Parenting Coordinators – Can Courts Delegate to Them?
I have written before about Parenting Coordinators, and the role they can play as part of a child-focused dispute resolution process. Typically trained as social workers, family therapists or psychologists, and lawyers, they help separated and divorcing parents focus on the needs of their children. In particular, their special mediation training allows them to assist parents to:
1) successfully implement the court-approved Parenting Plan that governs their rights and responsibilities in connection with their child; and
2) develop better problem-solving and communication skills.
But how far does their role go? Can courts delegate actual judicial decision-making functions to Parenting Coordinators, in order to by-pass the need to repeatedly bring parenting-related disputes back before the court?
Two fairly recent Ontario cases say the answer is “No”. In both Marques v. Raulino and McCall v. Res, the courts addressed a number of main issues between the parties, but each touched briefly on what is nonetheless an important question: The extent to which a Parenting Coordinator is entitled to resolve disputes about legal custody, mobility, parenting schedules, or anything other than minor or temporary issues.
In the Marques v. Raulino case, the parents never married but had a child together. They had a difficult relationship, and this certainly did not improve after their separation. In particular, the mother claimed the father was impossible to deal with because he had a bad temper, would routinely yell and belittle her, and frequently smoked marijuana. The father countered by saying that the main source of their arguments related to the mother’s messiness and disorganization, and her failure to provide a safe environment for the child. On a few occasions, the police had to be called.
Although the court had made various orders to give structure to the parents’ care and custody of the child, the concern remained that they would be able to resolve any day-to-day disputes. A report by the Office of the Children’s Lawyer had recommended that they should consult with a Parenting Coordinator, “if they are unable to jointly make a parenting decision.” The father brought a motion for a temporary order asking the court to formally implement that recommendation in those terms.
The court decided that it could not do so. To the extent that this purported to give the Parenting Coordinator final decision-making authority, it was an impermissible delegation of the court’s judicial role. If the parties did not agree on an issue, they had no choice but to return to the court for its resolution.
Similarly, in McCall v. Res the court came to the same conclusion. There, the mother had asked the court to appoint a Parenting Coordinator and suggested that he or she could help both parents address, out of court, any issues that might arise between them. This way, according to the mother, they could resolve those issues more expeditiously and more cost-effectively than having to return to court each time.
The father objected, claiming that a Parenting Coordinator would merely add another “layer” to the process, and it was better that the parents in this case communicate directly with each other.
The court concurred with the father’s general concerns but granted the mother’s request to appoint a Parenting Coordinator nonetheless. It stated that he or she could certainly help the parties reach agreement on their issues if possible, but emphasized that the Parenting Coordinator “will not have final decision-making authority” in the event that is was not. That role was to be left in the court’s hands.
While it’s a worthy goal to try to keep parties’ disputes out of court to the extent possible, these cases confirm that broadening the Parenting Coordinator’s role is not the way to do it. Besides, it’s always better that couples try to avoid reaching an impasse in the first place, especially those that call for third-party intervention in the form of a court, mediator, Parenting Coordinator, or other.
For the full text of the decisions, see:
Marques v. Raulino, 2013 ONCJ 477 (CanLII)
McCall v. Res, 2013 ONCJ 254 (CanLII)