A divorcing couple is inherently in a state of disagreement. When the parties have children, the disputes between the couple can bleed into the temporary parenting arrangement. Sometimes the dispute is so severe that the parents cannot even communicate in order to parent. In these cases, a parenting coordinator is appointed as part of the divorce process.
Many couples will already be in a parenting time status quo as a separation often preludes a divorce. In these cases, courts will often just preserve the status quo until the final allocation of parenting time and parenting responsibilities is entered by the court. This is often an incentive for all parties to settle.
If the parties don’t settle on a parenting plan and work effectively through that parenting plan, there are a series of steps the court will take to ease the parties into cooperation and agreement. These steps can start at mediation and end at the appointment of a parenting coordinator.
If there is no active status quo or there are fundamental disagreements regarding parenting time, the parties must go to court ordered mediation. Mediation can be done with a private mediator in just a few sessions at a reasonable cost (like $ 2000). Mediation can done through the Cook County mediator at no cost if the parties don’t have excessive income and both parties live in Cook County. Mediation through the Cook County mediator can take upwards of 4 months.
If an agreement is reached at mediation, the mediator will issue a series of bullet points as to the agreement which the lawyers will then turn into a formal allocation of parenting time and parenting responsibilities.
If there is no agreement after mediation, the court will appoint a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) or a Child Representative.
Secondly, a Guardian Ad Litem or Child Representative.
Guardian Ad Litems and Child Representatives are attorneys that have two different titles and two different skill sets but their function is the same: to represent the best interests of the children.
Guardian Ad Litems and Child Representatives will meet with both parties and the minor children to better familiarize themselves with all the details of the parenting arrangement. Afterwards, Guardian Ad Litems and Child Representatives will make recommendations regarding parenting time to the parties based on the best interests of the child.
Typically, these recommendations will be adopted by the judge who will consider the Guardian Ad Litem or Child Representative “the eyes and ears of the court.”
Of course, just because a court order exists ordering the parties to cooperate in general when co-parenting does not mean that both parents will effectively communicate in order to further the decided “best interests of the child.” At this point the court can appoint a parenting coordinator.
Finally, the Parenting Coordinator
If all of the above steps have not resulted in some kind of “separate peace” between the parties where the parties are able to put the children’s interests ahead of their own disagreements, a parenting coordinator will be appointed pursuant to Cook County Court Rule 13.10 which states:
“The Court may appoint a parenting coordinator when it finds the following:
- The parties failed to adequately cooperate and communicate with regard to issues involving their children, or have been unable to implement a parenting plan or parenting schedule;
- Mediation has not been successful or has been determined by the judge to be inappropriate; or
- The appointment of a parenting coordinator is in the best interests of the child or children involved in the proceedings”
The parenting coordinator is essentially a Guardian Ad Litem or Child Representative who is willing to commit hours and hours into crafting a workable relationship between the parties in regards to their children.
Because of the extreme expense of the commitment of hours and hours of parenting coordination, the parenting coordinator is not necessarily a lawyer but often can be. The parenting coordinator has been through the appropriate mediation training required Cook County Court Rule 13.4 and will try to facilitate overall agreement as they coordinate a schedule for the children.
The parenting coordinators duties are outlined by Cook County Court Rule 13.10 as follows:
“(i) The parenting coordinator shall educate, mediate, monitor court orders and make recommendations to the court as necessary. In addition, the parenting coordinator may recommend approaches that will reduce conflict between parents and reduce unnecessary stress for the children.
(ii) The parenting coordinator may monitor parental behaviors and mediate disputes concerning parenting issues and report any allegations of noncompliance to the court, if necessary.
(iii) The parenting coordinator shall recommend outside resources as needed, such as random drug screens, parenting classes and psychotherapy.
(iv) The parenting coordinator may recommend detailed guidelines or rules for communication between parents.
(v) The parenting coordinator shall maintain communication among all parties by serving, if necessary, as a conduit for information.
(vi) The parenting coordinator may meet with the parties, the children, and significant others jointly or separately. The parenting coordinator shall determine if the appointments shall be joint or separate.
(vii) Each parent should direct any disagreements or concerns regarding the children to the parenting coordinator.
(viii) The parenting coordinator shall work with both parents to attempt to resolve the conflict and, if necessary, shall recommend an appropriate resolution to the parents.
(ix) The parenting coordinator shall not have any decision-making authority which is the sole province of the court.
(x) The parenting coordinator shall not serve as a court’s professional (as provided in 750 ILCS 5/604.10(b)) in any proceeding involving one or more parties for whom the parenting coordinator has provided parenting coordination services.
(xi) The parenting coordinator shall not be permitted to give a recommendation or opinion concerning the ultimate issue of fact, law, or mixed issue of fact and law as to allocation of parental responsibilities, visitation by a non-parent, or relocation.
(xii) No parenting coordinator shall be held liable for civil damages for any act or omission in the scope of the parenting coordinator’s employment or function, unless such person acted in bad faith or with malicious purpose, or in a manner exhibiting wanton and willful disregard of the rights, safety or property of another.”
What If You Disagree With The Parenting Coordinator?
While all of these duties outline that the parenting coordinator shall encourage cooperation, coordination and resolution. The parenting coordinator CANNOT enforce their suggestions.
Despite this, lawyers and Guardian Ad Litems like to include temporary orders in court that say “The recommendations of the parenting coordinator shall be adopted by the court as orders and the parties shall follow them as such.”
The Cook County Rule says the exact opposite but by entering a temporary order empowering a parenting coordinator, lawyers can outsource tedious detailed work of “who picks Sally up from ice skating when Bobby is at basketball.”
One thing a parenting coordinator CANNOT do is change your parenting time. You need a motion and a judge to decide that on anything that would infringe on your parenting time.
“[C]hanging the amount of ongoing visitation a parent has with his or her children is…a major parenting time issue” In re Marraige of Perry, 2016 IL App (4th) 160445-U
This may be for the best. It may turn the parenting coordinator into a dictator. Your lawyer should balance the benefit or detriment of empowering a parenting coordinator.
Avoiding A Parenting Coordinator
A parenting coordinator can suddenly become the fourth person on the payroll of your divorce after two lawyers and a Guardian Ad Litem or a Child Representative. This is expensive.
In lieu of a parenting coordinator, you can request that everyone get into family therapy to get to the root causes of the numerous disagreements that require a court appointed stranger.
Also, if it truly appears that “the devil is in the details” of your case, your lawyers can waive both mediation and the appointment of a Guardian Ad Litem to skip straight to the parenting coordinator who, essentially, accomplishes both of those tasks.
Divorce is awful and expensive…especially if you have children. There are lots of resources available to help get you and your family through this process and onto the next chapter of your life. Contact my Chicago, Illinois law firm today to discuss your case with an experienced Chicago divorce lawyer.