United States: Requiem For Parental Coordination In Pennsylvania

My colleague Aaron Weems has already reported that late last month the Pennsylvania Supreme Court put an end to what was a five year experiment with court appointed ombudsmen tasked to decide minor custody disputes where the need to have a prompt resolution outweighed an assessment of how a particular custody issue affected a child's best interests.

The Order from the Supreme Court came as a surprise to the domestic relations bar. The program was not without its problems and some of those problems were substantial. But parent coordination was created as a device to address "high conflict" custody disputes where the parties were already making frequent use of the judicial system to decide matters that had more to do with their power in contrast to the interests of the children. Because it often takes months to have a dispute decided by a judge, it was thought that it was both economically and temporally more efficient to assign routine disputes to an experienced family law attorney who would have more flexibility to resolve the dispute quickly and without fanfare. Parent coordinators were never intended to decide the underlying schedule for the children or the difficult issues of private school, relocation or the like. But when the questions related to summer vacation or whether the karate tournament was "trumped" by the decennial family reunion, it was felt by many on the bench and in the bar that a prompt decision was better than the wait and the cost associated with getting a judicial official to weigh in with his or her powers.

Obviously the Supreme Court saw this differently and said as much in its order repudiating the entire system. The Court noted that custody decisions were a uniquely judicial function and that judges were the only persons empowered to make decisions of this kind. In a technical sense, the Court was absolutely correct. The law has long held that child custody decisions were too important to be delegated to people who were not appointed or elected to serve as judges. But, in so doing, the Court seems to have missed a couple of major considerations. Those considerations merit some attention as does as discussion of what was wrong with parental coordination as it evolved over time. In the end, this writer submits that parent coordination needed reform but it abolition has worked to the detriment to all participants in the judicial process. The bench, the bar, parents and, yes, even the children, will ultimately lament the death of this quasi judicial system of dispute resolution.

The first and most important point is that what comes before courts in the guise of a custody dispute has evolved over time. Forty years ago custody law was pretty easy to predict. When a couple separated mother was awarded primary custody and father was assigned "visitation" not to exceed one day a week or every other weekend. Folks who came to court with lesser decisions such as whether their son should play football after his second concussion or whether private school was necessary were often told that the Court was not going to address "minutiae" and to "go out in the hallway and settle this." In some Pennsylvania counties this is still the case. But times have changed and today Courts have seen an explosion in special relief petitions. Some of these disputes have been ever present. Each year parents seem to think that Thanksgiving and Christmas will magically be resolved, only to find that it is not. This week one of our lawyers will begin a custody trial to decide what should be done with the "odd" week of Summer, 2013 where the parties otherwise seem to agree to divide Summer equally. These disputes have much to do with poor planning and little to do with "best interests."

The new breed of disputes includes whether children can be removed from school to vacation in Florida or the Caribbean. Parents now seem to be prepared to fight over what activities their children should or should not be involved in. They fight over what camps their children should attend. And last but no least are the weighty questions of whether the show rabbit contest or middle school play should prevent a child from attending his or her mother's most recent wedding.

Respectfully, these decisions have nothing to do with best interests and everything to do with "power and authority." If a child has been working with one parent to build a soap box vehicle only to learn that the derby is the same day the child's mother is getting remarried, we have a conundrum but not one that affects the best interests or welfare of the child. Someone needs to resolve this dispute. That can't be contested. But do we really require that a judge lay aside his or her other business to decide this. Is that an efficient use of judicial time in a world where more and more citizens are coming to court without lawyers. How many hours of testimony should be allocated to hearing Father testify about how the soap box car was built? Should there be a limit on cross examination? How many questions must mother endure concerning her ignorance or cavalier indifference to the needs of her son to attend the derby? I was recently slated to speak on a panel with an appellate judge. At the last moment he mailed all of his fellow panel members to advised that the seminar was the same weekend as his child's bar mitzvah. Of course he has to cancel. But had he been a mere mortal who scheduled his son's bar mitzvah on the same weekend as the playoff game, or the soap box derby or the rabbit competition, he might have had bigger problems than he faced with his fellow seminarians. He might have found himself sitting outside a courtroom while an elected official found time to weigh the benefits of bar mitzvah versus playoff game in which his son was slated to pitch.

These decisions cannot be dismissed as frivolous but as we noted, they have little to nothing to do with protecting children or assaying what is in their interests. They are the perfect place for a neutral outsider who has some experience with the family to call "ball or strike." These parent coordinators do charge for their time but their cost is a fraction of what litigants spend to have pleadings prepared so that their attorneys can spend hours in the hallway of the courthouse waiting for a judge to break from his daily fare of litigation to take up the emergency baseball versus bar mitzvah dispute. Where a parent coordinator is familiar with the dynamics of the family, he or she can also bring to bear the experience of the family in making the decision. Perhaps Father has "won" the last three demands for intervention and it is time for Mother to get a "win" in her column. Judges are not going to bring that experience to the table unless this is one of those families who makes a court appearance every 8-10 weeks.

Having now sung the praises of coordinators, I close by observing that the system was not without its failures. The truth is that lots of high conflict families chewed through a succession of coordinators like weevils through cotton. There were reports of coordinators who were quick to intervene because it was a way to augment their professional practice income. Last but not least were those who were frustrated would be judges who loved to exercise "authority." Many coordinators seemed to not apprehend that parent coordination was not a means to compensate for one party's refusal to plan or even look at a calendar. Yes, there were problems. But in a world where Courts are being asked to live with fewer resources and more and more citizens have decided to dispense with attorneys, it is a system that warranted more consideration than it got last month.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:
  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.
  • Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.
    If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here
    If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here

    Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

    Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

    Use of www.mondaq.com

    You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


    Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

    The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


    Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

    • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
    • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
    • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

    Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

    Information Collection and Use

    We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

    We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

    Mondaq News Alerts

    In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


    A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

    Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

    Log Files

    We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


    This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

    Surveys & Contests

    From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


    If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


    From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

    *** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


    This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

    Correcting/Updating Personal Information

    If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

    Notification of Changes

    If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

    How to contact Mondaq

    You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

    If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.

    By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions