Posted on February 17, 2019

What Is A Parenting Coordinator In An Illinois Divorce?

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.

First, Mediation. 

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 ($ 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 Is Appointed

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 considered and, possibly, appointed.

“Basis for appointment of a parenting coordinator. Following the entry of a parenting plan, or prior to entry if approved by a court, after considering any allegations or evidence of intimate partner violence where one coparent has exhibited or continues to exhibit patterns of violence, threat, intimidation, and coercive control over a coparent, a parenting coordinator may be appointed by the court when deemed in the best interest of the child(ren) due to any of the following:
(1) The coparents have failed to adequately cooperate and communicate about issues involving their children;
(2) The coparents have been unable to implement the existing parenting plan or parenting schedule;
(3) Mediation has not been successful or has been determined by the court to be inappropriate;
(4) The agreement of the coparents; and
(5) For such other reason as the court deems appropriate that does not exceed the authority under this Rule.
Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 909(c)

“Each judicial circuit may adopt rules for the conduct of parenting coordination that are
consistent with this Rule, which shall include a clearly delineated process to develop specialized
parenting coordination protocols, screening, procedures, and training in cases involving intimate
partner violence.” Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 909(a)

The local rule in Cook county is Cook County Court Rule 13.10 which states:

“The Court may appoint a parenting coordinator when it finds the following:

  1. 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; 
  2. Mediation has not been successful or has been determined by the judge to be inappropriate; or
  3. 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 promoting and enforcing a workable relationship between the parties in regards to their children.  

“Parenting coordination” is a child-focused alternative dispute resolution process conducted by a licensed mental health or family law professional, which combines assessment, education, case management, conflict management, dispute resolution, and decision-making functions. Parenting coordination is for coparents who are unable or unwilling to cooperate in making parenting decisions, communicate effectively with regard to issues involving their children, implement and comply with parenting agreements and orders, or shield their children from the impact of parental conflict. The purpose of parenting coordination is to protect and sustain safe, healthy, and meaningful parent-child relationships. The parenting coordinator assists coparents engaged in high-conflict coparenting by:
(1) assisting coparents with clarifying, implementing, and complying with their parenting plan orders;
(2) helping coparents reduce misunderstandings, clarify priorities, explore possibilities for compromise, and develop methods of collaboration in parenting their children;
(3) educating coparents about their children’s needs in order to make timely and appropriate decisions in a manner consistent with the children’s developmental and psychological needs; and
(4) timely resolving conflicts that may arise concerning parenting plans in order to reduce the amount of damaging conflict between coparents to which children are exposed and diminish a pattern of unnecessary relitigation about child-related issues.” Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 909(a)

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, personally, enforce their suggestions. Rather, parents are instructed to “comply” with the parenting coordinator’s recommendations.

“The coparents shall comply with the recommendation(s) made by the parenting coordinator until and unless the court, after a hearing on the motion and any responses thereto, rules that the recommendations(s) at issue are either:
(1) in contravention of the child(ren)’s best interests; or
(2) outside the scope of the authority granted to the parenting coordinator under this Rule, the applicable local circuit court rule(s), or the court order appointing the parenting coordinator.” Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 909(k)

Divorce 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.

“A parenting coordinator shall not make recommendations as to:
(1) allocation of parental responsibilities for decision making;
(2) initial allocation of parental responsibilities for parenting time and any allocation of parenting time beside minor alternations described in paragraph (e);
(3) relocation;
(4) establishing visitation by a nonparent; or
(5) child support, spousal maintenance, or the allocation of property or debt of the
marriage.” Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 909(g)

“[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.

“The coparents shall pay the parenting coordinator fees as ordered by the court upon consideration of the financial resources of the coparents or agreed upon in writing by the coparents and the parenting coordinator.” Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 909(j)

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 Illinois divorce lawyer.

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Russell Knight

Russell D. Knight has been practicing family law as a Chicago divorce lawyer since 2006. Russell D. Knight amicably resolves tough cases while remaining a strong advocate for his client’s interests.

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