenting coordinators may also make decisions for the parents. The role of a coordinator may differ drastically between cases, based on the facts of the case, the level of cooperation between the parties, and what the parents are capable of in their coparenting relationship. By working closely with family courts and focusing on children’s best interests, parenting coordinators can help create a more stable and nurturing environment for children amidst difficult family dynamics in family law cases.
The Impact of Illinois Supreme Court Adoption on Parenting Coordination
The Illinois Supreme Court adopted Rule 909 regarding parenting coordination to decrease the detrimental effects that custody cases and divorces have on children and to foster healthy co-parenting relationships. The Illinois Supreme Court rule outlines regulations for the state’s courts to establish programs and employ parenting coordinators to resolve minor issues that are creating discord in family law cases.
The court-appointed coordinators are authorized to make specific recommendations concerning the current parenting plan, including time and other aspects. This adoption of parenting coordination by the Illinois Supreme Court demonstrates a commitment to protecting children from the harm caused by feuding parents and to promote better co-parenting relationships in the state. The need for parenting coordinators is evident based the continued conflict of co-parents, which was previously left unresolved.
Benefits of Involving a Parenting Coordinator
Involving a parenting coordinator can present several advantages, such as:
- An objective perspective
- Decreased conflict
- Enhanced communication
- Deescalation of disputes
- Facilitate healthy separation
- Conserved time and money
- A concentration on the children’s best interests
- Providing a pragmatic resource for parents
By helping settle disputes, providing guidance in communication and co-parenting, and by deescalating conflict, coordinators can help promote improved and cooperative co-parenting between parents who have separated. Parenting coordinators can help with executing or maintaining compliance with parenting plans, parenting time schedules, and other Court orders relating to the parental rights and responsibilities of the parties.
Parenting coordinators can help facilitate the parents’ separation from each other, because relationships are complicated and you cannot un-remember how your former spouse used to treat you. Relationships that are over rarely let go of the history between the parties. The toxicity does not necessarily go away for relationships that evolve from a romantic relationship to a plutonic co-parenting relationship, and parenting coordinators can help the parties focus specifically on the current circumstances and needs of the family so that the parties can move forward for the benefit of the children.
Furthermore, parenting coordinators can help decrease the parties’ reliance on the Guardian ad Litem, the involvement of police, and the need for custody lawyers to intervene. Utilizing a coordinator may also help decrease time spent in court. By working closely with parents to address their concerns and help foster healthy co-parenting relationships, parenting coordinators can significantly reduce the negative impact of high-conflict divorces on children and create a more peaceful and cooperative environment for the entire family.
Selecting the Right Parenting Coordinator for Your Family
When the Court appoints a qualified parenting coordinator in your divorce or custody case, the Court will consider the circumstances and facts of your individual case. The parenting coordinator should be a person suitable for the specific needs of the family and should take into consideration the child’s specific circumstances or perspective. The Court may also consider the parenting coordinator’s experience in family mediation, mental health, legal backgrounds, and other issues most relevant to your case. A professional coordinator in Illinois should possess training and certifications as outlined by Rule 909.
Required Qualifications of an Illinois Parenting Coordinator
The minimum requirements for a parenting coordinator in Illinois include:
- a juris doctor or master’s degree in social work, psychology, or counseling, or an equivalent degree in a related field
- at least five years of experience in law, mental health, or a related field,
- completion of an approved domestic violence course
- at least four hours per year of continuing education programs in related topics
Rule 909 allows for the court to waive the above requirements in certain instances. Additionally, when selecting a parenting coordinator, consider their:
- Knowledge and experience in conflict resolution and mediation
- Familiarity with available resources for family and parenting issues
- Ability to teach problem-solving skills to parents
- Focus on reducing post-divorce co-parenting conflict for the benefit of the children.
Choosing a suitable parenting coordinator can provide a more positive and supportive experience for your family during challenging times.
Parenting Coordination and the Legal Process
Parenting coordinators can be court-appointed, and they work closely with the legal process to provide recommendations and help parents comply with court orders and understand where the other parent is coming from in order to minimize future disputes. The court may appoint a coordinator if the parents have not been able to effectively collaborate and communicate regarding matters concerning the child, if the parents have been unable to execute a parenting plan or parenting schedule, or if the parents have ongoing acrimony or a series of consecutive disputes that may be mitigated by a professional that helps coordinate between the parents.
Appointment orders for parenting coordinators may include parameters such as their relevant duties and scope of appointment, authority and any restrictions, as well as the allocation of fees. While coordinators do not replace judges or Guardians ad Litem, they offer advice and suggestions to the parents, and parents have the right to submit a motion to the Court for the review or implementation of those recommendations.
Managing Costs: Who Pays for Parenting Coordination?
The cost of parenting coordination is typically shared by both parents, with the court determining the percentage of the cost that each party is liable for. This arrangement ensures that both parents contribute to the process as appropriate, which can ultimately benefit their children by fostering a more cooperative co-parenting environment.
The parties paying the costs of the parenting coordination allows parents to:
- Access the support and guidance of a neutral third party
- Navigate the challenges of high-conflict divorce
- Improve communication
- Reduce unnecessary stress for both parents and children.
Enhancing Communication and Co-Parenting Skills
Parenting coordinators can teach effective communication and co-parenting skills to parents, helping them create a more peaceful and cooperative environment for their children. They impart specific communication techniques, including:
- Offering solutions
- Objectively listening
- Methods of understanding
- Concise discussion of options
- Using compromise techniques
- Effective communication
- Alternating preferences
- Tools for dispute resolution
- Using non-confrontational language
- Approaching disputes logically
Parenting coordinators also aid parents in developing conflict resolution capabilities and teach them how to regulate emotions during communication, while they monitor parental behaviors. In addition to improving communication, coordinators also play a role in enhancing co-parenting abilities by:
- Providing support in managing parenting plans
- Helping the parties interpret disputed terms
- Anticipating problems before they arise
- Providing suggestions the parents do not think of
- Encouraging communication and dispute resolution
- Quickly giving input in time sensitive situations
- Assisting parents in reaching equitable solutions to matters concerning their children
By focusing on reducing post-divorce co-parenting conflict, parenting coordinators can significantly improve the well-being and stability of children in high-conflict divorce situations.
Addressing Special Circumstances in Parenting Plans
Parenting coordinators can aid in addressing special circumstances in parenting plans or special circumstances not addressed in the parenting plan. These may include:
- Unexpected situations
- Competing interests
- Timely or urgent matters
- Multiple conflicting events
- Unconventional enforcement
- Unique provisions to the situation
- Conflicting parenting plan terms
- Special needs of the children
- Holiday visitation and birthday visitation
- Other distinct events
Parenting coordinators assist parents in managing their parenting plans, settling disputes, moderating conflict, and enhancing communication to ensure that the parenting plan considers any special circumstances or unique requirements of the children and parents involved. By addressing these special circumstances, coordinators can help create a more tailored and effective parenting plan for the family and co-parenting relationship, ultimately fostering a more peaceful and cooperative environment for both parents and children. Whether it’s adapting custodial arrangements or expeditiously resolving parenting disputes, parenting coordinators play a crucial role in navigating the complexities of high-conflict divorce situations.
In conclusion, parenting coordinators can play a vital role in navigating divorce and custody cases, assisting with communication, decision-making, and compliance with court orders. If you find yourself in a high-conflict parenting relationship, consider involving a parenting coordinator to help reduce conflict, improve communication, and create a more stable and nurturing environment for your children. A little bit of input can go a long way when it comes from a coordinator.
Consult with Family Law Attorney Zachary Townsend
Call or text today – (815) 200-8802