What is a “parenting coordinator”?
A parenting coordinator is a person appointed by the judge in custody cases to help execute and coordinate ancillary issues of a custody order. This helps ease the burden of the trial judge in dealing with the day to day aspects of implementing a custody order. Parenting coordination has become a significant area of law in Pennsylvania child custody. One concern is the following: Is the appointment of a “parenting coordinator” the improper delegation of judicial decision-making authority? Another issue is this: what about the requisite credentials of the parenting coordinator? Should that person be an attorney? A mental health professional?
One of the leading cases in this area is Yates v. Yates, 963 A.2d 535 (Pa. Super. 2008). There, the appellate court (the Superior Court) ruled that a trial court may appoint a parenting coordinator in cases with high-conflict parents who have demonstrated difficulty in rendering parental decisions independently. There, the appellate court also constricted the parenting coordinator’s authority to side issues and not central matters such as legal and physical custody decisions. The Yates court also decided that a de novo review of a parenting coordinator’s decision must be utilized if either party disagrees with the parenting coordinator’s decision.
Recently, in the case of A.H. v. C.M., __ A.3d __, 2012 PA Super. 277 (December 18, 2012), the Superior Court once again addressed the requirement of a de novo review of a parenting coordinator’s decision. There, the appellate court decided that the trial court erred in failing to hold a deno hearing on the mother’s petition to review the parenting coordinator’s decision.
On appeal, the Superior Court in the A.H. case held that the trial court erred in failing to hold a de novo hearing on C.M.’s (the mother’s) petition to review the parenting coordinator’s decision.
As one attorney, Micheal E. Bertin, noted:
“[A.H. v. C.M.] is important for family law practitioners as it provides further guidance on the issue of parenting coordination. There exists a proposed rule of civil procedure permitting a judge to appoint parenting coordinators at any time after a custody order has been entered. The proposed rule mandates a de novo review of the parenting coordinator’s rulings if the party seeks review of the same. In the past, there was also proposed legislation that was on the other end of the spectrum and provided, in part, “a judge of a Court of Common Pleas shall have no authority to appoint a parenting coordinator in an action involving custody of a child. Any decision rendered by a parenting coordinator shall be void.” The proposed legislation was never enacted and the proposed rule has not been promulgated. Therefore, the current law regarding parenting coordinators remains the holding in the Yates decision and the Superior Court’s affirmation and reiteration of the mandates contained in the Yates decision as reflected in the recent case of A.H.”
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