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Parenting Coordination Requires Lawyer Support

February 3, 2014

Parenting Coordination is an alternative dispute resolution process whereby the Parenting Coordinator (PC) provides a mediation/arbitration function to resolve parental conflict. Often the PC is brought in on cases where the parental conflict is unremitting and the parents present with remarkably opposed views on the matters at issue.

Upon the introduction of service, it is the job of the PC to come to an independent understanding of concerns based on an unbiased investigation involving both parties either jointly or individually.

Given the contentious nature of the parental conflict, there is a good likelihood that the PC’s learned point of view will be at odds with one or both parents.  As such, one or both parents may take issue with the PC. This is common at least in the initial stages of service and at times permeates the entire duration of service. Indeed, if the PC is then called upon to resolve an issue by way of arbitration, a parent unsatisfied with the PC’s point of view and then decision, may seek to take the PC to task on these matters by evoking the support of his/her lawyer.

Here, the disposition of the lawyer can factor into the outcome of matters affecting the children as it is noted that parental conflict alone is the most important determinant of the psycho-social outcome for children subject to parental divorce.

Those lawyers who hold a litigious disposition are at risk of inflaming their client’s discontent thus increasing parental conflict while at the same time undermining the efficacy of the PC role and process.

Those lawyers, who hold a more conciliatory disposition, seeking to resolve matters more amicably, are more likely to hold their client accountable to the process and thus facilitate resolution and adaptation to change while still able to scrutinize the perspective and judgement of the PC.

It is hopefully understood that the role of the PC is also educative and directed towards facilitating improved conflict resolution skills between the parents, such that the PC service may become redundant with time. Also within that process, it may be necessary for the PC to hold a client accountable for untoward behaviour, such that the client learns and forms better boundaries with regard to contrary behaviour and ultimately makes qualitative changes in behaviour more conducive to successful parenting relationships.

If/when a lawyer is approached by a client dissatisfied with the perspective or award of the PC, it is suggested that prior to taking a confrontational approach with the PC, the lawyer simply phone and discuss concerns directly. It may be that on the basis of discussion, the lawyer is apprised of matters originating with the client, where the lawyer may then be in a position to provide guidance to the client to facilitate an appropriate resolution to the complaint. It may also be the case that the PC has unreasonably aggrieved the client and some form of reconciliation is required on the part of the PC.

This approach, taken by the lawyer, role models the guidance the client would likely be receiving from the PC. In being a role model for reasonable conflict resolution, the lawyer is thus in a position to reinforce the education and coaching provided by the PC. This stands in stark contrast to the lawyer whose disposition is litigious and where the behaviour of the lawyer contributes to delays, more heavy handed remedial action (return to court) and a resultant intensification of parental conflict.

Thus to improve the likelihood of a better outcome for children, the lawyers’ disposition to conflict resolution and support of the PC process will be invaluable.

On the basis of these matters originating with the lawyer, the PC service may or may not be helpful and these lawyer variables should be taken into account when the PC service is considered.

A good outcome can rest as much on the disposition of the lawyer to work collaboratively with the PC as matters originating with the clients.

(Information about Gary’s practice of Parenting Coordination – referral form, fees, contract.)


I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.


Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

(905) 628-4847

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

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  1. A comment from a Linked IN member about this post:

    Gary, you are so generous. I so appreciate you sharing your articles and allowing us to print them. They are wonderful handouts for clients. They are great teaching material. I cannot thank you enough!

  2. A comment from a Linked In member about this post:

    Brilliant Gary. Thank you for sharing such a thoughtful, succinct and comprehensive description of the role of the attorney with high conflict families in ADR. I think many of the thoughts you express here apply to attorneys whose clients are in mediation. The attorney can support or undermine what the PC, or the mediator is trying to do for the family. I also appreciate the comment that the attorney has an opportunity to model appropriate conflict resolution responses when the actions or decisions of the PC are challenged. That is a great point. Hopefully such modeling won’t be lost on counsel. Thanks again.

  3. Very good point, Gary. For a PC to be effective when the parents are represented by attorneys, the attorneys must be supportive of the PC process. That means letting go of some of the control that attorneys have, especially litigators. Using a PC in high conflict cases is a great potential tool and resource for the parents and their children. In my opinion, the attorney has to ask why she/he is representing the client. If the attorney is in the case to make money or “to win,” there is a pretty good chance that the attorney’s agenda will interfere with the effectiveness of the PC. If the attorney is representing the client to help that client create the best possible parenting situation for the family, keeping the best interests of the children at heart, there is a chance that the PC can be effective. Attorneys should know who the PCs are in their community and know their skills. Matching a particular PC to the needs of the family can bring real value to a difficult situation.

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