As we have discussed in our past post, all family law cases filed after September 1, 2005 which involve children are subject to the new Subchapter J of Chapter 153 of the Texas Family Code. This subchapter discusses Texas parenting plans and Texas parenting coordinators.
Parenting coordinators are a very controversial part of this new Texas statute, and there has been much confusion about this aspect of the new law. So I've decided to make a post to help clarify this confused part of the law.
So what is this parenting coordinator position?
A parenting coordinator is an "impartial third party appointed by the Court to assist parties in resolving issues relating to parenting and other family issues arising from an order in a [Suit Affecting the Parent Child Relationship]." (TFC 153.601(3)). In essence, a parenting coordinator is used to the get parents to commmunicate regarding their children and reduce the harm of parental conflict on children.
Under TFC 153.610, to be a parenting coordinator, either as a professional or a volunteer, a person must meet the following qualifications:
1. A parenting coordinator must have a bachelor's decree in counseling, education, family studies, psychology, or social work, and unless waived by the court, complete a parenting coordinator course of at least 16 hours; or
2. hold a graduate decree in a mental health profession, with an emphasis in family and children's issues.
A would be parenting coordinator must complete at least eights hours of family violence dynamics training provided by a family violence service provider.
Under 153.606, the authority of a parenting coordinator is limited to the following:
- identifying disputed issues;
- reducing misunderstandings;
- clarifying priorities;
- exploring possibilites for problem solving;
- developing methods of collaborative parenting and a parenting plan;
- complying with the court order.
The parenting coordinator can't modify the court order for the child, but he or she may suggest temporary departures.
A court cannot appoint a parenting coordinator unless the Court finds that the parties have a way to pay the fees. Public funds CANNOT be used except that the court may appoint certain public employees as a parenting coordinator. If no such public employee is available, then the court may appoint a volunteer (as in, non-paid) if the parties are unable to pay because of financial hardship. However, even volunteers must meet the qualifications of TFC 153.610.I have heard from MANY graduates of undergraduate programs in psychology or social work who have heard a little about this new statute and are seeking more info on how to become a parent coordinator. I must say that although I encourage any person who is very committed to this work to look further into this, that it is my experience that this is not a new "field" in which qualified individuals can work within their degree. The use of parenting coordinators is very rare and their use is justified in only to a very small percentage of "high conflict" divorce cases. By and large, the current market for parenting coordinators is more than filled with highly exerienced individuals who have already been doing this work for many years-ableit without any official statute to support their work. Many are PhDs and have made significant contributions to the field.
If that is not discouragement enough for new or soon to be graduates, then everyone should be aware of Texas House Bill 105 which is being considered by the Texas Legislature and would significantly limit the new parenting coordinator provisions. The bill is expect to pass in some form.
The bill limits what is considered to be a "high conflict" case, and therefore limits when a court can appoint a parenting coordinator. The bill would also make it much easier for parties to object to a parenting coordinator being appointed, and a hearing would now be required before the court could appoint a parenting coordinator. The new legislation would limit the types of public employees who could be appointed. In addition, if either party does not want to have the parenting coordinator, House Bill 105 would make the removal of a parenting coordinator mandatory instead of discretionary to the court.
Parenting coordinators may be a useful resource in high conflict family law cases. However, their use is rarified and the new statute, especially as it will probably be amended, is not a mandated new field of social work.
For another perspective, check out this post.