Pennsylvania Bans Parent Coordinators

Yesterday I mentioned learning a couple of new tidbits on the Liz Library website.  This one warranted its own post because it is HUGE news.  I am starting to see an awakening of people in the family court system here in Minnesota so do not be surprised if this were to happen here, too.

On April 23rd, ironically just one day after my book was published, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted rule 1915.11-1 stating, “parent coordinators are no more and the only judges have the authority to make decisions in child custody cases”.  You can read about the rule here.  Just think about the happy parents in Pennsylvania who woke up that morning to find that their court order appointing a parenting coordinator is null and void!  There are probably parties that are still going at this very moment.  I know that I would have taken a week off from work to celebrate that one, had Minnesota declared my pc appointment null and void.

Minnesota likes to be an odd duck.  We are the only state in the nation who utilizes parenting time expediters, and most states call this third party neutral “parent coordinators”, but we call them “parenting consultants” here.

I think that based on Pennsylvania’s determination, someone in every state should use that as legal precedent to ban them in every state, no matter what term is used to name them.  Wouldn’t that just be fabulous??

These days, I am struggling with the idea of being 100% anti-parenting consultant.  Hear me out.  I have been anti-pc since I went through my ordeal years ago, but I can see where there could be a use for such a decision maker.  The problem is that the parenting consultants exert too much power and no one really polices them, but I wonder if they were only able to make decisions on a legally defined issue, such as which school a child attends, etc., would that piece of it be helpful?  It is a tough call because I believe that if left on their own, post decree, that most parents would settle into a relationship that works for their family.  It may be more of a parallel parenting plan that they adopt and that should be ok.  The reason parenting consultants/coordinators are so harmful is because they are pushing the idea of co-parenting, which is not appropriate for every case.  Most couples that can co-parent, do not have to be court ordered to do so, but those co-parents have never had to have a parenting consultant/coordinator appointed anyway. 

The area in which I most struggle with understanding how to help parents is for those cases where a parent has not been able to have any parenting time with their children because the other parent will not allow it.  These cases do happen.  So what can we do about that?  I know that even when there is a parenting consultant in place, it does not stop the interference with parenting time or custody rights.  The pc can order compensatory parenting time, but that doesn’t mean the other parent will honor that either.  Herein lies the conundrum.  Still, I think that eventually, nature will take its course.  A child who is denied the right to spend time with one of their parents will be the ultimate judge.  That child will be an adult one day and will choose to seek out that parent.  There is a natural curiosity about who we are as individuals that will determine the future relationship between a parent and their child, and if that child one day has a child, they might be more interested in sharing their child with a grandparent that they have not known much about growing up.

It seems to me that the role of parenting consultant has more to do with what a parent wants than what is truly best for the child.  I think about a friend of mine who was adopted.  She has no knowledge of her biological parents, other than the fact that they were kind enough to put her in an orphanage, rather than abort her.  She was adopted by wonderful parents and accepted into a wonderful family with siblings who always accepted her as one of their own.  How different would her life have been if there had been a parenting consultant to make her spend time with her Korean parents that gave her away?  In her case, she would tell you that she suffered no ill effects from not knowing her biological parents and has no interest in looking them up.  The only thing that was problematic was when it came to medical history for her and her daughter.  They knew no medical history, but do we always know 100% our family medical history?  Probably not.

I always hear people say that family court laws are crazy, but the truth is, our laws are pretty good, the problem is that no one will enforce them.  Lately, the nutty family court decisions I have seen are strictly due to a judge using their full discretion and not applying any law whatsoever.  Quite frankly, judges need to stop being so wussy.  We have laws for a reason and they should use them!  When a parent is denied parenting time or custody rights, we do have law 609.26, depriving another  of custodial or parental rights.  The judges do not want to apply that one.  How can a judge decide they are not going to apply law?  What a criminal court judge decides they do not want to apply the law against murder?  C’mon, judges.  Wake up.  When laws are put on the books, it is your job to apply them, not make your own laws.

We have laws for contempt of court.  We have law 609.26, as mentioned above.  I have heard it said that, “Judges do not find it helpful to fine parents or put them in jail.”  Isn’t that possibly the reason for family court run amuck?  Parents come to know that they will not be fined and they will not be put in jail for denying the other parent their parenting time, so if there was the possibility of repercussions like jail time, wouldn’t the attitude of some of those parents change?  What about the child who grows up knowing that there are laws, but you do not have to abide by them and when you choose not to, absolutely nothing will happen to you?  Aren’t we inviting the next generation to spend their time in family court, too?

That is just my two cents.

It seems to me, back in the day of “fault” divorce and no child support, that people completed their divorce and went on about their new lives.  There were no family court policemen, called parent coordinators, to tell you what to do.  It just was what it was.  If dad went off and paid no child support, mom did what she had to do to raise those children.  Sometimes a parent was a jerk and the other parent and the children had to learn to deal with that. What are they learning now?

The laws aren’t bad, the court acting as therapist is.  Third party neutrals who admit they are impartial because they cannot be “neutral” when they make decisions are making decisions that they are not qualified for.  I say we let courts do the administrative paper work of divorce and custody, the legal work of it one could say, and allow families to find other more qualified professionals to deal with the after math, and if a parent is denied the right to see their child, let the criminal court take over because what it actually is, is a violation of law 609.26, which is under the criminal code.  This law must have been put on the books for a reason!  For clarification sake, 609 is under the criminal code.  518 is where you can find dissolution and child custody, which is considered domestic relations.  Compare the statutes.

At any rate, let us celebrate Pennsylvania for having a supreme court with common sense and the guts to make an important change like banning parent coordinators!

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