1 May 2019
Parenting Coordination after divorce – It’s kids’ stuff!
Separation and divorce are hard enough on you kids. You shouldn’t also have to worry about how your parents are going to cooperate on ongoing parenting issues after everything else is settled. There is a good chance one or both of them aren’t feeling very happy about the outcome of the divorce. Worst case scenario, you become the focal point for addressing their frustrations about the situation in which they find themselves.
You may or may not have been asked for your input on what should happen regarding parenting plans. Research suggests that very few parents actually sit down with you to talk about the separation and the reasons for it, so you may even be in the dark about where you are going to live. Parenting issues have probably been resolved without a lot of input from you. What people don’t always realize is, after the divorce, things sometimes get even worse.
Things sometimes get worse after divorce
It can be flattering to have your parents fighting over who gets to spend more time with you, but that novelty can wear off fast. If you aren’t careful, the fallout can be resentment from a parent who is feeling short-changed. As a kid, what are you supposed to do? It can create confusion or even chaos when you find yourself telling your parents what you think they want to hear, just to make each of them happy. This can include guessing what they want to hear about:
- How much time you want to spend with each of them
- School issues
- The activities in which you want to participate
- How you want to spend your free time
They may even ignore what they don’t want to hear, which can leave you feeling unheard and alone.
Parenting issues are supposed to be addressed with the sole focus on your best interests. You can appreciate that “your best interests” is a bit ambiguous, and even loving parents can totally disagree on whether ballet or hockey is “in your best interests”.
So what to do? How do you get heard? An option in British Columbia which has now been in place for about 10 years is Parenting Coordination.
What is Parenting Coordination?
Parenting Coordination is an alternate dispute resolution process that blends mediation and arbitration to assist families with the implementation of their parenting plans.
Parents who have separated, and have an interim or final parenting plan in place, can retain a specially trained senior family lawyer or mental health professional to assist with implementation of the parenting plan where there are concerns about cooperation on parenting issues in the future.
A written agreement is required since it will govern the role and responsibilities of the Parenting Coordinator and the expectations of your parents. The agreement is normally for one or two year’s duration and can be renewed. Parenting Coordinators address all issues related to raising you, with some exceptions.
Parenting Coordinators cannot:
- change your guardianship
- change the allocation of your parents’ parenting responsibilities
- give parenting time or contact with you to a person who does not already have that time with you
- substantially change the time each of your parents spend with you
- address your relocation to another town or city
What Parenting Coordinators do is watch for conflict, promote better communication between your parents, and help out with issues when asked to do so because of a disagreement. Loving parents can still disagree, and absent this kind of resource, can be left without remedies other than going to court. This can be expensive and time consuming, not to mention stressful!
Going to court after divorce
Just so you know, in the event that your parents decide to go to court over an unresolved issue, they will have to appear before a judge who doesn’t know you and who will have to make a decision without a lot of background or input from any of you. In contrast, the Parenting Coordinator gets to know you, becomes familiar with you and your parents, and is generally available by email or phone to address issues without a lot of delay.
There will generally be a delay in getting to court, which gives a problem time to get worse. Delays can be especially problematic when you have to book camps, schedule activities, go to the dentist or the doctor, or arrange for consents to travel on vacation or for school trips. Going to court is not always an option and so you can lose out on opportunities. A Parenting Coordinator can make decisions quickly and minimize lost opportunities for you to have access to all kinds of adventures!
When agreements can’t be reached
When an issue arises, Parenting Coordinators try to reach an agreement between your parents through mediation, but if that isn’t possible, and a binding decision is required, those decisions can be made promptly and shared with your parents by email.
More importantly, the determinations Parenting Coordinators make are binding, as if they are court orders, so your parents are obliged to comply with them or apply to court to set them aside or vary them – and that doesn’t happen very often.
Best of all, if your parents have a Parenting Coordinator but don’t need to use them, they don’t pay anything for the service (and so there may be more money left to pay for your university education!).
Retaining a Parenting Coordinator can be compared to keeping a fire extinguisher in your kitchen. It is comforting to know it’s there and you hope you never have to use it. But if you do, it’s nice to have it handy because kitchen fires can quickly get out of control.
Craig Neville is a lawyer in the Family Law Group and has over 35 years of experience advocating for families in transition. He is one of the early pioneers of Parenting Coordination in British Columbia and published Ten Years Later: Parenting Coordination in British Columbia in the July 2018 edition of the Advocate, where he discusses the evolution and ongoing efficacy or Parenting Coordination as a tool for reducing conflict between divorced parents.