A Florida appellate court, for the appeals district covering Miami-Dade County, recently entered a decision dealing with the authority of Parenting Coordinators in family law cases, and the confidentiality of communications in Parenting Coordination — Sotero v. Sullivan. In this case, the Mother appealed the decision of the trial court based on the trial court without the consent of the Mother:
- giving the parenting coordinator the authority to make binding decisions regarding the minor child in the case;
- giving the parenting coordinator the authority to impose monetary sanctions upon the parents; and
- waiving the confidentiality of communications with the parenting coordinator.
The appeal also dealt with the confidentiality of the Mother’s communication with her own individual therapist. The Father, through his attorney, consented to the trial court’s order being overturned. The appeals court treated that as a “confession of error” and based on that “vacated” the trial court’s order and “remanded” the case back to the trial court, for it to make a decision consistent with the rules governing parenting coordinators.
The rules for Parenting Coordinators are found in Florida’s Statutes – F.S. § 61.125, and the Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure, Rule 12.742 (if you follow this link just scroll down until you come to the text for Rule 12.742). The Florida Legislature passes the laws/statutes of the State of Florida, and Florida’s Supreme Court adopts Rules of Procedure, including the Family Law Rules of Procedure, which are binding rules and must be followed also.
Parties can voluntarily meet with a Parenting Coordinator if they want, without a court order, and agree between themselves and with the Parenting Coordinator what the rules will be, and the rules specifically applicable to court ordered Parenting Coordination would not apply. If there’s not a great deal of conflict between parents, and they simply want some help working out children’s issues or a Parenting Plan, they may not be concerned about confidentiality or a court order. There could be or there could be a way to fashion confidentiality for non-court ordered parenting coordination, but there are actually several legal issues to address for that. There are some potential advantages if parenting coordination is not confidential. There are different “schools” of thought about the importance of confidentiality in parenting coordination– some Parenting Coordinators strongly believe confidentiality is important to help people feel free to address issues in the sessions. Some believe it should be waived by the parties, so the Parenting Coordinator, if necessary, can come to court at some point, make his or her recommendations or report, and help to get the children’s issues resolved. The Parenting Coordination statute reflects the view that confidentiality, with the exceptions discussed in Part II of this post, is important.
The next piece to this rules/statute explanation, is that if the Parenting Coordination is Court ordered, the Court Order is going to look very much like Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure, Form 12.998, so you can look at that to see what is in a Parenting Coordination Order. A Court Order referring parents to a Parenting Coordination must be in “substantial compliance” with the Form Order — Form 12.998.