What are my options if I anticipate possession problems after a Final Order?

In today society, parents often use their children as weapons against each other especially after the divorce or custody case has been adjudicated by a Court. So, you have a Court order awarding you possession rights with your child, and the other parent decides that they will not be complying with the possession as ordered by the Court. A “parenting coordinator” is a good option to request as part of a final order. The parenting coordinator will be available to both parties to mediate and resolve any possessory issues that arise after the final order is signed. The parenting coordinator is a lot less costly than having to file a modification or enforcement action in court against the other party who is not complying with the possession order.

Can the Court appoint a “parenting coordinator”?

In a suit affecting the parent-child relationship, the court may, on its own motion or on a motion or agreement of the parties, appoint a parenting coordinator or assign a domestic relations office to appoint an employee or other person to serve as parenting coordinator. The court may not appoint a parenting coordinator unless, after notice and hearing, the court makes a specific finding that the case is a high-conflict case or there is good cause shown for the appointment of a parenting coordinator and the appointment is in the best interest of any minor child in the suit; and the person appointed has the minimum qualifications required by law, as documented by the person, unless those requirements have been waived by the court with the agreement of the parties.

A party may at any time file a written objection to the appointment of a parenting coordinator on the basis of family violence having been committed by another party against the objecting party or a child who is the subject of the suit. After an objection is filed, a parenting coordinator may not be appointed unless, on the request of a party, a hearing is held and the court finds that a preponderance of the evidence does not support the objection. If a parenting coordinator is appointed, the court shall order appropriate measures be taken to ensure the physical and emotional safety of the party who filed the objection. The order may provide that the parties not be required to have face-to-face contact and that the parties be placed in separate rooms during the parenting coordination.

What are the duties of a parenting coordinator?

The court shall specify the duties of a parenting coordinator in the order appointing the parenting coordinator. The duties of the parenting coordinator are limited to matters that will aid the parties in: (1) identifying disputed issues; (2) reducing misunderstandings; (3) clarifying priorities; (4) exploring possibilities for problem solving; (5) developing methods of collaboration in parenting; (6) understanding parenting plans and reaching agreements about parenting issues to be included in a parenting plan; (7) complying with the court’s order regarding conservatorship or possession of and access to the child; (8) implementing parenting plans; (9) obtaining training regarding problem solving, conflict management, and parenting skills; and (10) settling disputes regarding parenting issues and reaching a proposed joint resolution or statement of intent regarding those disputes.

The appointment of a parenting coordinator does not divest the court of its exclusive jurisdiction to determine issues of conservatorship, support, and possession of and access to the child; and the authority to exercise management and control of the suit.

Can the parenting coordinator modify the possession order?

The parenting coordinator may not modify any order, judgment, or decree. Meetings between the parenting coordinator and the parties may be informal and are not required to follow any specific procedures unless otherwise provided by law. A parenting coordinator appointed under the Texas Family Code shall comply with the Ethical Guidelines for Mediators as adopted by the Supreme Court of Texas. On request by the court, the parties, or the parties’ attorneys, the parenting coordinator shall sign a statement of agreement to comply with those guidelines and submit the statement to the court on acceptance of the appointment. A failure to comply with the guidelines is grounds for removal of the parenting coordinator.

My office has used a “parenting coordinator” in several high conflict cases which were mediated. The provisions of the “parenting coordinator” were made part of the MSA, mediated settlement agreement. The cost of a “parenting coordinator” is much less than most people expect. Usually, the parties will pay a retainer fee for the coordinator and then will only pay a reasonable fee if the coordinator is necessary to resolve the issues that arise between the parties.