Vail Law: What you need to know about parenting coordinators, others
Vail, CO, Colorado
Divorce and parenting issues are often high-conflict affairs, in the Vail Valley and elsewhere. Emotion, understandably, runs high and rational decision-making is too frequently the first casualty on the battlefield where love and law collide. To ease the tension just a mite, and to interject a little neutral third-party reason into matters, the law provides several means and mechanisms by which the escalating brouhaha may be kept from otherwise spiraling out of control.
Meet the parenting coordinator, the domestic relations decision-maker and the statutory arbitrator, all of whom are invested in bestowing a measure of tranquility in disputes between the divorced parents of minor children.
A parenting coordinator can be appointed, upon request, at any time following the entry of an order regarding parental responsibilities, or what most people refer to as “custody” issues. A parenting coordinator may be appointed upon the request of either one or the other party, by agreement between the parties, or on the initiative of the court .
A parenting coordinator’s duties include helping create guidelines for implementing the parenting plan, facilitating communication between and helping parents develop their parenting and communications skills. Most often, the parenting coordinator has a continuing relationship with the parties and, as needed, can help see them through rough patches in parenting following divorce.
When the Court appoints a Parenting Coordinator, the term of appointment is usually two years. The parties can agree, or the Court will determine how the coordinator’s fees will be shared. The state is not responsible for the fees. Except in unusual circumstances, the parenting coordinator cannot be called to testify or be compelled to produce records.
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Higher-conflict cases can require greater intervention and a firmer hand. That role may be played by a domestic relations decision-maker, who has binding authority to settle disputes between the parties. Where a parenting Coordinator guides the parties toward resolution of their disputes, the decision-maker makes decisions about disputes including parenting time, disputed parental decisions and child support. A decision-maker may only be appointed with the written consent of both parties. That written agreement lays out the scope of the decision-maker’s duties. The decisions must be consistent with the prior orders of the court.
If one of the parties disagrees with a decision made by the decision-maker, that party may appeal directly to the court to modify the decision. Like the parenting coordinator, the decision-maker does not testify in disputes between the parties. Importantly, too, the Decision-Maker is immune from liability for any claim of injury arising as a consequence of his decisions.
Another type of domestic relations facilitator is known as a statutory arbitrator, who can establish a more formal procedure for resolving disputes between divorced parties where they cannot agree about parenting of their minor children.
Unlike the decision-maker, the statutory arbitrator has the authority to modify the substantive rights of the parties. Because parenting rights can be changed or modified, greater due process must be afforded and, instead of simply deciding an issue, the parties must each be given a fair opportunity to present their case to the arbitrator. Once the parties present their respective cases, the arbitrator renders his decision.
Similarly to the decision-maker, a statutory arbitrator may only be appointed with mutual consent of the parties. An arbitrator’s decisions include parenting time, adjustments of child support and disputed parental decisions. It is essential that the agreement between the parties to employ a statutory arbitrator clearly sets forth the scope of the arbitrator’s duties. Determinations of the arbitrator may be appealed directly to the court, which may or may not accept the matter for consideration.
All three devices are intended to facilitate high-conflict divorces involving minor children and to forestall imposing excessive authority over the parties without their consent. In so doing, it is hoped that more individualized attention can be provided, that the attention given will be swifter, that the courts will be relieved of at least some of the burden following divorce and, most of all, that a benefit will accrue to the children of divorce.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. His practice areas include: business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, homeowners associations, family law and divorce and civil litigation. He may be heard on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at his e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.