Here's a snapshot of how parenting coordination works and is developing in several states and the District of Columbia:
California: If both parents agree, a judge can appoint a parenting coordinator, using a statute already on the books. Called "special masters," these coordinators make legally binding decisions when disputes arise between parents.
Maryland: Although efforts are under way to draft legislation to define parenting coordination, judges in several Maryland counties began turning to parenting coordinators several years ago, says Paul Berman, PhD, a psychologist who also serves as the professional affairs officer for the Maryland Psychological Association. If both parties sign off, the judge can name a parenting coordinator once a child custody order has been signed.
In his work, Berman is empowered to decide what's best, presenting his decision in writing to both parents.
Massachusetts: Legislation establishing a parent coordination program hasn't moved out of committee in the state legislature in the past two years, but judges do appoint parenting coordinators, says parenting coordinator Robin Deutsch, PhD, relying on their traditional discretion to take action in the best interest of children. If both parents agree, the state allows judges to appoint a parenting coordinator at the time of divorce to help resolve disputes that the parties can't resolve on their own.
District of Columbia: As part of a pilot project of APA, Argosy University, the D.C. Bar and the D.C. Superior Court, family law judges can appoint a licensed clinical psychologist as a special master, who works in a team format with advanced doctoral students from Argosy University in Washington, D.C., to provide parent coordinator services to caregivers who otherwise couldn't afford it, says Giselle Hass, PsyD, an associate professor at Argosy who serves as clinical director for the program.
Besides helping caregivers learn to communicate effectively with each other, the students can help connect them with resources for themselves and their children, Hass says. Those resources might include helping arrange the evaluation of a child for a possible developmental disability, referring a caregiver for treatment of a mental health issue or helping connect with free legal help.
Texas: Under a state statute, a judge can order a parenting coordinator to get involved if parents agree or if there is evidence of high conflict. However, Texas parenting coordinators do not have authority to make decisions, says Lynelle Yingling, a marriage and family therapist in Rockwall, Texas. Instead, parenting coordinators talk with both parents and help parents develop solutions, Yingling says.
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