What is Parenting Coordination? How Does It Work?

After separation, some parents either have difficulty or worry that they will have difficulty, agreeing on matters related to the parenting of their children – even with a detailed parenting plan in place. Parenting coordination in Ontario is an alternative despite resolution (ADR) process that involves both mediation and arbitration to help parents implement the terms of their parenting plan without needing to go back to court every time there is a disagreement.

Parenting Coordination is different from Parenting Mediation. The purpose of Parenting Mediation is to assist parents in working out a Parenting Plan. A Parenting Plan sets out how separated parents will parent their children. It includes not only the schedule for where the children will live, but also how the parents will make decisions for their children when parents will go to children’s events, what discipline strategies they will use, what responsibilities each parent has, and how the parents will address virtually every aspect of their children’s lives. If parents cannot work out a parenting plan on their own, then they either go to court in a child custody case and have the judge decide, or go to family arbitration and have their arbitrator create the terms of the parenting plan. This page sets out how judges decide child custody cases and create the terms of parenting orders. This episode of the Ontario Family Law Podcast further explains parenting mediation, parenting arbitration and parenting coordination, as well as other ADR options.

Where separated parents have difficulty getting along, it is common to have a parenting agreement or custody order that is very long and detailed so there a very few things for the parents to fight over. The agreement or court order is supposed to provide the answer to every disagreement. But there can still be situations that the parenting plan did not contemplate, or where it does not provide a clear answer. When that happens, parents can get into an argument and “high-conflict” parents may not be able to resolve the issue. Parenting coordination is designed to help those parents and the children. 

The purpose of Parenting Coordination is to implement and enforce the custody order or parenting agreement – not to change it. A parenting coordinator has to follow the parenting plan and make sure the parents do the same. 

Parenting Coordination is a form of mediation/arbitration, which means the parenting coordinator acts as both mediator and arbitrator. The parenting coordinator, who is often a social worker, child psychologist, or family law lawyer, tries to act as a mediator to help the parents overcome arguments and reach agreements on any matter related to the children. If the parents cannot agree, then the parenting coordinator can act like an arbitrator and decide the matter. (It is like the parenting coordinator has legal custody of the children because he or she has final decision-making authority over the children, within the boundaries of the parenting plan.) 

The advantage of a parenting coordinator is that it allows parents quick access to a method to resolve their parenting disputes, without the time and expense of going to court. Section 59.7 of the Family Law Act allows parenting coordinators to use a “summary” or very simplified procedure when conducting an arbitration. That means the parenting coordinator can try to “mediate” the dispute and if there is no easy resolution, the parenting coordinator can move on quickly to an expeditious arbitration that can use a very streamlined procedure, such as just relying on emails, or a brief phone call with both parties, rather than a full trial. The only restrictions are that:

  1. the parenting coordinator cannot rely on anything that went on during the “mediation”; and
  2. in deciding anything related to the best interest of a child, the parenting coordinator must have full information about what is in the child’s best interests (including information about all the factors that a judge must apply when making parenting decisions) and must apply that information and those factors to make the decision.

This allows for quick resolution of issues, such as what to do if a parent will not sign a travel consent, a parent stops visits, or a child refuses to go on visits. Parenting coordination is much faster and much less expensive than going to court every time. In addition, if the parents sign a proper Parenting Coordination Agreement, the decisions of the Parenting Coordinator can be filed with the court and then enforced as a court order following the procedure under Rule 32.1 of the Family Law Rules.

The downside of parenting coordination is that it allows parents quick access to a method to battle out their parenting disputes, without the time and expense of going to court. The big advantage of parenting coordination for some families can be its biggest problem for others. If one or both parents just want to continue to fight things out with the other parent, then parenting coordination gives easy access to a forum to do that. Sometimes that can perpetuate conflict, which is very harmful to those kids because the parents can fight over every single tiny detail or issue over and over again. In those cases, it may be better not to have parenting coordination and instead force the parents to pay the expenses associated with court and wait the (sometimes long) wait for a court date. That makes it more difficult to fight over every single little issue. 

Parents also have to pay for the professional fees of the parenting coordinator – although those can be less than court filing fees, or the fees required to have challenging court documents filled out by lawyers. Also, most parenting coordination agreements allow the parenting coordinator to force one parent to pay all the fees because that parent has unreasonably caused conflict.

Deciding whether parenting coordination is right for your family, and perhaps which parenting coordinator would work best for you, is a complex question. It is something you should speak to an experienced family law lawyer about to decide what is best for your family in your circumstances. In any event, section 59.6(1) of the Family Law Act states that a parenting coordinator’s decisions are not legally binding unless both parties had legal advice prior to signing the agreement to use Parenting Coordination. So you must speak to a Family Lawyer before signing up for parenting coordination. 

John Schuman Guide to the Basics of Ontario Family Law book cover

You can get a lot more information about Ontario Family Law issues, including a comprehensive explanation of parenting cases (parenting time and decision making), child support, spousal support, property division, and most other common family law issues by downloading this $9.99 Kindle eBook, Kobo eBook, or iBook for your iPad or iPhone or ordering it from Amazon as a paperback. But to understand how the law works precisely in your situation, it is always best to speak to a good Family Law Lawyer.

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