From the earliest days of this blog in 2008, one of my frequent topics has been the use of parent coordinators. Originally, there was a Pilot Program instituted by the Supreme Court for use of parent coordinators. At the time, there were two questions that came up a lot (1) could court appoint a PC if they were not in one of the Pilot Program counties and (2) if so, did they have to follow the rules of the Pilot Program. I blogged about the answer to that question – yes to both – when Milne v. Goldenberg = a precedential case, came out in 2012. Later that same year, I blogged about the topic again when the Pilot Program ended.
Since that time, I have written about PC cases and topics when they have come up, often in cases where there were allegations that a PC either went beyond their authority or the Judge gave the PC binding authority. In 2016, I wrote Another Reminder that Parent Coordinators Are Not Replacements for Judges. One of the most read posts, which still gets a lot of views today, is The Futility of Parent Coordination When a Parent Coordinator Won’t be Decisive, which was written more than 4 years ago.
Every year, the Supreme Court updates the Rules of Court and last Friday, the amendments and new rules that are set to go into place on September 1, 2023, was released. One of them was new Rule 5:8D entitled Parenting Coordinators.
In short, the Rule provides that a PC be appointed in FM (divorce) or FD (non-dissolution) matters, but only after a temporary or final custody order has been entered (and the parenting plan must be in the body of the Order, as opposed to a separate document.) The Rule itself contains less than what was in the pilot program publication years ago in terms of guidance about what can and can’t be done. That said, the Rule says that the Administrative Office of the Courts shall issue guidelines and a form of Order and reference is made to the Judiciary website. However, I did not see that either are up on the judiciary website as of yet. I will publish a new post on this blog when they are out.
The Rule says that the PC should make recommendations if parties don’t agree but doesn’t say anything about whether they will be binding or temporarily binding unless challenged. There will be statewide roster of approved PCs. Appointment can be on motion of one party or on a judge’s own motion. If by consent, there doesn’t need to be a finding of good cause shown. Also, by consent, parties can use a PC that isn’t on the roster.
The Rule set forth the Definition and Role of the Parenting Coordinator, as follows:
A Parenting Coordinator is a neutral individual appointed by the court to assist in implementing the parties’ parenting plan (as referenced in subparagraph (a)(2)) by facilitating the resolution of day-to-day parenting issues in a timely manner when the parties cannot resolve issues on their own. The Parenting Coordinator should provide guidance and direction to the parties with the children’s best interests as the primary focus by reducing conflict and fostering sound decisions that will aid positive child development. The goals of the Parenting Coordinator shall be to aid the parties in monitoring and effectuating the existing parenting plan (as referenced in subparagraph (a)(2)); to reduce misunderstandings and miscommunication between the parents; to help reduce litigation filed with the Family Part; to clarify priorities of the parents and their children; to explore possibilities for compromise; and to develop methods of communication that promote collaboration in parenting. The Parenting Coordinator should facilitate decision-making by the parties whenever practicable and make recommendations when the parties cannot agree.
If I had to guess, the guidance and proposed Order from the AOC will look a lot like what was in the Pilot Program. Stay tuned.