Parent coordination is a form of dispute resolution that goes beyond mediation, psychotherapy, and other forms of resolving conflicts between co-parents (Boylan and Termini, 2005). It’s often referred to as a child-focused alternative conflict resolution process that’s centered around the formulation and implementation of a parenting plan (AFCC Task Force on Parenting Coordination, 2006).
Johnston and Roseby (1997) described parent coordination as an approach that provides highly conflicted families with an appointed co-parenting coordinator to help them make ongoing decisions. One of the distinguishing features of parent coordination, according to Johnston and Roseby, is that the parenting coordinator is given some kind of arbitration power by the court.
The History of Parent Coordination
The first book on parent coordination didn’t appear until 1994, when Carla Garrity and Mitch Baris wrote Caught in the Middle:
Protecting the Children of High-Conflict Divorce. However, as far back as the early part of the twentieth century, the first model of parent coordination was designed in California (Boylan and Termini, 2005). As an outgrowth of this, professionals in California were able to develop a detailed order outlining the appointment of a parent coordinator. However, it wasn’t until the early 1990s that parent coordination truly began to develop, when mental health professionals and family lawyers began talking seriously about the role of the parent coordinator.
In their book, Garrity and Baris (1994) described a parent coordinator as a person with a background in both family law and psychotherapy. They proposed that the parent coordinator have such functions as helping parents develop a parenting plan, monitoring co-parents’ compliance with a parenting agreement, mediating disputes, and teaching co-parents how to minimize disputes.
A few years later, Johnston and Roseby (1997) wrote about a “co-parenting arbitrator.” This was a trained professional who would help highly conflicted parents resolve their impasses and learn to make important decisions related to their children. Since then, the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts has become active in further defining the role and the duties of the parent coordinator. Having appointed a task force, the AFCC put out guidelines for parenting coordination in 2006 (AFCC Task Force on Parenting Coordination, 2006).
The overall objective of parent coordination, according to the AFCC, is to help high-conflict parents implement their parenting plans, to resolve conflicts regarding their children and the parenting plan in a timely manner, and to protect and sustain safe, healthy, and meaningful parent-child relationships.
Furthermore, the AFCC specified that parent coordinators be trained in family mediation, be licensed mental health professionals or lawyers, and have extensive experience and training in working with co-parents with high-conflict relationships. In addition, the AFCC stated that parent coordinators should be granted authority by the court to make decisions for the co-parents when they cannot agree.