The break-up of a family, is a tremendously difficult situation, and if one of the parents disengages from, or is unable to adequately perform, their parental role, or if one of the parents attempts to exclude the other from maintaining their role and relationship with the children (parental alienation), the conflict can escalate quickly and become extreme. In these situations, mediation is generally unsuccessful and counselling does not fully address the needs of the family.
In addition to mediation and counselling services, Canadian Co-Parenting Centres offer an intervention called parenting coordination. Parenting coordination is a process where a qualified professional uses a mixture of education, mediation, arbitration, and counselling to reduce the amount of conflict that a family is experiencing.
The objective is to help the family transition through the separation process with as little conflict as possible, and if the conflict is already quite high, manage the conflict and help them progress more quickly to a point where they can function on their own.
In situations of acute or chronic high conflict, parenting coordination can be court ordered. This gives the parenting coordinator greater authority and empowers him or her to ensure that, for the children's sake in particular, the level of conflict is reduced and contained.
This service is suitable for situations where there is interference with parenting time and/or parental alienation, domestic violence or unsubstantiated allegations of violence and abuse, concerns about capacity to adequately care for the children, etc.
When working with very high conflict families, some of the things that a parenting coordinator can do are:
- objectively assess the situation to:
- ensure safety,
- evaluate areas of concern, and
- begin identifying potential solutions
- promote the well being of all family members,
- assist all family members to negotiate the emotional and practical aspects of the transition,
- advocate for the children’s best interests,
- impress upon parents the importance of regulating their behaviours,
- facilitate communication, understanding, and respect,
- monitor the family's function and help resolve issues that come up on an ongoing basis,
- be an impartial, informed resource for teachers, coaches, police officers, child welfare investigators, and judges,
- identify the particular needs of a family and either provide services directly or provide appropriate referrals and collaborations, and
- provide coordination and cohesion among various professionals involved with the family, and
- avoid a costly bilateral parenting assessment by facilitating the development and implementation of a parenting arrangement that best meets the interests of the family and the family members.
Parenting coordination will help families move much more quickly from their hostile, volatile situation to at the very least a functional “parallel parenting” arrangement. Usually a co-operative environment will be achieved, and potentially even a collaborative one, which is really what children deserve.
While parenting coordination is typically used for high-conflict families where the couple has separated, it could be used in situations where there is high-conflict and the family is still together and there is hope of staying together.
Also, parenting coordination could be put in place before there is high-conflict, when the primary needs are mediation and education, then if there is a sudden change, the other components of the process are readily available.
For more information on parenting coordination, click here.
Court Ordered Parenting Coordination
In many of the situations that need parenting coordination, one (or both) of the parents is (are) not willing to participate and enter into such an agreement. The reason is that, on some level, they know that they are behaving badly. Entering into a parenting coordination agreement would quickly expose that, and their behaviours would be curtailed. In such situations, the parenting coordination needs to be court ordered.
Court ordered parenting coordination would be quite similar to the parenting coordination described above, except that there would be an increased level of authority, and ability to intervene, to prevent inappropriate behaviours. Typically there would be a Case Management Justice that would be involved with the family. The parenting coordinator would handle all of the day to day issues of the family and would report back to the Case Management Justice. Unless the parents agreed otherwise, all arbitrated decisions made by the parenting coordinator would be reviewable by the justice.
In Canada, there is no parenting coordination legislation so judges have to use various existing legislation, practice notes, etc., and to some extent, courts have considerable leeway to order whatever is appropriate to protect the interests of individuals and children in particular.
For more information on parenting coordination legislation and court ordering of parenting coordination, please contact the Canadian Co-parenting Coordinators Association or view their website at www.parentcoordinators.ca.