SPACE

Social Work Now

THE JOURNAL OF THE ONTARIO ASSOCIATION OF SOCIAL WORKERS


Family Parenting Co-ordination in Ontario:
An emerging field of practice for Social Workers

by Marianne Cuhaci, MSW, RSW, FDRP PC and Hilary; Linton, J.D., LL.M., FDRP. Med- Certified Specialist in Family Mediation, Acc. FM., Cert. F. Med.

(The original version of this article was published in The Lawyers Daily, on September 22, 2017.)

Most parents initiating a separation are able to settle their disputes within a couple of years. For others, conflicts can continue for many years. These are the parents who return to their lawyers again and again, with issues that often seem inconsequential from a legal standpoint. To the parents, however, these issues are critical enough that they will even take out a second mortgage to fund their battle.

Fights over vacation plans, Christmas arrangements, birthday parties, passport applications, children's activities, pick-up and drop-off issues, or minor adjustments to the parenting schedule can result in major problems, such as outright denial of access or police involvement during a parent-to-parent transition. 

It is well known by social workers, mental health professionals and lawyers who work with such families that prolonged parental conflict is immensely harmful for children, and that parents in such situations can become overwhelmed, financially drained, feel hopeless and even ashamed. Parenting co-ordination is one option frequently chosen by such parents. 

Parenting co-ordination is a dispute resolution service for high-conflict separated parents to help them resolve issues relating to the implementation of a parenting plan or court order. The parenting co-ordinator has multiple roles, including coaching and educating parents on co-parenting strategies, facilitating and monitoring their communications and conduct, and mediating disagreements. The process permits parents to function as co-operatively and independently as possible. Co-ordinators have the authority to make cost awards against parents, but they do not have the authority to make decisions about legal custody, relocation or parenting schedules, unless they are temporary or minor. 

The parenting co-ordinator also has the authority to enforce the parties' parenting plan or court order by making binding decisions through arbitration, if required. Arbitrations conducted by parenting coordinators in Ontario are a form of secondary arbitration under s. 59.7(2) of the Family Law Act

Unlike many other jurisdictions, there is no legislation or court direction providing for parenting coordination in Ontario. The process is minimally governed by the province's Arbitration Act, which requires parenting co-ordinators to screen clients for domestic violence and power imbalances to ensure that the parties can freely present their views without compromising their safety or suffering other negative consequences. Parents seeking a co-ordinator are well advised to seek legal advice on the contract before they sign it. 

Parenting co-ordinators should be experienced mental-health professionals or family lawyers, and have knowledge and experience about child development, adult divorce recovery issues, children's adjustment to parental conflict and separation, parenting after separation, parenting schedules, family violence, mediation and arbitration skills, and knowledge of relevant legislation and regulations. An additional requirement is the ability to withstand regular scrutiny from tenacious clients, set boundaries, as well as an ability to remain calm and focused in often highly stressful circumstances. 

Most Ontario parenting co-ordinators voluntarily adhere to the Guidelines for Parenting Coordination, released by the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts in 2005. These were drafted for American jurisdictions, which often have specific PC legislation or court guidelines that do not apply in Ontario. Other Canadian jurisdictions also have models of practice that Ontario co-ordinators have followed, including British Columbia and, more recently, Prince Edward Island.

The Family Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario (FDRIO) are working to develop specific practice standards to reflect the unique reality of parenting coordination in Ontario - namely that parenting co-ordinators act as arbitrators, in accordance with the Arbitration Act, the Family Statute Law Amendment Act and related regulations, and that all parenting coordinators in the province enter into private contracts with the parents. 

They also provide certifications, professional education and other supports for members.

For more information on Parenting Coordination and FDRIO, visit http://www.FDRIO.com