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Mediation with the Children in Mind - The Role of the Parenting Coordinators
There is a relatively new emphasis in Divorce Mediation and related court proceedings - the appointment of a Parenting Coordinator to ensure that the best interests of the children remain paramount. You may think that the best interests of the children have always been the highest priority of divorce actions, but sadly, sometimes it is not. Courts have recently seen the need to intercede, especially in high-conflict families, in order to remain vigilant about the children's well being. To help ensure the compliance with the parenting plans and to assist with any problems that arise between the parents, the court may appoint a Parenting Coordinator, typically a Divorce Mediator or Mental Health Professional with child development knowledge as well as mediation skills, to focus on what is best for the children when the parents disagree and are unable to resolve the issue themselves.
The issues that Parenting Coordinators address are often day-to-day parenting issues rather than purely legal issues. For instance, time and place for visitation exchange, changing daycare or schools, holidays and paying for the children's activities. It is important to note that Parenting Coordinators, while working with the court, have no authority to alter or change custody arrangements, unless it has been agreed upon that they have this power. Unfortunately, parents often used these non-legal issues to seek revenge or antagonize their former spouse and ultimately wreak havoc on their children.
The appointment of a Parenting Coordinator is especially useful in high-conflict families where the divorcing couple is clearly acting in a punitive manner. Each instance of contact, such as in transfers and attendance at children's school or sports events is an opportunity for parents to act inappropriately or antagonistically. Each of these potential confrontations can be prevented or mitigated by careful planning, counseling, and intervention.
In many ways, the Parenting Coordinator acts as a Guardian Ad Litem, in that their decisions and recommendations are made from the perspective of a child's emotional safety and security. The Parenting Coordinator allows couples to avoid litigation to resolve these issues and reduce the costs of their divorce. Additionally, parenting coordination can continue after the divorce is finalized, sometimes until the child turns 18. A Parenting Coordinator saves not only money, but allows time-strapped courts and judges to avoid time-consuming litigation on non-legal parenting issues.
The value of Parent Coordinators is gaining wide acceptance and Judges are turning to Parent Coordinators more and more in an effort to diffuse high-conflict and emotionally charged divorces and protect the most innocent of all parties - the children.
In deciding child custody, the Illinois court does not consider the gender of the custodial parent. The court considers all relevant factors including the wishes of the child's parents, the wishes of the child, the relationship of the child with the parents, siblings, and any other person who significantly affects the child's best interest, the child's adjustment to home, school, and community, the mental and physical health of everyone, any physical violence by the child's potential custodian, whether directed at the child or at another person, episodes of repeated abuse whether directed at the child or directed at another person, and the willingness and ability of each parent to encourage a close relationship between the other parent and the child.
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"A Plain English Guide to Protecting Your Children"
Author: Mary L. Boland, Attorney at Law
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