Fall 2017: Standing Order 1-17: Parenting Coordination

by Laurel K. Spallone

As of July 1, 2017, the Probate & Family Court implemented a new Standing Order regarding the appointment of Parent Coordinators (“PC”) in cases involving the care and custody of minor children. This article summarizes the basic provisions of this standing order.

How Do I Become a Parent Coordinator Under Standing Order 1-17?

Appointment as a PC is a fee-generating appointment that requires an extensive amount of training as approved by the Administrative Office of the Probate & Family Court (“AOPFC”). To qualify, an attorney must have four years’ experience and maintain $100,000 in professional liability insurance. Licensed mental health professionals who maintain $100,000 of professional liability insurance may also apply to become PCs. Applicants must complete a total of 71 hours of training that includes:

  • 30 hours of training in a mediation training program;
  • 6 hours of domestic violence training established by the Probate & Family Court in conjunction with the Trial Court; and
  • 35 hours of accredited specialty training in topics related to parenting coordination, including but not limited to any mandatory training established by the AOPFC.

However, the parties may elect to appoint a parent coordinator who is not on the Category V list, provided the parties list how that person is qualified to become the parent coordinator.

The Court cannot appoint a person to act as PC if he or she has served, or is serving in a professional capacity with one or both of the parties, or the children in the case in any role. Once appointed, a PC cannot be subsequently appointed to act as GAL or attorney for the child in any case involving the parties or their child(ren).

What Information May a Parent Coordinator Review and What May S/he Do With It?

A PC will have access to all non-impounded case records in the action. Only the court may provide access for impounded information. A PC cannot require a party or an attorney for the child to release confidential or privileged information not included in the court record, though a party may elect to provide additional information to the PC. Information acquired during a PC appointment is considered confidential and the PC may use that information only for the benefit of the child(ren) or the parties. This information may be disclosed under only a limited set of circumstances.

What Duties May a Parent Coordinator Perform?

The duties of a PC are dictated by the underlying agreement and/or order of judgment of the Court. A PC may assist the parties with the following types of issues related to the children:

  • minor changes or clarification of existing parenting plans;
  • educational decisions such as school/daycare choice, before and after school care, tutoring, summer programs and participation special education testing;
  • parenting exchanges, including date, time, place, and transportation;
  • enrichment and extracurricular activities, including camps and employment;
  • communicating with child(ren) while in the care of the other parent;
  • personal possessions of the child(ren), including clothing, equipment and other personal possessions;
  • travel and passport arrangements;
  • role of and contact with significant others and extended families;
  • Psychotherapy or other mental health care for the children;
  • Psychological testing or other assessments for the children; and
  • Religious observation and education.

Subject to the terms of an underlying agreement or order or judgment, a PC may also assist the parties with guidelines for appropriate communication, educate the parties about making decisions that prioritize the needs of the children, assist the parties in identifying and addressing patterns of behavior and in developing strategies to manage and reduce opportunities for conflict and also suggest resources to assist the parties.

Additionally, a PC may perform the following activities, even absent agreement of the parties or order of the Court:

  • Produce documents and testify as a fact witness in response to a subpoena or upon action of the court;
  • File a motion or complaint to request an immediate hearing if a child is in imminent physical or emotional danger; and
  • Request appointment of a Guardian ad Litem to assert or waive a child’s privilege.

What Must a Parent Coordinator Do?

If the parties come to an agreement with the assistance of a PC that modifies an existing order or judgment, the PC must inform the parties that the agreement is not enforceable unless it is incorporated into an order or judgment of the Court.

What Can’t Parent Coordinators Do?

PC’s may not:

  • Communicate orally or in writing to the court or any court personnel regarding the substance of an action unless requested to do so by the court;
  • Testify in the action as an expert witness;
  • Facilitate an agreement that would change legal custody, or that would change the physical custody or a parenting plan in a way that may result in a change of child support;
  • Offer legal advice, representation, therapy or counseling;
  • Delegate any portion of the process to anther; or
  • Make binding decisions without the parties’ express written agreement that has been incorporated into an order or judgment.

How Can Parties Appoint A Parent Coordinator?

In cases involving child custody, a PC may be appointed by agreement of the parties, provided it is in the best interests of the parties’ children to appoint a PC. The agreement must be in writing signed by the parties and the parent coordinator, and contain a number of items as set forth in the Standing Order. Prior to incorporating the agreement into an order or judgment, the Court must inquire of the parties to ensure that they understand the agreement.

Can the Court Appoint a Parent Coordinator Over the Objection of the Parties?

Yes and no. If neither party agrees to pay to use a PC, the court may not enter a judgment or order requiring the use of a PC. The court also cannot appoint a PC over the objection of a party in cases where there are credible allegations or findings domestic violence committed by a party, against a party or children involved in the action. If at least one party agrees to pay the fees of the PC, the Court may appoint a PC if it finds that: (i) it is in the best interests of the parties’ children to do so; and (ii) the parties have failed to implement a parenting plan; or (iii) the level of conflict in that case is, or may become, detrimental to the parties’ child(ren).

How is a PC Appointment Extended, Terminated Early, or Modified?

A PC appointment may be extended, terminated or modified by: (i) agreement of the parties (and the PC if it is a request to extend) submitted to the court for approval containing the same provisions as required to appoint a PC; (ii) by motion to the court based upon a showing of good cause and that such action is in the best interests of the child(ren); or (iii) by filing a complaint for modification if no action is pending. Absent agreement of the parties, the court may extend a PC appointment for up to one year. The Court may not extend or modify an appointment absent findings related to payment and the findings required to appoint a PC.

What about existing appointments?

Standing Order 1-17 applies to all PC appointments, regardless of whether the appointment was made before July 1, 2017.

Laurel K. Spallone is an associate in the Family Law Department at Conn Kavanaugh. Her practice focuses on representing clients in divorce, modification, paternity, contempt, and abuse prevention actions. In addition, Laurel has considerable experience drafting prenuptial and postnuptial agreements as well as representing clients in guardianships and will contests.