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How parenting coordination can assist family law matters

We need a well-structured system to manage timely intervention when unmanaged parental disputes threaten the safety and wellbeing of children. Parenting coordination is necessary to help improve the co-parenting relationship, writes Anne-Marie Cade.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 02 September 2022 SME Law
How parenting coordination can assist family law matters
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Family lawyers and mental health professionals recognise all too well the negative impact of high-conflict divorces on children and witness countless children of divorce impacted by endless parental conflict. Professionals working with families recognise the need for new and unique types of services to assist parents navigate this inter-parental conflict.

The conflict does not magically dissipate post-divorce, and families are often left to navigate the inter-parental conflict on their own. For the sake of their children, divorcing parents must communicate with each other in a healthy manner concerning parenting issues. This poses a serious problem for the approximately 20 to 30 per cent of divorcing parents who exhibit high-conflict behaviours.

Parenting coordination is an intervention that follows the determination of a family law dispute by court order where a parenting coordinator appointed by the court assists parents to navigate and apply the parenting orders without acrimony and to learn the skills to resolve future disputes without the need for lawyers and court. Through education, mediation and case management, the family’s progress is monitored to ensure that parents fulfil their obligations to their child(ren) and comply with court orders.


Around 48 per cent of divorces in Australia involve children under 18 years, and around 60 per cent of separating couples experience ongoing conflict post-orders and cannot manage their co-parenting relationship. This ongoing conflict affects the children psychologically. Research shows that when parents work with a parenting coordinator who assists them and teaches them the skills to resolve their disputes, it significantly reduces conflict and disagreements.

The practice of parenting coordination is an emerging profession in Australia, and orders are being made by judges appointing parenting coordinators to assist families implement what is set out in their parenting orders. They can also be made at an interim stage. This authority is conferred by court order or consent of the parties.

Parenting coordination is particularly useful in high-conflict matters where clients continue to re-litigate non-legal issues related to co-parenting arrangements such as changeovers, overnight stays, shared-parenting time, parenting styles etc. Issues such as these can be resolved swiftly and effectively by using the services of a PC, which is less costly as well. Research shows us that 20 per cent of divorce cases are high conflict, but these cases disproportionality take up 80 per cent of the court’s time, often causing lengthy delays and a backlog of cases. High-conflict families usually require an inordinate amount of time from family lawyers.

Utilising parenting coordinators can benefit them and the families. Having a PC available to manage the behaviours of both parents allows lawyers to focus on matters such as the financial aspects of the case and not hand-holding or listening to ongoing stories and allegations that clients talk about the other party with regard to the children.

Ultimately, when our high-conflict clients engage the services of a parenting coordinator, there is an enhanced chance that the parties will not be bringing each other back to court, which, at the end of the day, is in the best interest of the child(ren).

Also, from the courts’ perspective, parenting coordination is useful as the parenting coordinator can assist parents (on an ongoing basis over a period of around two years) make decisions depending on the changing needs of the children as they grow older.

The court often struggles to make orders that can accommodate the long-term needs of children and sometimes makes long-term interim orders and reviews them from time to time, depending on how the co-parenting relationship is progressing.

This is not ideal. When parents work with a parenting coordinator, they also learn the skills on how to communicate better and engage more effectively so they can make these decisions themselves instead of resorting to the court for help. Thereby freeing up court time.

With the pandemic, family lawyers have seen an increase in divorce rates, and now more parents are in conflict over co-parenting arrangements. Parents are left with no safety net after they get their orders, and using a parenting coordinator can help alleviate that stress on families and ease the burden on the court system as well. Issues around communication between parents are not considered in an adversarial setting, and during the litigation process and parents are not taught these skills.

That’s where a parenting coordinator can assist.

Parenting coordination is also a non-confidential process (unlike mediation), so if the parents do not co-operate with the parenting coordinator but act in a manner that is contrary to what is set out in the orders, the parenting coordinator can submit a report to the court setting out details of the issues and may make recommendations to the parents and the court about those parenting issues that the parents were unable to resolve to assist the parents in improving their parenting style as well as inform the court about those issues.

Relationships Australia ran a very successful pilot parenting coordination program, and there were many families that benefited from the service. However, the funding for the program was cut, and the service is no longer available. Services like this need more funding.

We need a well-structured system to manage timely intervention when unmanaged parental disputes threaten the safety and wellbeing of children. Parenting coordination is necessary to help improve the co-parenting relationship.

Anne-Marie Cade is a 2020 Churchill fellow. She is a lawyer, mediator and conflict resolution specialist.

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