Kings County Justice Matthew J. D’Emic, in his April 3, 2013 decision in E.S. v. S.S., blamed both parents for the stress upon their young daughters. As a result, no change was made to the custody and visitation provisions of the parents’ divorce judgment.

Both sides sought changes to the judgment’s visitation schedule. The mother asked to partially eliminate visitation; the father sought sole custody, as well as changes to the pick-up and drop-off location.

Reviewing the parties’ combative history, Justice D’Emic noted that before the divorce judgment, the parents had held onto their strident positions longer than they served a purpose. Therapy for the elder daughter was sought. The father was forced to endure a lengthy and humiliating term of supervised visitation with both of his children.

The long and contentious trial followed,which the father estimated cost the parties more than $1,000,000.00. Not surprisingly, the Court noted, neither parent has recovered, and motions for various relief are submitted on a regular basis.

Several months ago, at the mother’s request, and based on reports of the children’s stress over visitation with the father, the court allowed the mother to seek family therapy, encouraging the father to participate. Neither side was now satisfied with the way things were going.

Unfortunately, courts are never in an ideal position to make decisions for parents. More unfortunate is the fact that courts are too often asked to do so.

The children’s therapist recommended that the whole family, together with a parent coordinator “all meet together and work out a clear agreement specifying the parameters of visitation to provide the children with some sense of security and control over visitation with the father.”

To alleviate stress and to provide consistency and regularity to the children, the Court directed the parents to adhere literally to the visitation provisions of the divorce judgment.

Furthermore, the mother and the father are directed to exercise custody and visitation in a manner appropriate to their responsibilities to their daughters. Maturity must have a role here.

Justice D’Emic made no change to prior award of sole custody to the mother, or to the decision-making rights and visitation schedule for the father.

It is the court’s opinion that any stress to the daughters is being caused by their parents nit-picking, one-upmanship and lingering resentments. If the relationship between father and daughters is strained, it is up to the parents – both parents – to repair it.

The father was opposed to the family therapist. Nevertheless, Justice D’Emic encouraged him to cooperate and participate in the therapy as a step towards repairing his relationship with his daughters.

The Court concluded that the issues between the parents were not insurmountable.  “With a minimum of trust and accommodation these girls can have an enjoyable experience with both parents – an experience to which they are entitled.”

Aurora Cassirer, of Troutman Sanders LLP, of Manhattan, represented the father; Mark Holtzer, of Snitow, Kanfer, Holtzer & Millus, LLP, of Manhattan, represented the mother.

Sad child torn picture.jpgIn an effort to help parents in high-conflict decision-making disputes, New York courts are now appointing “Parenting Coordinators.”

Professor Andrew Schepard of the Hofstra University School of Law in his  article, “Parenting Coordinator for High Conflict Parent” N.Y.L.J., 5/8/03, p. 3 col. 1, explained the role of Parenting Coordinator as “a combination educator, mediator and sometimes-therapist who helps parents develop conflict-management skills and decides disputes if they cannot. . . . [B]y supervising parenting and resolving conflict, a Parenting Coordinator helps high-conflict parents develop a tolerable working relationship (usually parallel as opposed to cooperative parenting) for the benefit of their children.”

In her 2007 article “Working with Parenting Coordinators” in the Summer, 2007 issue of the Family Advocate, the publication of the American Bar Association’s Section of Family Law, Eve Orlow, Ph.D., noted that a Parenting Coordinator mixes counseling and parent education with mediation and arbitration.

New York’s 8th Judicial District (the extreme west) has formalized the appointment process. Its court rules note:

Parenting coordination is a child-focused alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process in which a mental health or legal professional with mediation training and experience assists high conflict parents to implement their parenting plan by facilitating the resolution of their disputes in a timely manner, educating parenting about children’s needs. With prior approval of the parties and the court, the PC may make decisions within the scope of the court order or appointment contract.

The overall objective of parenting coordination is to assist parents in high conflict to implement their parenting plan, to monitor compliance with the details of the plan, to resolve conflicts regarding their children and the parenting plan in a timely manner, and to protect and sustain safe, healthy and meaningful parent-child relationships. Parenting coordination is a quasi-legal, mental health, alternative dispute resolution process that combines assessment, education, case management, conflict management and, upon consent, sometimes decision making functions.

New York courts seem to favor therapeutic or forensic evaluation backgrounds, rather than mediation skills and experience. Moreover, as Parenting Coordinators in New York are without final decision-making power, they may simply add another layer to the judicial process; in some instances only fueling the bitterness of one or both parents.

New York’s judiciary securely guards its exclusive power to make custody and visitation decisions.  Thus, in its October, 2011 decision in Silbowitz v. Silbowitz, the Appellate Division, Second Department reminded us that:

Although a court may properly appoint a Parenting Coordinator to mediate between parties and oversee the implementation of their court-ordered parenting plan, a court may not delegate to a Parenting Coordinator the authority to resolve issues affecting the best interests of the children.

Continue Reading Are Parenting Coordinators Too Little, Too Late in Custody and Visitation Disputes?