The COVID-19 public health emergency has ground many activities to a halt, including the vast majority of matters at Probate and Family Courts across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Although the impact of court closures has been felt most strongly in the paucity of hearings, other departments, like drug testing, lawyer of the day programs, conciliation and mediation sessions, have also been impacted by the requirements of state and local orders and advisories.
Removal matters - where one parent seeks to move with a child or children either to another state or to a place within the Commonwealth that is far enough away to cause a significant impact on the parenting plan - are amongst the most fraught cases that attorneys and courts have to wrestle with. Unlike most other issues that arise in the context of parenting, removal matters do start to resemble zero-sum conflicts where the stakes can be enormous.
I recently came across Edward Kruk, PhD's article in Psychology Today entitled "Equal Parenting and the Quality of Parent-Child Attachments." The article summarizes research on parenting plans that I have found useful in support of some clients' requests for equal parenting time (R. Bauserman, "A meta-analysis of parental satisfaction, adjustment and conflict in joint custody and sole custody following divorce," Journal of Divorce and Remarriage ; W.V. Fabricius, "Parenting time, parent conflict, parent-child relationships, and children's physical health," Parenting Plan Evaluations: Applied Research for the Family Court ).
During a contested divorce or paternity action involving minor children, and often long after the case is formally resolved, some parents face ongoing disputes over "day to day" matters such as whether Fitch Law Partners LLP should participate in two extracurricular activities or three. The failure, inability, or outright refusal of one or both parents to communicate and reach an agreement with respect to these matters can lead to repeated court appearances and thousands of dollars in legal fees. In order to provide parties a forum for efficiently resolving such disputes, as well as assistance with learning to better communicate and co-parent, many parties will agree or be ordered to engage a professional parent coordinator ("PC").
Although a "final judgment of divorce" terminates a legal marriage between spouses, all too often, the parties will remain embroiled in litigation for years to come, particularly with respect to issues surrounding the care and custody of their minor children. Even the most well-drafted parenting plan cannot anticipate and preemptively resolve all of the disputes that inevitably arise when raising children, and the failure, inability, or outright refusal of one or both parents to communicate and reach an agreement with respect to these matters (such as whether Susie can get her ears pierced, if Johnny can sign up for football, and which parent should be responsible for picking up the children on a snow-day) can lead to repeated court appearances and thousands of dollars in legal fees. While child-related issues can always been modified upon a material change in circumstances, and some matters genuinely require the court's intervention, many of these "day to day" disputes can be efficiently and cost-effectively resolved by the appointment of a "Parenting Coordinator" ("PC").
According to the Guidelines for Parenting Coordination developed by the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts Task Force on Parenting Coordination, "[P]arenting coordination is a child-focused alternative dispute resolution process in which a mental health or legal professional with mediation training and experience assists high conflict parents to implement their parenting plan by facilitating the resolution of their disputes in a timely manner, educating parents about children's needs, and with prior approval of the parties and/or the court, making decisions within the scope of the court order or appointment contract."