Are the Parent Coordination Practices Effective

Often parents are granted joint custody of their children in domestic cases. Though parents are no longer living together, they are able to co-parent their children. Parents with joint custody have moved beyond the emotion that often accompanies the break-up of the family. However, if issues of co-parenting arise, the court can appoint a parent coordinator. During this process, a parent coordinator will generate a report documenting the issues and outcome. If no agreement is reached, then he/she will document his/her recommendations to the court on how the parents’ issues should be resolved. The court has the discretion to either confirm in whole or part the parent coordinator’s report or deny in its entirety. The court’s order then can be appealed to the appellate courts. Recently, the appellate courts have been overturning these court orders on grounds the parent coordinators have gone beyond their authority. During this same time, attorneys and parents have begun to lodge more complaints regarding the negative effect parent coordinators are having on the family and especially the children.
My purpose for this research is to determine; Is there a difference in expectations about the role of the parent coordinator between the parent coordinator and the parents? The literature reviews demonstrate parent coordination practice issues are not unique to Oklahoma. Several states are identifying and implementing effective parent coordination practices.
The first parent coordination statutes were passed in Oklahoma. Several interviews were conducted with the attorney who wrote the Parent Coordination statute. From these interviews several articles and studies were recommended. Another resource of helpful information regarding parent coordination on a national level is the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC).
Hayes, Grady, and Brantley (2012) recently conducted a study regarding factors influencing the parent coordinating process. The research was primarily exploratory in design. An on-line survey was emailed to parent coordinator members of the AFCC. The use of a snowballing method was then used where those receiving the email invitation were asked to forward it to parent coordinators who were not members of the AFCC. Reminders were sent out over a three month period. Hayes, Grady, and Brantley (2012) in their study, “…investigated demographic profiles of the practitioners and the diverse nature of policy and practice contexts in which PCs work throughout North America” (p. 431). The study used a “Person-Process-Context-Time (PPCT) theoretical framework…” to explore the parent coordinators’ background, methods, policies, and level of involvement (Hayes, et al., 2012, p. 43). Understanding the factors influencing the results of the parent coordinator process will assist in indentifying best practice standards. A best practice process will make parent coordination uniform and effective.
Hayes, et al., (2012) found the most effective form of communication between the parents and parent coordinator was email, followed by use of the telephone. Successful parent coordination largely depends on quick resolution to the parental issues.
The use of email has other benefits besides potential quick resolution. “The AFCC guidelines (2005) and other research (Hayes, 2010) pointed to the importance of collaborating and communicating with other professionals and family members” (Hayes, et al., 2012, p. 434). The use of email allows this process to be conducted timely. Furthermore, email documents the information for the parent coordinator’s file. Best practice standards require parent coordinators to maintain a case file, and email supports documentation requirement as a best practice (Hayes, et al., 2012).
Barriers to the parent coordinating process were “severe personality disorder and an inability of one of the parents to pay for services” (Hayes, et al., 2012, p. 436). Other barriers found in their survey were personality conflicts between the parent coordinator and parents, drug and alcohol use, parent moving away, and violence between the parties (Hayes, et al., 2012).
A study was conducted by Fieldstone, Lee, Baker, & McHale (2012) among judges, attorneys, and parenting coordinators in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida examining the perceived role of the parent coordinator. “Because the development of effective parenting coordination depends upon a sound relationship with the court, this [next] study examined attitudes and expectations toward the parenting coordination process held by judiciary members, attorneys, and parenting coordinators” (Fieldstone et al., 2012, p. 441). “An expert evaluator reviewed all questions deemed relevant, eliminated redundancy, and reworded and organized items” (Fieldstone et al., 2012, p. 443). Once participants were identified, the survey was sent electronically. Three reminders were sent out during the survey period.
Based upon the survey, parent coordination was seen as effective. However, those surveyed identified three areas where further training was needed: “(a) parenting coordination skills and techniques, (b) time-sharing and parenting plans, and (c) court specific procedures” (Fieldstone et al., 2012, p. 444). A specific training protocol for parent coordinators will create uniformity and effectiveness. While statutes establish the structure for the parent coordination process, it is the creation of similar expectations between judges, attorneys, and parent coordinators that make the process effective. These expectations will be useful in identifying the type of training effective parent coordination requires. Fieldstone et al., (2012) found parent coordinators perform most often as, “educator”, “monitor”, “conciliator”, and “referral agent” (p. 448). Similar expectations will allow relevant information to flow from judge to parent coordinator by way of attorneys, and back from the parent coordinator to the judge. “Most reporting judges (82%) found PC reports to be helpful, and overwhelmingly, attorneys did as well; (97%) found PC reports sometimes, frequently or always helpful” (Fieldstone et al., 2012, p. 447). The effectiveness of parent coordination also reduces legal fees since less time is required in the court system (Fieldstone et al., 2012).
According to Fieldstone et al. (2012), the study was limited by the lack of random sampling. The survey was sent out to as many who were identified to meet the criteria of the research program. It would be difficult to determine from those who voluntarily participated in the study did so because of what level of interest in the parent coordination process.
Kirkland’s (2010) study was stronger because it triangulated resources by use of surveys, discussion boards, interviews, and an analysis of peer review journals. He too began his survey process with the parent coordination list from the AFCC. However Kirkland (2010) used a discussion board over a 12 month period. The study included interviews of eight nationally know parent coordinators identified from previous parent coordination research projects. The research reviewed “all published journal articles on PC in two journals: the Journal of Child Custody: Research, Issues, and Practices and Family Court Review for an 8 year period between 2000 and 2008” (Kirkland, 2010, p. 65). The data was then categorized using “inductive analysis” (Kirkland, 2010, p. 65). Kirkland (2010) acknowledges weaknesses in the study due to the small number of participants and all parent coordinators who took part in the study were all active coordinators. Those parent coordinators who had left the field were not identifies and interviewed.
Kirkland’s (2010) findings included a direct correlation between “high levels of effective practice and low levels of associated stress” among successful parent coordinators (p. 61). The study identified “nine categories of positive coping” (Kirkland, 2010, p. 65). These categories relate to best practices of parent coordination. Some areas identified were proper training and experience, including mediation training, standardized office protocol promoting uniformity, documentation of interviews, follow-up, and correspondence between parents and parent coordinators. Kirkland’s (2010) study shows an effective parent coordination practice needs uniformity.
Uniformity comes from an implementation of best practices. Dr. Debra Carter (2011) in her book “details a new ‘integrated model’ of parent coordination built upon research and decades of experience with other models of alternative dispute resolution” (p. 1). She identifies areas of mental health, mediation, education, evaluation, and family law as necessary skill sets a parent coordinator must possess. Effective parent coordinators should not become a part of the problem but the source of help. “Parenting coordinators should review information relevant to the family they are working with as part of collecting data and planning intervention strategies” (Carter, 2011, p. 10). It is necessary parent coordinators have proper training and experience to plan intervention strategies. Furthermore, the process of parent coordination should have clearly defined procedures and guidelines to be consistently effective. Carter (2011) states the risk of not having these will create confusion and inconsistency (p. 15). The approach needs to be organized and systematic with a strategic intervention plan to help the parents and protect the children (Carter, 2011, p. 59). Dr. Carter’s book summarizes the research collected and provides an integrated model for best practices in parent coordination.

References
Hayes, S., Grady, M., & Brantley, H.T. (2012, July). E-Mails, Statutes, And Personality Disorders: A Contextual Examination Of The Processes, Interventions, And Perspectives Of Parenting Coordinators. Family Court Review, Vol. 50 No. 3, 429-440.
Fieldstone, L., Lee, M.C., Baker, J.K., & McHale, J.P. (2012, July). Perspectives on Parenting Coordination: Views of Parenting Coordinators, Attorneys, and Judiciary Members. Family Court Review. Vol. 50 No. 3, 441-454.
Kirkland, K. (2010). Positive Coping Among Experienced Parenting Coordinators: A Recipe for Success. Journal of Child Custody, 7:61-77, doi:10.1080/15379410903554840
Carter, Debra, PhD, (2011) Parenting Coordination: A Practical Guide for Family Law Professionals. Springer Publishing Company, LLC.