The role of a parenting coordinator is relatively new to BC divorce law. Divorce is a very difficult process for the whole family and when parents separate it is a critical point in the lives of their children. In many cases, the family remains enmeshed in constant conflict and parents have significant difficulties communicating regarding their children. Parenting coordination, which has become part of BC divorce law by virtue of 2010 amendments to BC’s Family Law Act, is a child-focused dispute resolution process for separated families. It gives parents access to a neutral decision-maker who can resolve day-to-day parenting conflicts as they arise, with the goal of minimizing further conflict and additional appearances in court.

Who are parenting coordinators?

Parenting coordinators are experienced professionals such as family law lawyers, counsellors, social workers, family therapists, and psychologists. They have special training in mediating and arbitrating parenting disputes and their role in BC divorce law is to help resolve day-to-day conflicts about parenting agreements or parenting orders.

How is a parenting coordinator appointed?

The authority to appoint a parenting coordinator flows from s. 15 of BC’s Family Law Act. Parents in conflict must either agree to retain a parenting coordinator or be referred to a parenting coordinator by order of the court. Parenting coordinators are appointed for a maximum of two years at a time (though the agreement or order can say the parenting coordinator will act for a shorter period of time).

What can parenting coordinators do?

The role of a parenting coordinator under BC divorce law is to help implement arrangements for child custody, guardianship, and access that are already set out in a court order or in a written agreement. Usually, the agreement or the court order will set out the parenting coordinator’s powers and what the parenting coordinator can or cannot do. For example, a parenting coordinator can help resolve disputes about pick-up and drop-off time and location for visits with the child, travel and holidays with the child, medical and dental issues, discipline, and education. A parenting coordinator cannot change guardianship or legal or physical custody from one parent to the other, nor can they modify child support obligations, affect the division of family property or debts or the possession of property, or provide legal advice.

How does a parenting coordinator make a decision?

When a disagreement or question comes up about an agreement or order, the parents contact the parenting coordinator, who will discuss the issue with both parents and try to mediate a resolution. If mediation does not resolve the conflict, the parenting coordinator makes a decision called a determination, which must be in writing. The determination is binding and can be filed with the court and enforced like a court order. In making a determination, a parenting coordinator must only consider the best interests of the child.

How much does a parenting coordinator cost?

As there is no government funding for parenting coordinators, the parents and/or guardians of the children are responsible for paying the parenting coordinator. However, a parenting coordinator may be the most effective and inexpensive means by which disputes can be resolved in the children’s best interests. A resolution from a parenting coordinator comes much faster than waiting for a court date and decision, and in the majority of situations, the parties can expect a significant savings when compared to the cost of battling in court. Parenting coordinators charge an hourly rate but the parties are able to minimize the charges if they can adopt a measured response to concerns of the other spouse – in other words, by making efforts to reach agreements in the best interests of their children without continually calling on the parenting coordinator.

What if there is a dispute about the parenting coordinator’s fees?

BC divorce law is somewhat unsettled when it comes to disputes about a parenting coordinator’s fees, though it is clear that the courts retain a supervisory role, particularly where the coordinator is appointed by court order. For example, in Scott v. Kallur, 2016 BCSC 2361  the parents took issue with the amounts billed and the quality and appropriateness of many of the services provided by a court-appointed parenting coordinator. The parenting coordinator brought a summary trial application, seeking to recover over $14,000 in unpaid fees. The court held that there was not enough information to determine the parenting coordinator’s claim by way of summary trial and made the following comments:

[57]        In closing, I wish to make the following observation. Parenting coordinators play an important role in family law disputes. They provide parents with a forum for resolving specific issues outside of the court process, in what is intended to be an efficient and cost effective manner. Given the stakes involved in family cases, it is not unusual for one or more of the parties to be unhappy at the end of the process. Unhappiness with the result, however, is not a basis for challenging a parenting coordinator’s services or accounts after the fact, and I do not intend this decision to be an invitation for such challenges.

[58]        That said, parents involved in disputes about children are often very vulnerable and parenting coordinators have a considerable degree of discretion in what they do. It is only fair and reasonable that there be some means of holding them accountable. It may be that a review mechanism similar to that existing for lawyers’ bills under the LPA would be appropriate, but failing legislative amendment, it falls to the court as part of its supervisory role. That role is particularly important in cases such as this in which the parenting coordinator was appointed by court order.

BC divorce law: The take home point on parenting coordinators

Parenting coordination does not usurp the role of the courts or replace any of the existing methods of dispute resolution under BC divorce law. Instead, parenting coordination offers an alternative approach, designed to provide a less adversarial, less expensive process to resolve disagreements about how parenting agreements or orders are put into effect. If you have questions about whether a parenting coordinator is right for your family matter, you should seek the advice of counsel with experience in BC divorce law. Contact the team at Onyx Law at (604) 900-2538 to schedule a free consultation.