Many Family Law Lawyers and some Judges are now encouraging parties to stipulate and agree to use a Parenting Consultant to resolve parenting time disputes in divorces, post dissolution issues, parenting time scheduling issues for holidays and vacations as well as to settle joint legal custody issues such as schooling disputes, extra curricular activities, church disputes, transportation and other children’s issues. Generally Parenting Consultants are precluded from modifying actual legal and physical custody designations but their decisions can effectively make major changes that, in effect, come to close to doing so.
Generally Parenting Consultant’s are experienced family law lawyers with some additional training or experienced psychologists, counselors, or other mental health professionals. The powers of a Parenting Consultant are generally defined by contract and stipulated powers set forth in the Decree or separate Court Order. Their powers are not defined by statute or law. There have been efforts to introduce and pass laws and statutes to clarify their roles and powers, but to date a statute has not been passed. It is important to carefully review the Consultant’s Contract and any Proposed Order appointing a Parenting Consultant as you are actually, in effect, giving this individual the powers of a judge to promptly settle and order an outcome on issues presented to the Parenting Consultant concerning your children if they fall within the scope of the powers designated in the Order or contract that has been signed.
I have served as a Parenting Consultant and been involved with many Parenting Consultants in my cases. They can be very helpful, but can also create another layer of expense if the Parenting Consultant appointed is not experienced or fails to promptly make clear complete unequivocal decisions that are fair, impartial and based on the best interests of the children. They are designed to save attorney fees and court expenses by allowing an expedited resolution of parenting time issues. It allows parties to minimize attorney fees by not requiring the formal preparation of motions, affidavits and memorandums of law by your lawyer and paying the court filing fees and requiring a court hearing that may take months and instead allow parties to submit emails and letters addressing disputes involving the children that in theory can be quickly ruled upon by the Parenting Consultant.
Generally the form Orders and Contracts of Parenting Consultants provide their decisions are subject to review by promptly filing a motion with the trial court within the time period set forth in the Order. Courts and Judges love to appoint Parenting Consultants as it can in many cases cut down on the family law motions filed with court and clear the court’s calendar to address its other pressing assigned cases.
It is critical to discuss with your lawyer all ramifications of stipulating and agreeing to a Parenting Consultant before doing so. There are some Parenting Consultants who like any other profession are not the best in promptly and properly determining parenting issues. Their experience and skills vary greatly. Choose the Parenting Consultant with great care. Once appointed it can be very difficult to have one removed and it will be impossible to by-pass the Parenting Consultant unless the Consultant resigns or you obtain an Order removing the Consultant.
It is critical the Consultant lay out clear ground rules for submissions so people are not overwhelmed with lengthy last minute submissions. There are no rules or procedures in the law addressing how or the timing of submissions for Parenting Consultants. If you have a controlling or difficult ex spouse or opposing parent it can lead to more disputes and expense as it can encourage parents to raise every minor or trivial parenting issue with the Consultant as it is as easy as sending an email without the expense of scheduling and preparing a motion or affidavit for a court hearing. Sometimes parents do not as easily compromise because they can simply have the Consultant rule on it. Sometimes Parenting Consultants fail to make clear comprehensive rulings addressing all issues as they receive numerous length emails raising many issues and counter issues and sometimes they are reluctant to reconsider or expand the scope of their decisions.
It is true that you generally have the right to appeal or seek to challenge a Parenting Consultant’s decisions in court, but many judges will give the Parenting Consultant’s decision deference although they may not be required to do so. Appealing the decision can be expensive and you have doubled the fees and expense as you have also paid the Consultant substantial fees to review and rule on the issue previously. In many cases I have observed the fees paid to a Parenting Consultant can be very substantial as it can lead to voluminous emails and multiple submissions and frequent involvement with the Consultant if a parent is controlling and difficult and has the financial means to do so.
It is important you have a family law attorney to discuss and help you through the process and decisions involving Parenting Consultants. Unless you appoint an experienced competent Parenting Consultant who carefully details the procedures and have an Order defining the scope and authority of the Consultant there can be many unexpected pitfalls and fees as well as other difficulties that you may be bound to follow that may end up being more expensive than other alternatives.