By: Jonathan James
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Parenting Coordinators and Facilitators: How They Help During and After Divorce
Conflict between divorcing parents over how to best raise their children doesn’t necessarily end with a divorce settlement. In fact, some disagreements between divorcing parents can be exacerbated once the divorce is final, parents are truly on their own, and are coming to terms with being with their children only some of the time.
I find that parenting facilitators and coordinators can be incredibly helpful in post-divorce situations. Parenting facilitators and coordinators are brought in to some divorce negotiations, to help parents craft parenting plans that address their children’s needs as well as their own schedules and commutes, but their abilities stretch far beyond that – and some of their best work happens with post-divorce couples.
While facilitators and coordinators take on basically the same role in working with parents and their lawyers, there’s a key difference to be mindful of at the outset. Parenting coordination is a confidential process where parenting facilitation is not confidential. Practically speaking, this means that a coordinator is shielded from testifying in court whereas a facilitator is not. As a result, some excellent mental health professionals opt to be coordinators only, whereas some will take on either role.
In choosing a coordinator vs. a facilitator for your situation, you obviously want to factor in whether you believe your situation might require a court case and testimony from someone working directly with your children.
Parenting coordinators and facilitators are there, first and foremost, to help resolve parenting conflicts that parents have with one another. While they don’t have the power to change a court order, they can help parents negotiate an agreement on any differences of opinion that might come up regarding their children. Examples I’ve seen in my time working with divorced parents includes what a child is wearing to school, how much time a child is devoting to homework each night, what extra-curricular activities a child should be enrolled in, a parent not taking a child to after-school activities the other parent enrolled the child in, approved, non-parent caretakers of the child, and what kinds of TV programs and movies a child is allowed to watch.
While parenting coordinators and facilitators can’t change court orders, parents can certainly utilize them en route to changing a court order. Let’s say, for example, that a father’s situation stabilizes several years after a divorce, and he wants to change the parenting schedule from the standard court-ordered Thursday night and first, third and fifth weekend to a week-on, week-off schedule. The parenting facilitator or coordinator can help manage the discussion between father and mother, and if they agree, it’s an arrangement they can either proceed with independent of the court order, or they can enter an order to modify the divorce decree to make the arrangement official.
If they can’t agree to such a switch, however, then it would require litigation to change the court order. At that point, a facilitator could be called before the judge to give information about the situation—specifically the conduct of both parents in the parenting facilitation proceedings. While the facilitator can’t give recommendations about custody, she can provide information that the judge would weigh in a final decision.
Another advantage to working with a parenting facilitator or coordinator is they can work with you for as long as you need them to. Though divorce decrees only cover a child until he or she turns 18, there’s nothing to stop parents from using a facilitator or coordinator if they have conflicts related to an adult child in college.
The bottom line regarding parenting facilitators and coordinators is, indeed, the bottom line: It’s more cost-effective, and ultimately more productive, to work with a trained professional with experience in bridging parents’ needs with children’s needs, versus using litigation to wrestle with an issue which might be just the tip of a much greater iceberg.