Round 2 -- Pennsylvania Supreme Court Brings Big Changes To Custody By Giving An Old Program A Second Chance

September 21, 2018

In 2013, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the highest court in Pennsylvania, eliminated parenting coordination procedures from the rules governing domestic matters. However, in an about face, the Court recently decided to give the procedure another shot. The new rules governing parenting coordination will take effect in March of 2019. Parent coordination's purpose, according to the new rule is, where a coordinator is appointed "[t[he parenting coordinator shall attempt to resolve issues arising out of the custody order by facilitating an agreement between the parties and, if unable to reach an agreement, recommend a resolution to the court." A parenting coordinator may be appointed to a case by the court or on motion of any of the parties after there has been a final custody order entered. The coordinator will then serve to mediate potential disputes and implement the custody order.

In essence, the Rule is intended to have a person attached to a case in order for that person to divert disputes away from the Courts where possible and allow parties a more inexpensive and expeditious way of resolving disputes. The Rule also seems to indicate that the process is not intended for every case and is only to be used in a small number of cases. The Rule specifically delineates the items that a parent coordinator may consider (for example "places and conditions for custodial transitions between households," "temporary variation from the custodial schedule for a special event or particular circumstance," "coordination of existing or court-ordered services for the child(ren)") and items that must be addressed by the Court (for example "a change in legal custody as set forth in the custody order," "a change in primary physical custody as set forth in the custody order," "a change in the residence (relocation) of the child(ren)").

As for who can be parent coordinators, they must be an attorney or mental health professional with specified qualifications and experience. The Rule also sets out how the coordinator will be engaged by the Parties as to fees and hourly rates. In addition, there are Rules with regard to communication with the coordinator and it makes clear that there is no expectation of confidentiality in communications with the coordinator. When an issue comes before the coordinator for decision, the parties shall be given "notice and an opportunity to be heard on the issues." The coordinator shall make a recommendation within two days of the hearing and the parties have five days from the decision to object. If there is an objection, the Court shall address the matter in a hearing. If no objections are filed the Court shall "approve the recommendation;" "approve the recommendation in part and conduct a record hearing on issues not approved;" "remand the recommendation to the parenting coordinator for more specific information;" or "not approve the recommendation and conduct a record hearing on the issues." If there are objections, the recommendation of the coordinator will become a temporary order until a hearing can be held.

Time will tell if the new rules on parent coordinators will actually serve the intended purpose or fizzle out as they did before. The rules seem to be aimed at cases with constant issues that should be resolvable that would otherwise clog up the Court's docket. Parties in custody cases and their attorneys will at least need to be aware of this process and consider whether it is something that can help their particular case.

Having a seasoned attorney can make all the difference in the outcome of a family law matter. Conway Schadler has extensive experience in the litigation and negotiation of custody as well as all areas of family law. Contact our offices to speak with one of our attorneys about how we can help you in your custody and family law case.