Parents who have difficulty making custody decisions between themselves soon may have an additional means by which to resolve their differences, if a proposed rule of civil procedure reinstates parent coordinators in Pennsylvania.
The new rule, which is open for comment until February 2017, was born out of a movement that began in 2008, when the Pennsylvania Superior Court decided that parents who could not agree on custody decisions needed someone, besides the courts, to make those decisions for them. This holding gave rise to parent coordinators. The court gave parent coordinators the "limited delegation of judicial authority to address ancillary custody matters" not involving the "core issues regarding legal, physical, or shared custody."
Basically, parent coordinators were given the ability to make decisions regarding day-to-day custody issues, such as custodial exchanges and children's activities. Parent coordinators could not make major changes to legal custody or take physical custody away from one parent and award it to another. Parent coordinators were either attorneys or mental health professionals with specialized training. Parenting coordinators were empowered to keep a multitude of minor issues out of the courts. In addition, the process helped to educate parents in better co-parenting techniques, which in turn helped to keep future issues from being litigated.
After the Pennsylvania Superior Court approved parent coordinators, a task force submitted a list of recommended guidelines, or a proposed rule, to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, based on existing Pennsylvania law and guidelines from the American Psychological Association and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts.
Instead of approving the recommended guidelines, on May 23, 2013, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court banned parent coordinators and enacted the Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1915.11-1 titled "Elimination of Parenting Coordination." In essence, the Supreme Court held that parent coordinators, in their decision-making capacity, were taking the place of the judiciary. Simplistically viewed, parent coordinators were making the decisions that should be made by judges.
Subsequent to the elimination of parent coordinators in Pennsylvania, parents who were unable to agree on even the most miniscule of decisions relative to child custody are left with few ways to resolve those issues. One of the most common ways that they could attempt to resolve those issues was by filing emergency petitions with the courts. These petitions commonly request that the court decide issues such as: Should my child play soccer or baseball? Can my child go on a school trip? Can my children go to cousin Freddie's wedding with me? Taking these minor issues to court can be both time consuming and costly.
In an effort to assist these families, the Domestic Relations Procedural Rules Committee intends to propose a rule to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to replace the current Rule 1915.11-1 titled "Elimination of Parenting Coordination." The proposed Rule 1915.11-1 titled "Parenting Coordination" addresses the following: how a parent coordinator will be appointed, the necessary qualifications of a parent coordinator, the parent coordinator's scope of authority, how and when the parents and coordinators may communicate, whether parent coordinators may testify, how parent coordinators will make recommendations and how parties may object to the recommendations. The proposed Rule also details how and when the court will hear objections to the parent coordinator's recommendation. Finally, the proposed Rule details the allocation of the fees between the parties.
Currently, the proposed Rule is in the comment period. This means that prior to the Rules Committee's presentation to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, the proposed Rule has been published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin for comments, suggestions, or objections. The proposed Rule (Recommendation 155) can be found online here: http://www.pacourts.us/courts/supreme-court/committees/rules-committees/domestic-relations-procedural-rules-committee. The comment period is open until Feb. 24, 2017.
Here at Williams Family Law, P.C. we stay informed and ready to answer your questions about the possibility of parent coordinators returning to Pennsylvania and all domestic relations matters including custody. Call our office at 215-340-2207 to schedule an appointment to discuss your needs with any of our experienced and knowledgeable Bucks County family law attorneys.