July 30, 2013
By Rita Fuerst Adams, National Executive Director, National Parents Organization
Pennsylvania just eliminated the Parenting Coordinator role that it began five years ago. According to The Legal Intelligencer, its demise is related to a couple of high profile cases.
Pennsylvania was one of eleven states with legislation governing parenting coordinators. The other ten states that still have legislated parenting coordinator programs are: Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Massachusetts, and Texas. As with other areas of family law, the laws and regulations vary by state.
Effective May 23rd this year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1915.11-1, Elimination of Parenting Coordination. It states:
“Only judges may make decisions in child custody cases. Masters and hearing officers may make recommendations to the court. Courts shall not appoint any other individual to make decisions or recommendations or alter a custody order in child custody cases. Any order appointing a parenting coordinator shall be deemed vacated on the date this rule becomes effective. Local rules and administrative orders authorizing the appointment of parenting coordinators also shall be deemed vacated on the date this rule becomes effective.”
Will this affect many children or families in Pennsylvania? Most often parenting coordinators are engaged in high conflict cases. In fact, most litigants cannot afford a parenting coordinator. In the few cases where a parenting coordinator was appointed, it provided some relief to children from the bickering of their parents and kept the case from many more visits to court.
The original purpose of the parenting coordinator in Pennsylvania was to appoint a third party to decide custody disputes promptly and without judicial involvement. It was meant to resolve minor custodial issues, such as vacation planning or scheduling conflicts, rather than allow them to spiral into endless relief petitions.
Are parenting coordinators needed if the parenting plan can be enforced other ways with remedies that are easy and inexpensive for parents to access? National Parents Organization’s Model Legislation Committee has been exploring the remedy Missouri began with Family Access Motions.
Basically, if a party to a divorce, legal separation, or annulment proceeding or a proceeding pertaining to the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities with respect to the care of and access to children does not comply with that portion of an order or decree that allocates parental rights and responsibilities, then the aggrieved parent may file a family access motion with the court. This simple motion must be acted upon within sixty days and may result in:
- Parenting time denied being made up,
- Counseling for the parent interfering with parenting time,
- A fine for the interfering parent, and/or
- Reimbursement for travel costs the parent barred from parent time may have incurred.
When we have simple, accessible, low-cost solutions, perhaps we will limit the number of professionals needed in family law.