A different type of PC

Legal Eagles: Parent Coordinators Assist in Conflict Resolution

Has there ever been that one person you just couldn’t get along with? The one person who never agreed with anything you said. The one person who would contradict any statement you made. The one person who shot down any suggestion you made, even about the most minute issue. Picture that person in your mind. You know exactly who I am talking about.

Now imagine that person is your parenting partner. The person with whom you are supposed to co-parent and raise your child. The person with whom you share one of the greatest gifts bestowed upon humans. And you simply can’t agree on anything. And it’s not only that you can’t agree on anything, but you can’t even communicate with one another.

That is my cue. In addition to practicing family law, I serve as a parent coordinator (“PC”) for parenting partners who have a high-conflict relationship. They have separated, divorced or perhaps never married.  But the one constant is that they disagree on virtually every important matter related to their child or children, and they have taken their disagreements to court.

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PCs are a relatively new addition to the child custody landscape in North Carolina, having been codified in 2005 as part of the court system. PCs are attorneys or therapists who have received specialized training. Judges appoint a PC to assist parenting partners in co-parenting their children. To be a PC, I had to go through over 24 hours of specific training, in addition to holding my law degree.

These neutral third parties work with parenting partners on a variety of issues. Some PCs are appointed to assist parents in improving communications between one another. Other PCs are directed to act as decision-makers over major issues if the parents cannot agree. As a PC I have selected extra-curricular activities, made educational decisions and resolved holiday visitation disputes. Some of my colleagues have been asked to make fairly serious medical decisions for children because the parents cannot agree on the course of treatment.

The service provided by PCs is invaluable. Without PCs children would be left in limbo while parents are in a stalemate over an issue. Or, these parents would be running to the courthouse for a judge to make every decision, clogging up an already overwhelmed court system. Working with a PC is also less expensive for parents than holding a hearing about a parenting issue in court.

Here’s how the process plays out in real life. One of my families had a daughter who was good at gymnastics and loved it. The dad thought she should move to the next level of classes. And by next level, I don’t mean the next step in skill learning, but a more competitive training facility. The mom thought she didn’t need to make that leap yet and that the daughter would be fine in the lower class.

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I spoke with both parents and reviewed all the information about both options. After my investigation, I decided the daughter should move up. Now the daughter has been in the new system for close to a year and everyone, even Mom, agrees it was the right move.

I enjoy serving as a PC for families. As an attorney, I often wear an adversarial hat when representing my client. Don’t get me wrong, fighting for what my client is entitled to is an honor and I am proud to do so. However, when I am a PC, I shed the adversarial hat and resolve disagreements for parents in a more efficient manner than a courtroom, saving the parties time and money, and hopefully relieving a high tension situation for the children.

If you have a high-conflict relationship with your parenting partner and are often frustrated, speak to a lawyer about having a PC appointed in your case. You may be able to save yourself time and money, not to mention headaches. One other important consideration: If you hate a decision that a PC makes, it is possible to ask a judge to review it.

Family law attorney Libby James with Horack Talley in Charlotte is certified as a family law specialist by the N.C. State Bar Board of Legal Specialization. Reach her at ljames@horacktalley.com.

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