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Family, Mediation

Parenting co-ordinators: a crucial link for familial harmony

A parenting co-ordinator sometimes needs to make arbitrary decisions to ensure the best outcomes for a child or children within the parameters of a divorce agreement, says mediator and parenting co-ordinator Steven Benmor.

He tells that there are three tasks a lawyer can be assigned in the separation and divorce process: as a lawyer for a parent or child, as a mediator between the parents who sometimes involves the child for their views, or as a parenting co-ordinator.

The parenting co-ordinator is picked by the parents and works with them — and sometimes the children — to determine why there’s resistance to the application of the agreement and helps to resolve parenting disputes, says Benmor, principal of Benmor Family Law Group.

“Their role is to implement an agreement that the people reached either in mediation or in court and, if there is resistance, the task is to manage the causes to that obstruction, whatever they might be,” he says.

The co-ordinator’s role is to “iron out the wrinkles and implement the agreed-upon deal,” says Benmor.

That could involve addressing relationship issues between the adults and their children and if necessary, acting as an arbitrator to ensure the overall adherence to the agreement, he says.

The agreement will outline a schedule when the child or children will be with each of the parents. It should also have a clause that there will be a parenting co-ordinator who will address any issues that arise after signing the agreement, he says.

“Whatever their age, the kids are going to grow up, they’re going to change,” Benmor says. “Whatever the deal the parents reached has to recognize the fact that there’s going to be changes going forward. What the child thinks today is going to be different in the future and what the parents think today is going to be different in the future.

“They also have to recognize that there’s going to be hiccups and speed bumps and blocks and issues,” he says. “Whenever that happens, are these parents going to go back to a judge or lawyers? That’s expensive, it’s cumbersome, it’s problematic, and it’s inconvenient.”

This is a job for a parenting co-ordinator, he says. Rather than returning to court or to lawyers and mediators, the co-ordinator is called in to help resolve the problem, explains Benmor, adding they sign a contract with that person for between six months and five years.

Many of the province’s parenting co-ordinators are associated with the Family Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario, a federally incorporated not-for-profit that provides conflict management for families.

Benmor says while the contract is valid “everyone is locked in. The co-ordinator has the power to educate, counsel, communicate, mediate, and they have one additional power — they get to make orders that are binding on the parents.”

The secondary arbitration decisions issued by a parenting co-ordinator are used to make changes in scheduling to accommodate the child or children, he says, noting  the co-ordinator can’t change the deal the parents reached but they can make minor variations to make it work.

For example, if a father is entitled to have the children at his house on Friday night but they are invited to a sleepover, a co-ordinator can decide for this particular weekend, that visitation begins Saturday morning, Benmor says.

“That’s a secondary arbitration,” he says. “The parenting co-ordinator isn’t overruling the deal, they’re just massaging it on a one-time basis.”

Benmor says there are times when co-ordinators face parents who won’t budge from their positions. That’s when they invoke their power to arbitrate.

“Sometimes a co-ordinator gets one or two difficult people and all they can do is call balls and strikes,” he says.

Getting a tattoo, homeopathic versus Western medicine, eating gluten, getting a piercing, “these are some of the things that have come up in my role as a parenting co-ordinator, things that never were envisioned when the parents signed their agreement,” says Benmor.

He describes the process as extremely effective because parents have an arena to deal with issues as they arise. “Otherwise, there’s no place to go, other than back to court. A dad isn’t going to call his personal lawyer on Friday afternoon and say, ‘fix this,’” Benmor says. “But the parenting co-ordinator is available and focused on the children.

“They are fast, affordable and accessible,” he says. “The co-ordinator has access to both parents and the child, the lawyer doesn’t.”

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