The Legal Status of Parent Coordinators in Massachusetts- An Update

Parenting coordinator Massachusetts

In 2014 we blogged about the legal status of Parent Coordinators in Massachusetts.  The article was written just after the Supreme Judicial Court decided the case of Bower v. Bournay-Bower.  However, since that decision came down in September 2014, a lot has changed.

For those who do not know what a Parenting Coordinator is, a Parenting Coordinator is a trained attorney or mental health professional who has a background in child custody and parenting time disputes assist parents to resolve and reach agreement concerning disagreements about co-parenting, custody, and the parenting schedule.

Parent Coordinators are commonly used in child custody and parenting matters in Massachusetts to facilitate resolving disputes between parents on issues relating children of divorce and children born out of wedlock.  The Parent Coordinator typically acts as a referee to rule on any disputes, or works more like a mediator to help the parents negotiate and resolve any dispute.  Using Parent Coordinators can be an effective tool in assisting parents in avoiding lengthy litigation in the Probate and Family Court to resolve custody and parenting disputes.

After the Bower decision, the Probate and Family Court convened a committee to develop uniform standards for Parenting Coordinators.  In 2017, that committee issued Standing Order 1-17, which is now the uniform guidelines and standards for Parenting Coordinators throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  The Standing Order further clarifies the Bower decision, and also addresses when a Parenting Coordinator can be appointed in a divorce or family law case.

After the Bower decision, it was unclear whether the Probate and Family Court could appoint a Parenting Coordinator over the objection of one parent.  The Standing Order clarifies that the Probate and Family Court can appoint a Parenting Coordinator over the objection of one parent as long as the parent requesting the Parenting Coordinator agrees to pay for 100% of the Parenting Coordinator’s fees.  However, in this circumstance, any decision by the Parenting Coordinator cannot be binding up on the parents, and is always subject to review by the Probate and Family Court.

The Standing Order also reiterates from Bower that if both parents agree to appoint a Parenting Coordinator, a Parenting Coordinator can still be appointed.  In this circumstance, the parents can be bound by the decision of the Parenting Coordinator, and that decision is not necessarily subject to review by the Probate and Family Court.

Another benefit of the new Standing Order is that there is an official list from the Probate and Family Court of qualified Parenting Coordinators.  These Parenting Coordinators have gone through 70+ hours of professional training in high custody conflict education, intimate partner violence education, and mediation training.

Now that Standing Order 1-17 is in effect, it is clear that Parenting Coordinators may continue to assist parents in conflict.  However, as with any new law, there are issues with implementing the new Standing Order.  There are certain administrative issues in the implementation of Standing Order 1-17 that are proving to be difficult.  The Probate and Family Court understands that the Standing Order will likely need some tweaking over time as the courts continue to appoint Parenting Coordinators.

What is important to know now is that Parenting Coordinators still exist, and can still be appointed in high conflict cases.

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