A relatively new tool being utilized by family court to deal with child custody and visitation disputes is the Parenting Coordinator. Maricopa County Court has a court-approved mental health list of licensed professional psychiatrists and psychologists who are qualified parenting coordinators.
Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure (ARFP), Rule 74 provides the basis for an appointment of a parenting coordinator including who may serve as a parenting coordinator. If the family court finds the parents are persistently in conflict with one another, there is a history of substance abuse by either parent, a history of domestic violence, the child has special needs, or serious concerns of the mental health or behavior or either parent, or it would otherwise be in the child(ren)’s best interests to do so, the appointment will be justified. Rule 74 sets forth the qualifications for a parenting coordinator which may also include an attorney who is licensed to practice in Arizona. The Rule further provides the term of service, how the fees will be allocated between the parties, the powers and scope of employment.
The Court will issue an order authorizing the parenting coordinator to make recommendations regarding implementation, clarification, modification and enforcement of any temporary or permanent custody or parenting time/visitation orders of the court, and to make recommendations on the day to day issues experienced by the parties in these areas. The Court will also limit the parenting coordinator’s authority to not make recommendations effecting child support, a change of custody or a substantial change in parenting time.
If the parenting coordinator determines parenting or family issues or circumstances exist that are significantly detrimental to the welfare of the child(ren) and that a change in custody or a substantial change in parenting time is warranted the parenting coordinator can submit his recommendations to the Court.
The Court may also identify the scope of the parenting coordinators authority to include making recommendations to the Court regarding all current and future disputes arising under or as a result of the custody or parenting time/visitation order as to the minor child(ren), including, by way of example only, disputes over schooling, daycare, babysitting, medical or psychological care, etc. The parenting coordinator will be authorized to formulate recommendations based upon what is in the children’s best interests. The Court will authorize the parenting coordinator to interview all members of the immediate or extended family or household of both parties and the children at the parenting coordinator’s discretion, and the parenting coordinator may interview and request the participation of any and all persons who the parenting coordinator deems to have relevant information or to be useful participants.
The order appointing the parenting coordinator typically includes certain procedures for dispute resolution as defined by the parenting coordinator including the sequence and frequency of meetings and who shall participate in any sessions/meetings. There is no requirement that the parenting coordinator make a record of the meetings.
The Court usually will mandate that recommendations by the parenting coordinator be made or confirmed in a written report to the court and the parenting coordinator may in his or her discretion submit draft recommendations through the parties or their attorneys for the purpose of receiving their suggestions.