As an attorney, I was trained by psychologist Joan Kelly in parent-coordination.  Parent Coordinators or “Special Masters” are attorneys or therapists who are specially trained to aid the court in dealing with high-conflict cases involving children.

Parent Coordinators can be appointed by the court or they can be agreed to by the parties.  It has been said that it is almost always best if the parties stipulate to it since legal repercussions can be grave.

What do Parent Coordinators do?

Parent Coordinators mediate disputes between parents over custody without the court being involved, and if forced to, actually make decisions for parents.

For example, if mother wants the child to take ballet lessons, and father wants the child to play soccer, and there is no clear agreement on the record, the parent coordinator can speak with the parents, speak with the child, and attempt to reach an agreement.  If no agreement is reached, then the parent coordinator can make the decision for the parents.

While this is less than preferable, it saves a trip to court and saves attorney fees.

Parent Coordinators do not want to choose sides, but in any conflict, it is inevitable that a decision will be adverse to one side or the other, and as such, a parent coordinator can describe in the detail the reasons for the decision and in the event of court involvement, present such reasons to the court.

The Sonoma Superior Court is currently interested in implementing this program because it reduces the amount of “frequent flyers” in the court and frees up the bandwidth for cases with that are not driven by high-conflict personalities.

Both therapists and attorneys can be parent coordinators, and each bring with them skills unique to their profession.  A therapist may be able to get at the underlying conflict and find common ground to move toward a mutual solution.  A lawyer, on the other hand, will be expert in drafting solid agreements  and building clear fences to make the relationship work better.  As a person who has seen and been part of  a good deal of very aggressive litigation, I can do that.

If you love your kids more than you hate your ex, then you should hire a special master.  I am well-qualified to deal with high-conflict divorces because I personally have lived through the horrors of a high-conflict divorce and seen it through a different perspective than those whose involvement ends at the professional level.  Furthermore, I have more than a decade of experience with children, having taught both middle and high school here in Northern California as credentialed public school instructor.

In memory of my father, Pediatrician Marc Francis, who passed away this year, and whose life was dedicated to helping children, I intend to do so as well in my capacity as a parent coordinator.

“The thing that experts agree on is that although divorce is difficult and stressful for kids no matter what, the real harm to kids comes from being subjected to conflict between parents. The longer that lasts, and the more severe it is, the worse it is for your children. If you truly want to shield your children from the pain of divorce, recognize that the more you take the high road with your spouse, the better job you’ll do.”

EMILY DOSKOW, Nolo’s Essential Guide to Divorce