Are there Practices Standards for Parent Coordinators?
June 24, 2015
We often assist family attorneys by reviewing reports and records of mental health professionals. This helps attorneys put the findings and recommendations in perspective, make sure that proper procedures are followed, and prepare the attorneys for possible cross-examination of the professional. Family lawyers often ask us if a particular parent coordinator has exceeded their authority or practiced outside of their customary role. To answer the question, one must compare the parent coordinator in question to some standard in the professional community.
Two sets of guidelines are available to use as reference points for appropriate parent coordinator behavior. The American Psychological Association (APA) published the Guideline for the Practice of Parenting Coordination in 2012. The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) published their Guidelines for Parenting Coordination in 2005. Both sets of guidelines have operational definitions of parent coordination.
In the AFCC guidelines, three terms are used to define what behaviors are appropriate for the parent coordinator. The word “may” denotes an activity where the parent coordinator can deviate as long as they are using “good professional judgment.” The word “should” indicates an activity that “…is highly desirable and should be departed from only with strong reason.” The last term is “shall” which indicates a task that “the PC should not have discretion to depart from the practice described”(AFCC, 2005, P. 4).
The APA uses the term “guidelines” for a specific reason.
The term guidelines as used here refers to statements that suggest or recommend specific professional behaviors, endeavors, or conduct for psychologists. Guidelines differ from standards in that standards are mandatory and may be accompanied by an enforcement mechanism. The following guidelines are aspirational and intended to facilitate the continued systematic development of the profession and a high level of practice by psychologists. They are not intended to take precedence over psychologists’ judgment (American Psychologist, January 2012, p. 64).
Guideline I of the AFCC Guidelines refers to the education and training a parent coordinator “shall” have. The PC shall have been trained and continue to engage in ongoing continuing education. The training should include information on PC process, family dynamics in separation and divorce, domestic violence, and child maltreatment. Appendix A of the guidelines contains a model curriculum for PC training. The PC shall be a mental health professional or legal professional.
Guideline II of the AFCC Guidelines directs the PC to maintain impartiality and minimize bias. It states that the PC shall withdraw from their role as PC if they cannot act in an impartial manner. In addition, the PC shall not coerce a party to make a decision.
Guideline III of the AFCC Guidelines states that “A PC shall not serve in a manner that presents a clear conflict of interest.” A PC shall disclose any conflicts of interests before they begin service as a PC, or immediately after they become aware of any conflicts of interest.
Guideline IV of the AFCC Guidelines directs a PC not to have “dual sequential roles.” A PC shall not have been involved in the case with either of the parties in any other role. Thus, a child custody evaluator or guardian ad litem should not become the PC after their evaluation is complete. The PC shall only be the PC and never switch roles before, during, or after their appointment as a parent coordinator.
Guideline V of the AFCC Guidelines states that a “PC shall inform the parties of the limitations on confidentiality in the parenting coordination process.” This guideline directs the PC to provide the limits of confidentiality to the parties. It also has provisions regarding the reporting of suspected child abuse to appropriate child welfare agencies.
Guideline VI of the AFCC Guidelines states “A PC shall assist the parties in reducing harmful conflict and in promoting the best interests of the children consistent with the roles and functions of a PC.” The PC should review appropriate pleadings and reports related to the parties and the case. The PC serves in a role to educate the parties regarding issues of child development, parenting, divorce, communication, and conflict resolution. In addition to educating the parties, the PC serves in a role to assist in conflict resolution and decision-making.
Guideline VII of the AFCC Guidelines directs the professional to serve as the PC by stipulated and/or formal order of the court. The order shall “clearly and specifically define the PC’s scope of authority and responsibilities.
Guideline VIII of the AFCC Guidelines instructs the PC to provide informed consent to the parties. The PC shall provide to the parties enough information so the parties understand the “…extent of the parental rights and power they are assigning to the PC in the form of decision-making, the limited nature of the confidentiality of the process, the professional persons with whom the PC will be authorized to consult or obtain information, and what the parents’ rights are in seeking redress with the court.”
Guideline IX of the AFCC Guidelines directs the PC to disclose the basis for any fees and charges.
Guideline X of the AFCC Guidelines states “A PC will communicate with all parties, counsel, children, and the court in a manner which preserves the integrity of the parenting coordination process and considers the safety of the parents and children.” The PC may communicate with each of the parties or their attorneys individually, as long as it is specified in the order.
Guideline XI of the AFCC Guidelines directs the PC to work in a timely fashion to facilitate agreements between the parties. It also directs the PC to make timely decisions for any disputes that the PC has been ordered to resolve, should the parties not be able to resolve the issue under dispute.
Guideline XII of the AFCC Guidelines directs a PC not to engage in marketing practices that contain false or misleading information. The PC should not make any claims of “achieving specific outcomes or promises implying favoritism for the purposes of obtaining business.
The APA Guidelines contain similar guidelines specific to psychologists.
Guideline 1 of the APA Guidelines directs psychologists to “understand the complexity of the parenting coordinator role and to distinguish it from other professional roles.”
Guideline 2a of the APA Guidelines requires psychologists to gain and maintain specialized knowledge and training. Guideline 2b directs the psychologists to understand the “legal authorities, terminology, and procedures that affect parenting coordination practice.”
Guideline 3 of the APA Guideline directs psychologists to provide professional services to high standards and with “specialized competencies.”
Guideline 4 of the APA Guideline states, “Psychologists aspire to facilitate healthy environments for children and appropriate parent-child relationships while ensuring the safety of all family members in the parenting coordination process.” Issues of domestic violence, child abuse and high conflict are addressed in this guideline.
Guideline 5a of the APA Guideline admonishes psychologists to follow the relevant provisions of the APA “Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct.” Guideline 5b directs psychologists to “recognize and respond to relevant sources of professional guidance about multicultural and diversity issues in the provision of parenting coordination services.”
Guideline 6 of the APA Guidelines maintain records that are consistent with the APA ethical standards.
Guideline 7 of the APA Guidelines direct the psychologists to engage in “responsible” case management and billing practices.
Guideline 8 of the APA Guidelines states, “Psychologists strive to develop and maintain professional and collaborative relationships with all other professionals involved in the case.”
The AFCC Guidelines are more detailed and specific to the varied roles of the parent coordinator. The APA Guidelines are much more abstract. It is critical to compare the professional behavior of the parent coordinator to both sets of guidelines to adequately assess if a particular parent coordinator is deviating from acceptable parent coordination standards.
Guidelines for the Practice of Parenting Coordination (2012), American Psychologist, January 2012, P. 63.
Guidelines for Parenting Coordination (2005), The AFCC Task Force on Parenting Coordination, May 2005.