by Susan Carpenter
The Family Courts often use an Alternative Dispute Resolution process to help people resolve their own disagreements outside of court. The State Supreme Courts keep rosters of neutrals that are trained as mediators, arbitrators and other neutral positions.
When it comes to disputes between divorced parents, the battles can become quite nasty and the children get caught in the middle. Many of these cases end up returning to court, frequently asking a judge to make a decision about parenting time, where the child should go to school, medical decisions, and a multitude of issues, but the courts do not have time for this revolving door of fighting over what may seem like a minor issue to a judge.
When the court runs out of ideas on how to get these two parents to stop fighting and learning to co-parent, sometimes an ADR neutral is assigned as a case manager. These court authorities are called parenting consultants in the state of Minnesota. In most other states and even other countries, the title used is parent coordinators. The scope of what a PC can do is the same, no matter which title is used.
Minnesota also uses a neutral called a parenting time expediter. These court authorities are available to the family to make binding decisions. They are to be treated the same way as a judge and their decisions are to be treated the same way that one would treat a court order.
A parenting time expediter can only make insubstantial decisions related to parenting time. That is the only matter they can decide, and there is a statute that governs the role. Minnesota statute 518.1751 explains the role of the parenting time expediter, what they can do, and what the parents’ rights are with regard to the position.
A parenting consultant, or parent coordinator, can resolve any issue that is brought forth by either parent. They will even decide which parent will wash the children’s clothing, if one of the parents asks for a decision on the matter. They are put on the case to decide important matters about the children, but there is no law that defines what they can decide.
When a parent makes the decision to appoint a parenting consultant or coordinator, they often spell out in detail what they want the PC to do, but all parenting consultants/parent coordinators have a detailed contract that you will be expected to sign. The PC’s contract may give them a wider scope of authority than what the parents wanted in the court order that appoints them. Parents need to be careful about reading both the court order and the PC contract so that they are prepared for the actions of the PC. Having a parenting consultant/coordinator is the equivalent of giving the legal custody of your child to a third party.
If a PC makes a decision that one of the parents does not agree with, that decision can be challenged in court, although there is not always time to do so, depending on what that decision entails. Sometimes a decision may involve allowing one of the parents to sign up a child for sports, or switching which weekend a parent has the child so that the child may attend an important family event, such as a wedding. If the deadline for the enrollment or the date for the wedding is fast approaching, you may not be able to get the issue before a judge in time to have the decision overturned.
Parenting consultants/coordinators are expensive. In Minnesota, the recommended rate for their services is a $5,000 retainer and $200 per hour. The cost is shared between the parents. Whether you or your ex is the one to contact the PC to request a decision, you will both be expected to pay half the cost of the PC.
A PC can be appointed indefinitely, in some cases. Once you have appointed one of these case managers, it is hard to get rid of them. If no term limit has been set, they will be in place until your youngest child turns 18. Most court orders do allow the parents to terminate the PC’s contract, if the parents agree to do so, but if the two of you were able to agree on anything, you probably would not have a parenting consultant or parent coordinator in the first place.
If you’d like more information about parenting consultants, parent coordinators or parenting time expediters, or if you need some strategies for coping with a hostile co-parent, please contact the author, Susan Carpenter at Life’s Doors Mediation, 299 Coon Rapids Blvd., N.W., Coon Rapids, MN 55433, or call 763-566-2282 or toll free, 1-800-516-2446. You can also read Susan’s book about parenting consultants.
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