Parenting Consultants have been around for a while, since at least the late nineties. They were utilized in some capacity before that, but not really in the way they are now. They have had different titles over the years. The powers that be keep changing the name of them. Currently, in Minnesota, they are called Parenting Consultants. In other parts of the country, they can be called Parenting Coordinators.
When I had one in the nineties and up to the year 2009 when our Parenting Consultant finally withdrew, 3 years after I won sole custody, they used to do whatever they wanted. There are still no formal rules for a Parenting Consultants. There are no laws that govern them and this is bad, in many ways.
What I will tell you is that I have gone through the most recent Parenting Consultant training and they have made some important changes. For example, back when I had a Parenting Consultant assigned, there was really no way to get rid of one. The only thing that could be done was to try to get sole custody because they stayed on your case indefinitely, until the children reached majority. The only other way to get rid of a Parenting Consultant was if you and your ex agreed. Having your ex agree to fire the Parenting consultant was very unlikely to happen. Without having sole custody or stipulating to remove one from your case, you were stuck with them.
Now, there are a couple things that have changed. People have been working on changing the way Parenting Consultants operate and there are some good things happening to move the role in a positive direction. Now they usually will only appoint themselves for a period of two years, at the end of that time, you can all review how it is going and whether or not you want to continue with that Parenting Consultant or if it would be better to request a new one.
Another thing that used to happen is that Parenting Consultants would communicate with the court all the time. If they thought that you were doing a bad thing, a letter went off to the judge. Typically, these letters would show one parent in a bad light because they were trying to change your behavior. This court communication would be used as a way of intimidating you into conforming. It usually was not the parent who was behaving the most badly, instead, it would be the parent who had the kids most of the time. Thankfully, now, in the training they do tell the new Parenting Consultants never to do that.
Another thing that happened when I experienced life with a Parenting Consultant, we started out with a Parenting Time Expediter and later, the court determined that we needed more than what a Parenting Time Expediter could do for us, so it was recommended that we use a Parenting consultant. It was decided that the Parenting Time Expediter stay on, but change into the role of Parenting Consultant. The recommendation they give Parenting consultant trainees is never, ever should they do that. The reason for this is because of the difference with confidentiality in each role. One can testify in court, the other cannot.
Interestingly enough, when we went to trial for custody, we had to waive the right to confidentiality for the Parenting Time Expediter. Had we not, it would have been extremely difficult and time consuming for all of us during the trial. She would have had to check her notes and compare what date and what role she was playing at the time. The trial probably would have had to go one for weeks! We did agree to waive the confidentiality so we could move forward with the trial.
Another good change that has come about, and I am not sure if it is a result of my case or not, but at the time of my trial, counseling records for the children could be obtained from Mom or Dad and the Parenting Consultant or custody evaluator. In my case, the counseling records were used and mistakes were made by those trying to interpret the notes. Things that the kids said against their Dad’s girlfriend ended up being mistakenly perceived to be about me. The kids ended up feeling used and also that they could not say anything for fear of it being used against their Mom. The custody evaluator thought SO meant mother, but SO meant significant other, while MO meant mother, in the records. Of course this was clarified at trial, but still was upsetting to the children.
The recommendation now is that there is a safe haven rule. Those records are kept confidential. No one is to use the children’s counseling records in court, at least not a court official. I believe Mom and Dad can still use them.
Parenting Consultants can still meddle and I think the best thing is to not agree to have one appointed. If you do not agree to a parenting consultant the court cannot just force one on your case, but sometimes, you need something to manage conflict. The only remedy in that case is a parenting consultant. So if you do need to have a parenting consultant, go about it informed and with an understanding of what they can and cannot do. Don’t let them railroad you into things. Many of them still think they can fix you and they will definitely try! You can always contact me for help if you are struggling. I am trained to be a parenting consultant, but when it comes to dealing with a parenting consultant, I am more valuable to people as a coach.
It would be nice if Parenting Consultants would just listen to both sides and make a decision, instead of trying to make two people get along. Let’s face it, if the relationship has deteriorated to the level of needing a Parenting Consultant appointed, the two of you will probably never get along. A parenting consultant, no matter what their background, really should not get into your business and try to figure out why you feel the way you do, etc. When they keep bringing up all those old issues between the two of you, that made you hate each other, it keeps the conflict going.
What I am trying to get at is this: a new parenting consultant, if they have been through the formal training (be sure to ask about that when trying to choose one), should know how to do this right. They will be informed about the most recent recommendations. The new training has not evolved as far as I’d like to see, but it is much better than it was. There have been very positive changes to the role over the years.
An experienced Parenting consultant, who has been doing this for years, probably feels there is no reason to go to the training and may continue to do things the way they always have. They may not know about the current recommendations of what not to do. Other than taking the training, I am not aware of any way for them to be brought up to speed on the changes.
The good news is that the current training is pretty good. Parenting Con
sultants are being given some guidelines that they were not given before. This is why, if you need a parenting consultant, a relatively new one would be a good choice. Ask if they have recently been through the training, even if they have been doing this for years. If they have trained recently, they are probably going to do a better job for you than someone who is set in their ways and is not aware of the new recommendations.
The system has learned, from cases like mine and others, where the pc became really problematic, that there are better ways of doing things. While it is not required, I will take the training every few years because if I am acting as a parenting consultant, I want to do my best to serve the family’s best interests and help elicit change in the system and see how the system is changing in this ever evolving family court system.
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