Parenting Coordinator’s Role In NY High Conflict Custody Cases

Parents arguing in fron of child in high conflict case

For some years, parents who have “high conflict” custody or visitation cases in the New York Courts, have occasionally used professionals, usually lawyers or psychologists, as “parenting coordinators”, sometimes called parenting coaches. In the past, the use of a parenting coordinator (also known as a parent coordinator) was optional and was almost never mandated or formalized by the court.

Recently, there has been a big push in the New York Court towards alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”) in all types of cases. This trend accelerated during the pandemic as a way of dealing with a large backlog of cases and disposing of them without involving the Court.

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Who Are These Parenting Coordinators?

Parenting coordinators are usually premier family law attorneys or psychologists who perform court appointed forensic evaluations in custody cases. Their fees are usually quite high, commensurate to their experience and high standing in their fields.

What Do Parenting Coordinators Do?

Parenting coordinators usually work with parents who have “high conflict ” cases in court. Typically, these parents have grown to dislike or even despise one another, and are unable to communicate civilly about any issue. Parenting coordinators help them resolve disputes about custody and visitation, help parties re-establish communications with each other, and try to educate them about their children’s needs and the importance of minimizing conflicts for the benefit of the child or children.

Parenting coordinators meet with the parents and sometimes with the children, and can make referrals for helpful services. In situations where civil communication between the parents is impossible, parenting coordinators are the “go -betweens” for all sorts of decisions and issues, both minor and major.

Can Parenting Coordinators Make Decisions?

New York Appellate Courts have, for a long time, been resistant to the idea that a Court can make an order that delegates the power to make decisions about custody or visitation to third parties. Typically, parenting coordinators can only make recommendations to the judge. Some other states have allowed parenting coordinators to actually make certain decisions, but usually only if they have already consented to be bound by the parenting coordinator’s decisions.

The Eighth Department’s ADR Program Formalizing The Role

In 2021 the Appellate Division, Eighth Department created a panel for court appointed parenting coordinators. This panel is modeled on  panels which have long existed for court appointed forensic custody evaluators. The Plan contemplates formal assignment of coordinators with or without the consent of the parties. Sample orders shown on the Eighth Department’s website include provisions for the coordinators making certain decisions for the parties if they are unable to agree.

The parenting coordinators will be screened for education, experience, and training and will probably be professionals such as family law attorneys, forensic psychologists, or very experienced social workers with special training and experience. 

The idea of having a parenting coordinator make decisions without the consent of the parties  is at odds with case law in the other departments, and it remains to be seen if these provisions will spread to the other departments, and if so, if they will be challenged in the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court.

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