Parenting Coordinators by Kendall W. Johnson, Attorney at Law
I am often called to come in as a second attorney on a tough custody case. And as I collect the facts, and children are the center of the dispute, I often ask the prospective client “Who is the Parenting Coordinator?” I automatically assume that one has been appointed because savvy attorneys know their value.
A Parenting Coordinator is a third-party appointed by the Court to act, in laymen’s terms, as a kind of referee between the parents. It is often a family law attorney or perhaps a therapist. The PC is empowered to settle certain disputes.
Most parents who are fighting over children do not believe that the other side is hearing (or understanding) their side. Or they think that there is some ulterior motive that is controlling things. Or it is the “new wife who wants to control things” that is behind the conflict.
Let’s say a divorced parent wants to trade weekends with the other parent because of an important family event: Aunt Mildred is coming on a rare visit from her life-long mission in Uganda. Mom requests a trade. Dad, seeing an opportunity to get back at his ex (again) while at the same time score some points with his controlling new wife, says, “Hey, it’s my weekend and I have [just made up in my head] plans for them. We’re going to . . . um . . . um . . . the lake. Yea. The Lake.”
So after begging, pleading and promising her next born to him, she calls me, her attorney, as a last resort. I begin by calling opposing counsel to get the other side of the story. (I know, my clients always tell me the truth, but I just want to know what they will say, no matter how ridiculous it may be.) That attorney calls the client, hears his side, calls me back, tells me that it is my client who lies about everything and it’s his client who always tells the truth and this is how it really is. I call my client back, let her know that the new wife is still running the show, and so it goes.
[Note: the above description has been compressed. The actual communication occurred over a period of two weeks because the lawyer was not in his office when first called. A hearty game of phone tag ensued before actual connection was made.]
In an effort to cut out the middle men, and with enthusiasm worthy of a Sham-Wow infomercial, the Oklahoma Legislature passed the Parenting Coordination Act. Now fighting parents can go directly to the PC with their disputes and sit across from the table from one another and talk about why it’s important that the kids have the opportunity to meet mom’s Aunt Mildred on dad’s weekend. Usually the new wife is not participating in the discussion and attorneys are not sanitizing the dialog so the chances of an agreement being reached already go way up.
And if there is not an agreement, the PC usually has the authority to settle these disputes, period.
The benefit is two-fold: parents can get quick resolution of their disputes and they can save a whole lot of money not having to pay their attorneys in the process.
I like PCs. I encourage my clients to use them. They may not always like the PC’s decisions, but chances are they wouldn’t like the judge’s decision either. The benefit to everybody is that it provides for immediate resolution without the cost and delay that is inevitable in litigation.