Parenting disputes, like any family law dispute, often involves high levels of entrenched conflict which can have the result of significant legal costs for parents, significant delays in the resolution of matters and be damaging for children.
“Repeat customers” who continually engage in the litigation process often over minor matters consume a disproportionately large amount of court resources, causing delays and limiting access to justice for other families. Sadly, it appears as though highly conflictual parenting matters are on the rise.
Anecdotal evidence is abundant as to the effect on children of ongoing conflict. Children who are exposed to ongoing and entrenched conflict can suffer significant detriment including emotional and behavioural problems, depression, anxiety and poor academic results. Their emotional health suffers because of the uncertainty involved in their parents being involved in ongoing disputes.
Aside from the difficulties caused by those who are “litigation happy”, difficulties arise when there are disputes as to the living arrangements for very young children.
The needs of young children are very different to those of adolescents and early teenagers, meaning that the ability to reach “final” orders for children under two, is negligible at best. These changing needs cause the Court to struggle with framing Orders which can appropriately accommodate the needs of children at their most vulnerable., whilst allowing flexibility to enable changes to occur as the children’s needs change.
The options which are currently available to the Court are to make long term interim Orders, allowing the matter to sit idle in the litigation process until it is time for the arrangements to be reviewed, or make final orders which may well be based on a best guess as to how children will cope with arrangements. Neither of these options present as optimal for the children, parents or the lawyers assisting them in navigating the family law process.
So how do we fix this? Parenting coordination has been used in many jurisdictions in the United States of America and Canada and is now gaining traction in Australia as a method by which to reduce conflict between parents and limit ongoing engagement in litigation processes when parents need a pathway to change the arrangements for their children.
What is parenting coordination? It is a low to non-adversarial, quasi-legal, quasi-mental health process which involves assessment, education, management, conflict resolution and decision making. The parenting coordinator can be either a legal or mental health professional.
A more formal definition of parenting coordination by the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts is as follows:
“a child-focussed alternative dispute resolution process in which a mental health or legal professional with mediation training and experience assists high conflict parents to implement their parenting plan by facilitating the resolution of their disputes in a timely manner, educating parents about children’s meeds, and with prior approval of the parties and/or the court, making decisions within the scope of the court order or appointment contract.”
The objectives of parenting coordination are:
- To assist high conflict parents to make decision;
- To resolve disputes in a timely manner as they arise;
- To help the parents deal with unanticipated events and circumstances;
- To assist the parents to develop effective dispute resolution strategies;
- To assist the parents in making their own decisions;
- To monitor implementation of and compliance with orders;
- To reduce conflict;
- To facilitate communication and information sharing and develop communication techniques;
- To promote and encourage healthy and meaningful parent-child relationships; and
- To maintain focus on children’s best interests.
How does it work? The coordinator is appointed to deal with specific issues identified in their appointment or for a specific period identified in their appointment. Their role is to assist in dealing with day-to-day parenting issues such as clarification of what orders mean, give guidance about minor issues like disputes over changeovers, attending functions or when time might recommence after holidays. They assist in developing protocols such as transition of belongings and monitor communications to ensure that the parents remain civil and polite with one another and their communication is productive.
It would not be unusual for a parenting co-ordinator to be appointed for a period of up to two years and meet with the parents individually (generally) or jointly if appropriate and to convene telephone or video conferences to assist in urgent issues.
The process can be agreed to be non-confidential and the coordinator can be asked to provide reports on their observations of family dynamics and sources of conflict.
The potential benefit for families to engage with a parenting co-ordinator include, amongst other things, limiting their legal costs. Whilst they are paying the co-ordinator, those costs will be significantly less than each of them engaging separately with a lawyer and engaging in possible litigation.
Families with very young children could also derive significant benefits from parenting co-ordination as it is the opportunity to engage in ongoing discussions about the implementation of developmentally appropriate arrangements which are tailored to the needs of their individual children.
Further, and in line with the principles of s60CC of the Family Law Act (“the Act”), engaging with a co-ordinator could be of considerable assistance in avoiding parents returning to a litigation process over any dispute arising from the implementation of their current orders or agreement (a relevant consideration pursuant to s60CC(3)(l) of the Act).
The team at Marino Law are recognised for their experience in high conflict and complex parenting matters and work closely with the small network of parenting coordinators who are accredited through Parenting Coordination Australia to assist clients to exit the litigation process as quickly as possible with the best interests of their children in mind.
Recently recognised for the third consecutive year as a leading Family Law firm on the Gold Coast by the Doyle’s Guide, if you have a parenting dispute then we are available to assist you to resolve your matter with as little conflict as possible, aiming to exit the family law system with an outcome that has longevity and the best interests of your children at heart. Contact our family law team on 07 55260157 to discuss your parenting matter or any other aspect of family law. We are available to provide you with cost effective, strategic and resolution focused advice in person or by phone.