Parenting Co-ordination is a child-focussed Alternate Dispute Resolution Process developed in the United States in the 1980’s.

Parenting Co-ordination Australia describes parenting co-ordinators as health or legal professionals coaching highly conflicted parents in child inclusive post-separation communication strategies, and assisting them in transitioning from ex-partners to co-parents. The co-ordinator assists with the interpretation and implementation of agreements and orders, and provides education and strategic assistance.

The training is open to social science and legal backgrounds, but it is a developing area and there is a lack of regulation and ongoing training in this space. There are concerns around bias of co-ordinators, broadness of appointments, and issues arising outside of the co-ordinators scope of experience. Notably, the process is not confidential, though there are some exceptions if the parties choose to engage confidentially.

The process is suitable for high conflict parents, where:

  • one or both of the parties displays characteristics of poor reality testing;
  • lack of trust;
  • blaming others;
  • chronically poor communication;
  • demonstrated inability to shield children from conflict;
  • high rates of litigation;
  • rigid thinking; and,
  • a need for control.

Parenting co-ordinators aid in overcoming these barriers by:

  • clarifying plans and orders; and
  • by educating parents on the impact of ongoing conflict on children, anger management and negotiation skills, and co-operative parenting;
  • They may implement strategies in family boundary creation, goal setting, and decision making;
  • They also help individuals to identify how they may be contributing to conflict and ineffective communication; and,
  • make recommendations for educational or therapeutic resources, or other family service providers.

Costs are generally shared equally by the parties, with penalties within the agreement for non-compliance.

The process may occur as follows:

  1. Parenting Co-ordinator requested by the court/ court order made.
  2. Parenting Co-ordination Agreement signed, noting the terms of the engagement, and expectations of the parties.
  3. Intake- Individual sessions with the co-ordinator to explain the process and obtain the history.
  4. Sessions continue until Co-ordinator advises that sessions are no longer needed.
  5. The Co-ordinator reports back to the Court. They can make recommendations specifically about the implementation of parenting orders and can report on what attempts have been made to resolve disputes and any instances of non-compliance.

It is recognised by the Australian Law Reform Commission that litigation entrenches existing conflict, and that there is a high rate of families returning to court to vary orders.

The parenting co-ordination process is thought to have the most value in the period following interim orders, as the Co-ordinator can work with a family to determine what works for them and has the space in this interim phase to enable the parents to develop a lasting outcome external to such litigation. This creates benefits in reducing conflict between parties and around children and reducing downstream court costs.

This is in alignment with the Australian Law Reform submission that expecting one final resolution to last in the face of changing family dynamics is naïve, and the reality of adjustment and renegotiation must be acknowledged.

At O’Sullivan Legal, as professionals working in family law, our focus is on better ways to help families resolve their disputes, as this acknowledges, values and respects that the most overwhelming key to a child’s success is the positive involvement of a parent.