To help ensure that parents take responsibility for their post-divorce conduct, they should equally share the costs of a parenting coordinator appointed to help implement the custody and visitation provisions of a divorce judgment.
So held the Appellate Division, Second Department, in its May 11, 2016 decision in Headley v. Headley, when it affirmed Queens County Supreme Court Justice Lenora Gerald.
The parties were married in 2005, and had one child the following year. The couple was divorced in 2008. The judgment of divorce incorporated, but did not merge a settlement stipulation pursuant to which the parties had agreed to joint legal custody of the child. The mother had residential custody and the father had substantial visitation.
In August 2011, the father filed a petition alleging that the mother violated the stipulation by denying him visits and phone calls with the child. In August 2013, the father moved to modify the judgment of divorce to award him physical custody of the child. A lengthy hearing was held over the course of 10 hearing dates. Justice Gerald heard testimony from, among others, the parties, the mother’s new husband, a forensic evaluator, and a court-appointed visitation supervisor.
Justice Gerald denied the father’s motion to modify the judgment of divorce so as to award him physical custody. However, the court concluded that the appointment of a parenting coordinator would be in the child’s best interests because, among other reasons, the mother’s attitude and behavior created a “very negative climate,” which hindered visitation. Justice Gerald directed that the parties share equally the costs of that parenting coordinator to ensure that they both took “responsibility for their conduct” and were “equally vested in the outcome.” The court appointed a licensed clinical social worker as the parties’ parenting coordinator to help them implement the custody and visitation provisions of the judgment of divorce and to reduce conflict and detrimental impact upon the child.
Approximately two weeks after the appointment of the parenting coordinator, the mother, based on her financial circumstances, moved to vacate so much of the orders of appointment as directed that she share equally the costs of the parenting coordinator. The mother argued that the cost was prohibitively expensive. Justice Gerald denied the mother’s motion and the Second Department affirmed.
The appellate court noted that in custody and visitation matters, a court may appoint a parenting coordinator to mediate between the parties and oversee the implementation of their court-ordered parenting plan.
In the absence of any clear indication that one party was more culpable than the other, the parties should share equally in paying the fees of the parenting coordinator.
As the Second Department saw nothing in the record that indicatedn that the mother was the less culpable party, it held Justice Gerald correctly determined that the parties should share equally the costs of the parenting coordinator.
Equally sharing these costs will help ensure that the parties take responsibility for their conduct and are equally vested in the outcome.
Warren S. Hecht, of Forest Hills, represented the mother. Janet Neustaetter and Rohan Grey, of counsel to Karen P. Simmons, Executive Director of the Children’s Law Center (CLCNY), of Brooklyn, served as Attorney for the Child.