Parenting Coordination is a specialized form of Alternative Dispute Resolution that is aimed specifically at engaging parents in communication with each other resolving parenting conflicts.  In general, the Parenting Coordinator focuses on issues revolving around disputes that may arise in the context of parenting subsequent to separation, such as parenting schedules, appropriate activities for the children (and the costs associated with the activities), decisions relating to school and health care, and the child’s relationship with third parties such as the parents’ new partners.  In assisting parties resolve disputes, Parenting Coordinators typically engage in a mediation-based process, but are also frequently given arbitration powers to make decisions in the best interests of the children, should the parents be unable to resolve their conflicts through a mediated process.

Parenting Coordination is often looked upon favourably by both lawyers and the Courts.  In a court system that is overbooked and does not have the appropriate time to dedicate to understanding a family’s dynamics before making a decision that affects a child, the benefits of Parenting Coordination are hard to dismiss.  In general, by delegating decision making authority to a Parenting Coordinator, parties are placing their parenting disputes in the hands of trained individuals who are able to personally meet with the parties, and often the children, and understand the history of the family, the parenting strengths of both parties, and make a decision that is truly focused on the best interests of the children. this can be an extremely valuable teaching tool for the parents and can help de-escalate conflict, but only when the P.C. is appropriately trained.

However, parties should be aware that not all Parenting Coordinators are the same in Alberta.  In British Columbia, as of 2014, the Family Law Act specified a minimum set of standards, requirements, training, and experience before an individual was able to hold themselves out as a Parenting Coordinator.  More specifically, in  B.C., Parenting Coordinators must have at least 10 years experience in a family-related field and take specified training in parenting coordination, mediation, family law, decision-making, skills development, and family violence.

In Alberta, on the other hand, pretty much anyone can call themselves a Parenting Coordinator.  Parenting Coordination is not regulation in Alberta; and as a result, there are no standardized measures by which individuals can be compared or assessed on their skill and ability to assist families.  This has resulted in a number of individuals advertising themselves as Parenting Coordinators, without actually having the skills and experience necessary to provide help to families in conflict.  Without such experience, training, and requisite knowledge, families might unknowingly retain and seek help from individuals who are unaware of the law in family matters, unskilled in mediating disputes, and provide improper advice, guidance, and support.

Further, and more concerning, as there has been an increasing push for Parenting Coordinators to have arbitration powers, it is not as simple as a parent deciding to not use the Parenting Coordinator.  Most Arbitration Agreements include a clause where one party to the Agreement cannot simply terminate the process – typically, when a party disengages from the process, the Arbitrator is still permitted to proceed to make decisions on the information that already have, or to simply accept the information from the remaining party.  In such a case, parties can find themselves stuck with a Parenting Coordinator who has binding decision-making powers, yet lacks the experience, knowledge, and skills to make proper decisions, or to understand what information and evidence to consider in making such decisions.

The risks to parties in engaging a Parenting Coordinator who is ill-equipped to take on such a role are immense.  As any arbitrated decision made by a Parenting Coordinator falls under the Arbitration Act, parties are, by default, bound to the decision of the Parenting Coordinator, and such decision can easily be converted into a Judgment of the Court upon application.  Further, unless otherwise specified in an Agreement to Arbitrate, parties have extremely limited options in trying to appeal the decision of a Parenting Coordinator.  The end result is that parties, and the children, can be stuck with a very bad decision of an unqualified Parenting Coordinator.

While there are a large number of skilled and excellent Parenting Coordinators out there, it is those untrained, unqualified, and inexperienced individuals who are giving a bad reputation to what is otherwise a very good process.

Before parties retain a Parenting Coordinator, they should be very careful to ask for the Parenting Coordinator’s experience and qualifications.  Don’t be afraid to ask for the P.C.’s resume and attach it to the agreement you sign as this will show the skills you were told the P.C. had.  Make sure you review your agreement with a lawyer- a P.C. only has the powers you give them. If you agree that they can arbitrate a decision about schools then they have that power- if you don’t want them to make decisions on that issue- exclude it in your agreement. Make sure your agreement sets out the process the P.C. will follow and how meetings will be called. The agreement is your contract with the P.C. it should be detailed and carefully drafted. Further, as the decisions made by Parenting Coordinators are made in the greater context of the legislation that governs parental rights and obligations, parties should look for either Family Law lawyers trained in Parenting Coordination, or registered psychologists with training in experience in family disputes, parenting, and child development.  In general, a good rule of thumb is to avoid “parenting coordinators” who are not governed by an administrative body that provides oversight to their profession, such as the College of Alberta Psychologists, or the Law Society of Alberta.

If you are looking for assistance in respect of Parenting Coordination or seeking to have the decisions of the Parenting Coordinator reviewed, the lawyers at Mincher Koeman have years of experience working with skilled and qualified Parenting Coordinators.  We have also assisted families who have been subject to unfortunate and damaging decisions of unqualified Parenting Coordinators.  Give us a call at (403) 910-3000 or email us at reception@mincherkoeman.com.

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