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Parenting Coordination:
Practice Opportunities for
APA Annual Convention
Boston, 2008
Matthew J. Sullivan, Ph.D.
Characteristics of High
Conflict Families
High rates of litigation and relitigation
Lack of trust between parents
High level of anger
Ongoing difficulties communicating about
their children
Call for a new role
Colorado lawyers and mental health
professionals (1992)
Northern California model derived from
mediation and special master statutes
(early 90’s)
The Parenting Coordinator
ordered neutral to assist the parties to:
Implement safe and workable parenting plan
Monitor compliance with details of plan
Resolve conflicts in timely manner
Protect and sustain safe, healthy and meaningful
parent-child relationships
May be necessary when parental communication is
conflicted or ineffective, or to promote safety of
vulnerable parties, including children and parents.
Objectives of a PC model
Reduce conflict between parents
Reduce chronic litigation (preserve family
Raise parents’ skill level in collaborative planning
and decision making for their children
Assist parents to coparent in a way that
promotes well being of the children
Implement, Maintain, modify, viable parenting
How ??
Intensive case management
Court delegated authority
Immediate resolution of disputes
Non-adversarial forum
When should a PC be
Ongoing disagreements between the parents
about implementation of parenting plan
Parties agree to decision maker outside of the
Court to reduce cost and burden of continued
Some states: if history of extreme or
unremitting conflict that affects welfare of the
children, court can appoint without parties’
Small group of chronic high conflict custody
situations (10%)
Does Parenting Coordination
T. Johnston, 1994: Santa Clara County
166 cases with 933 court appearances
Following the appointment of a PC, court
appearances for the 166 cases reduced to
37 in one year
Vick and Backerman (1996): client
satisfaction and self reported decreased
APA DC Project, Pima Arizona
Scope of Issues to be
addressed by PC
Minor changes or clarification of parenting
time/access schedules or conditions including
vacation, holidays, and temporary variation
from existing parenting plan
 Transitions/ exchanges of the children
including date, time, place, and transportation
and transporter
 Health care management including medical,
dental, orthodontic, and vision care.
 Child-rearing issues
 Psychotherapy or other mental health care
including substance abuse assessment or
counseling for the children
Psychological testing or other assessment
of the children and parents
 Education or daycare including school
choice, tutoring, summer school,
participation in special education programs,
other major educational decisions
 Enrichment and extracurricular activities
including camps, teams and jobs
 Religious observances and education
 Children’s travel and passport
 Personal possessions of children, including
clothing and equipment
Communication between the parents about the
children including telephone, fax, email, notes in
backpacks etc.
Communication by a parent with children including
telephone, cell phone, pager, fax and e-mail when
not in that parent’s care
Alteration of appearance of the children including
haircuts, ear and body piercing, and tattoos
Role of and contact with significant others and
extended families
Substance abuse assessment or testing for either or
both parents or child, including access to results
Parenting classes for either or both parents.
Distinct Role of Parenting
Hybrid role: help implement, modify,
parenting plans
Assess impasses to coparenting
Educate about child development,
communication, conflict resolution
Facilitate the settlement of disputes
Role Definition
PC is NOT:
 Advocate for one party
 Coach
 Parent Educator
 Counsel
 Mediator
 Custody Evaluator
 Judge
Functions of the PC:
Review of custody evaluation
 Review other evaluations/reports
 Divorce Impasse, derailing communication
 Parenting strengths and weaknesses
 Coparenting Skills
 Children’s functioning and needs
Functions of the PC:
Child Development
Short term and long-term needs of the children
Communication skills
Effects of conflict on children
Collaboration strategies
Conflict resolution
Perspective taking
Family Issues (new transitions, relationships)
Functions of the PC:
Coordination/Case Management
Communication with family members and
significant other caretakers
 Communication with schools
 Communication with therapists
 Communication with physicians
 Communication with child protection agency
 Referrals for treatment, testing
Functions of the PC:
Intervention and Conflict
Assistance interpreting and implementing
court-ordered parenting plan
Dispute Resolution: facilitating
agreements, arbitration, referral
Facilitate communication between parties
as appropriate
Qualifications of the Parent
Coordinator: AFCC Guidelines
Legal, mental health or mediation
Practice at least 5 years in that profession
with high conflict, litigating parents
A certified/qualified mediator under the
rules or laws of that jurisdiction, or
completion of at least a 30 hour mediation
training course
Personal Qualifications
Fair with sound judgment
Tolerant, patient
Ability to set limits (what’s an emergency?)
Peer support
Critical Listening skills