PARENTING COORDINATORS – WHO ARE THEY AND WHAT ARE THEIR POWERS?
The term Parental Coordination is a form of alternative dispute resolution that is used in high conflict divorce and custody matters that must be headed by either a mental health professional or a family law professional. This type of alternative dispute resolution is usually used either pre or post divorce proceedings.
The appointment of a Parenting Coordinator is done by either:
- A court order;
- A parenting plan ; or
- By way of a settlement agreement between the parties.
The order or agreement will list the powers and authority of the coordinator and this order is thereafter binding on all parties.
It is paramount to remember that the High Court is the upper guardian of children and therefore can make any decision if it is in the best interests of the child or children.
Although a parental coordinator is a ground breaking integral part of the court system there are however limitaions to keep in mind.
The first limitation is that a coordinator cannot be appointed unless there is some sort of agreement in place that provides for a framework that will assist the parties in how to comply with same.
If an order is not complied with then just as any other breach of a court order, an enforcement of the order can be to comit the person to prison for their contempt.
The second limitation is that the orders need to be in the best interests of the children which must include basic frameworks for things such as:
- Care and contact of the child;
- Guardianship; and
- The termination, extension and supervision of parental responsibilities .
Therefore it is important to remember that the coordinator is a facilitator that makes sure that all the provisions of the order are complied with. They do not create the provisions as this would be considered going against the judicial oversight and tresspasses on the courts exclusive jurisdiction which is entrenched in section 173 of the Consitution. This can be seen as the Third limitation.
The fourth and last limitation is that:
- The coordinator can only be involved where there is chronic conflict or unwillingness bewteen the parents to come to an agreement;
- Mediation between the parties must have been attempted and must have been unsuccessful or was inappropriate- this is usually in cases of domestic violence where restraining orders are involved; and
- The coordinator must be a qualified person whose fees are reasonable and fair.
The Courts therefore favour this approach because of the inherent jurisdiction that is enrenched in the Constitution.
It can therefore be said that we should get used to the increasing appointments of parental coordinators.
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