The primary issues raised by the Sotero case – the confidentiality of parenting coordination, and the authority the court can give to the parenting coordinator, are two issue often relevent to a Broward County divorce attorney or client, when they evaluate the possible use of a parenting coordinator in a contested divorce or other family law case. Even in contested cases, I believe parents in parenting coordination make efforts to address children’s issues for the sake of their children, but the parenting coordination happens within the context of an adversarial case, where the parents are often also going be concerned about how the parenting coordination may affect their case. So, issues parents may be concerned about are what information the parenting coordinator can bring back to the Judge regarding communications in the sessions or the parenting coordinator’s recommendations, and also the authority of the parenting coordinator.
There are some significant exceptions to the confidentiality rule for Parenting Coordination. Communications in parenting coordination are not confidential if:
- The information is necessary to verify a written agreement between the parents during parenting coordination;
- The testimony is necessary to identify an issue that is unresolved and needs to be resolved by the court, without otherwise disclosing communications made by either parent or the parenting coordinator;
- The testimony or evidence is limited to the issue of a parent’s compliance with: the parenting coordination order; orders for psychological evaluation, counseling or substance abuse evaluation/treatment; or counseling recommended by a health care provider;
- The testimony is the parenting coordinator reporting that the case is no longer appropriate for parenting coordination;
- The parenting coordinator is reporting that he or she is unable or unwilling to continue to serve or is not qualified to address certain issues in the case and that a successor parenting coordinator should be appointed;
- The parties agree that the testimony or evidence be permitted;
- The testimony is necessary to protect any person from domestic violence, child abuse, neglect, or abandonment, or abuse, neglect, or exploitation of an elderly or disabled adult (there is more, very specific language in the stature regarding this provision); or
- The testimony or evidence is that it is expected that the child is about to be wrongfully relocated/moved, with protections for a parent who moves to avoid domestic violence.
Both the statute and the form order say that communications during Parenting Coordination “sessions” are confidential. Many if not most parenting coordinators do some of the work over the phone, e.g. if a parent calls with an issue that has come up. I believe “during sessions” would be treated as including the communications over the telephone.
The Parenting Coordinator rules allow the Parenting Coordinator to have temporary decision-making authority to resolve specific, “non-substantive” disputes between the parties, but only if both parents agree in writing that it is ok for the Parenting Coordinator to have this authority. A “substantive” change is something that significantly changes the time a child spends with either parent or modifies parental responsibility. So, the Parenting Coordinator is not permitted under the Family Law Rules, to have the authority to make big changes to time-sharing/visitation, or to parental responsibility – i.e. who gets to make decisions regarding the significant issues in a child’s life – schooling, religion, medical treatment, significant extra-curricular activities. The Rules, however, permit the Parenting Coordinator to be given the authority to make recommendations to the court regarding changes to time-sharing or the parenting plan, but again, only if the parents agree in writing for the coordinator to have this authority.