Only a Judge can Judge You . . . Not Your Parenting Coordinator

Only a Judge can Judge You . . . Not Your Parenting Coordinator

Frequently, the Parenting Coordinators (“PCs”) of Wanzer Edwards are asked to help parents participating in the parenting coordination process to enforce court orders, or to punish the other parent for failing to follow the order. While we sympathize with parents in those situations who may be at their wits-end, a PC does not have the authority to enforce a court order.

The PC has a defined role, which is described in a very specific Order Appointing Parenting Coordinator (“PC Order”). Usually, a PC helps the parties to interpret their court orders in conjunction with the IPTG, and then helps to provide more specific recommendations to the Court to assist the parties in using their orders properly. The PC is tasked with filling in the blanks where a court order might not include enough detail, such as helping the parents resolve a disagreement about a joint legal custody decision or facilitating communication between the parents.  The Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines (“IPTG”) provide, “A Parenting Coordinator shall maintain independence; objectivity; and impartiality, including the appearance of partiality, in dealings with parties and professionals, both in and out of the courtroom.” Sometimes it may not feel that way, as the PC can make recommendations that displease one parent or the other.

The PC Order usually provides that the PC can assess fees if the PC believes that his or her services were needed in a particular circumstance because of the behavior of one parent. This behavior is not clearly defined, but can occur, for example, when one parent has been repeatedly told by and recommended by the PC to do something. When that issue has been specifically handled by the PC in a recommendation and then one party clearly disregards the recommendation, the actions of the PC may *feel* to a parent like a judge if the PC assesses his/her fees for having to again address the situation. But that is where the PC’s authority ends. The PC cannot hold that parent in contempt and cannot assess other fees or sanctions on the offending parent. The PC can only have that parent pay the fees incurred by the PC alone for the incident.

It is important to point out that a PC assessing fees is rare.  A PC is not going to make a determination of “fault” every time an issue arises.  Keep in mind that the reason parents are using a PC is likely because they have difficulty with day to day parenting decisions and communication.  Making a fault determination every time would require the PC to essentially ignore the court’s order about how PC fees are to be divided.  If a parent is not following a court order, the other parent needs to discuss ways to enforce the court order with his or her attorney.  Enforcement is the job of the court.

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Elisabeth M. Edwards Attorney
Elisabeth M. Edwards is a founding attorney at Wanzer Edwards, PC where she practices in the areas of family law and divorce, including collaborative law, family mediation and arbitration, and Parenting Coordination. Ms. Edwards completed her undergraduate degree at Hanover College, majoring in English. She went on to earn her Juris Doctor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law.
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