A niche that puts children first
Psychologists in many states are becoming parenting coordinators to help divorcing parents focus on their children’s needs.
By DEBORAH SMITH BAILEY
January 2005, Vol 36, No. 1
Print version: page 46
It’s the aftermath of a bitter divorce: The parents return to court month after month to wrangle over drop-off times, holiday visits and child-care duties.
Their attorneys grow frustrated with midnight calls. Repeat court appearances flood judges’ dockets. And the parents are so busy fighting each other that they fail to consider what’s best for their children.
Such contentious divorce cases have become so common that judges, attorneys and psychologists across the nation are developing a new approach for families–appointing parenting coordinators to teach parents to put their children first. While the practice is far from universal, a number of jurisdictions are helping to shape this emerging niche.
Coordinators have expertise in family law and the psychological impact of divorce. They may be psychologists, social workers, attorneys or professional mediators, and their services are paid for by the conflicting parents. Judges appoint them to act as legal agents in helping parents develop or follow post-divorce custody agreements with the aim of reducing parental conflict and unnecessary court appearances (see box, page 48).
There is preliminary evidence that their efforts work: A 1994 unpublished study by psychologist Terry Johnston, PhD, found that parenting coordination reduced the average number of annual court visits from six per case to 0.22 in one year.