COVID Court closures are expected to create a significant backlog of family cases and delays getting to trial and resolution. This is especially difficult for families whose complex situation calls for Court intervention, but access to the Court has been quite limited. What options do these families have while they await rescheduled hearing and trial dates & their day in Court?
This series of articles explores options to help stabilize families in crisis through:
· Parent Coordination
· Early Neutral Case Evaluation
What is Parent Coordination?
Parent Coordination a process in which the parents work with a Parent Coordinator to reduce the effects or potential effects of conflict on the parents' child. A Parent Coordinator is a neutral, in that she does not represent, advocate for, or advise either parent.
Parent Coordination’s goals include:
· developing an agreed plan for custody and visitation if there is no agreement or court order
· resolving disputes about the interpretation of and compliance with the order and in making any joint recommendations to the court for any changes to the order
· educating about making and implementing decisions that are in the best interest of the child
· developing guidelines for appropriate communication between the parents
· suggesting helpful resources for the family
· modifying patterns of behavior and develop parenting strategies to manage and reduce opportunities for conflict in order to reduce the impact of any conflict upon their child
· deciding post-judgment disputes by making minor, temporary modifications to child access provisions ordered by the court if:
o the judgment or post-judgment order of the court authorizes such decision making, and
o the parents have agreed in writing or on the record that the post-judgment parenting coordinator may do so.
What Do Parent Coordination Meetings Look Like?
The Parent Coordination sessions include the Parent Coordination and parents. Not their attorneys.
The meetings may include all three participants together or involve one-on-one caucuses/breakouts with the Parent Coordinator and a single parent.
How Can Parent Coordination Help During Court Backlog?
If parents consent in writing, they can authorize the Parent Coordinator to make certain parenting decisions for the parents on a temporary basis until the parents can have a trial in Court. This could apply to a temporary schedule, a specific legal decision on medical, education, or religion, or pressing concerns that a Court does not consider an emergency.
Also, a Parent Coordinator can recommend services to the parents and for the family. Services might include an assessment or evaluation of substance use, emotional and mental health, educational difficulties, and so on. Parents can consent to submit certain issues to the Parent Coordinator for recommendations, agree to be bound by them, or if not bound agree that the recommendations be admissible in Court. These recommendations can help move a family matter forward in developing important information and understanding about the parents and family, until a Court can intervene.
If necessary, a Parent Coordinator can testify in court as a fact witness and produce documents, in response to a subpoena. A Parent Coordinator cannot serve as an expert witness. However, a Parent Coordinator can testify about recommendations made and whether parents complied.
A Parent Coordinator cannot make a final, binding decision, because only the Court has that authority in child custody matters. However, with limited decision-making power provided to a willing Parent Coordinator, this is an opportunity to create stability in and a forward-moving process in a chaotic, complex family situation until the family has its day in Court.
Since 2002, Lindsay Parvis has represented clients in Maryland custody, divorce, and marital matters. She negotiates, litigates, and advocates for the best interests of her clients, whether in contested litigation, uncontested settlement, or premarital and other agreements. Her clients are not only spouses and parents, but also children whose interests she is appointed by the court to represent in contested custody litigation. Lindsay strives to improve Maryland law in the General Assembly, volunteering her time to monitor, advocate, and educate about legislative developments in family law.