Many cases, regardless of sole or legal custody, now have a Parenting Coordinator appointed; however, many parties are confused as to what exactly this person is there to do. Are they a quasi-judge? Are their decisions binding? Is Email enough?
First, a Parenting Coordinator is not a quasi-judge. They do not have judicial authority to determine the best interest of the minor child, modify custody, modify child support, or modify visitation. PCs do not modify court orders but make recommendations to help facilitate and enforce the court orders in place.
The statutory authority is found in 43 O.S. 120.1-120.6. If a Judge does not specify additional authority in an Order Appointing a PC; the PC is limited to the following statutory authority:
1. The authority of a parenting coordinator shall be specified in the order appointing the parenting coordinator and limited to matters that will aid the parties in:
a. identifying disputed issues,
b. reducing misunderstandings,
c. clarifying priorities,
d. exploring possibilities for compromise,
e. developing methods of collaboration in parenting, and
f. complying with the court’s order of custody, visitation, or guardianship.
Second, PCs only make recommendations; however, those recommendations are binding on the parties if (1) the PC is authorized in the order to make a recommendation relating to the issue; (2) the recommendation is made in writing to the court within 20 days and copies given to all parties and counsel; and (3) no parties files an objection within 10 days. If objections are made then the Court will review the objection and any responses and make the appropriate orders regarding the recommendations.
Third, based upon the statutory requirements for a PC’s recommendation to be binding on the parties you can see that Email is not sufficient. If a PC is merely emailing the parties that may be a good practice to defuse communication issues and resolve issues by agreement; however, it cannot be a binding recommendation via email. Binding recommendations must be filed with the court.
Parenting Coordinators are a great tool for parties who are transitioning from married parents to parenting separately. Many times, particularly closer to the litigation, parties cannot see a way to communicate with the other party; the emotions are still too strong. A PC can be a person to help the parents go through the transition of getting through the anger and loss of the marriage and help the parents find new ways to communicate regarding their children. But they are not Judges, they do not hear evidence and make rulings; they are tool to facilitate and implement court orders.