“He never gets them to the soccer games! I want you to do something!”
“She scheduled an appointment with the doctor and didn’t tell me about it. Now she sends me a bill and expects me to pay it!”
“He is NEVER on time to pick the kids up. This just isn’t working. We need to change the schedule!”
If you’ve practiced in family law for any period of time, I’m sure you have received calls similar to these – and generally with a frantic and angry voice on the other end of the phone. Although to us this is not a life or death situation, to many of our clients, it feels that way. So, you do what any good attorney does: you advise the client to keep a written record of everything and explain their options. But realistically, by the time you get to court, most of those “emergency” types of situations have passed and you are left with a client who feels robbed – of their time, their money, and sometimes an opportunity with their child. So what else can you do?
Enter the Parenting Coordinator. Parenting Coordination is catching on like fire in some parts of the country. Attorneys, clients, and courts are all recognizing the value in this service. A Parenting Coordinator has roles than can be defined differently by different courts, but in general, it’s a person who is appointed to first mediate disputes between the parents and then if no resolution is reached, issue a decision much like a judge would. The attorneys like this because it stops the calls about things they really can’t do anything about. The clients like it because they get an (almost) immediate resolution. The courts like it because it clears up the docket.
I’ve been doing parenting coordination in Ohio for over 9 ½ years. Generally what I’ve seen is that over a period of time, the parents learn to effectively communicate with each other. How? Because I model good communication for them. I use programs such as Our Family Wizard so that I can monitor how they are discussing things with each other. I require participation in activities so that they can learn how to better communicate. Since communication is the basis for everything, it’s often the best place to start.
In the example above the mother complained about the father never getting the child to soccer games. Perhaps, she never provided him with a schedule. Maybe she never asked for his input and the reaction of the father was that since she didn’t ask, I’m not agreeing to take the child. Or maybe dad can’t get the child to the games because he works. This is part of what a parenting coordinator does – we attempt to get to the WHY. Generally the real problem is not what is being presented by the parents; it’s the underlying issue behind all of the communication problems. I had one parent state in a session that he didn’t want to ask his child’s mother for help on the transportation because he feared she would think he was incompetent as a parent and use it against him. It took about an hour to get to this WHY but after we got there, the parents were able to have a meaningful conversation and the father discovered that the mother was relieved that she wasn’t the only one feeling overwhelmed by being a single parent. She also, had been afraid to ask for help because she too was worried about how that would be perceived. As a parenting coordinator, we often have to get the parents to distinguish between reality and perception.
If you are the attorney, Guardian Ad Litem, or the Court with parents who are in constant dispute, or with young children and a schedule that is likely to change, parenting coordination may be right for you. It’s not always successful, but more often than not, you will come away from what you have historically dubbed a no-win situation with a happy client. And happy clients refer other clients!
-Kristen A. Stanton, Esq.
Kristen A. Stanton received her undergraduate degree from Cedarville University in 1996 and her Juris Doctor from the University Of Toledo College Of Law in 1999. She thereafter was admitted to the State Bar of Michigan in 2000 where she practiced briefly in insurance defense. Realizing this was not her passion, she sat for the Ohio Bar Exam and was admitted to practice in 2001.
Kristen began working in the areas of bankruptcy and family law in 2002 and opened her own practice in 2005, continuing to focus only on those two areas of law. She has extensive experience as a Guardian Ad Litem, private mediation, and has been a sought-after parenting coordinator since 2008.
She has received several honors for her work in the field of family law and continues to work towards educating other attorneys regarding parenting coordination.