Clarifying Parenting Co-ordination
After divorce or relationship breakdown most parents are able to put aside their disappointment and anger over their failed marriage or relationship and establish an effective co-parenting relationship. However, for a small percentage of parents a high degree of conflict persists long after the separation and these parents are unable to reach agreement about parenting issues or to shield their children from their discord.
They spend vast personal resources on protracted litigation, which is a heavy drain on the time and financial resources of the courts. Where parents are in this situation, exposure to chronic conflict can have devastating consequences for their children’s short- and long-term adjustment and can negatively influence the children’s mental, emotional, physical, and social needs.
Because of the need to mitigate the damage done by chronic conflict, the process of parenting coordination has been embraced by our courts. Although this new alternative dispute resolution process has flourished over the past decade, and professional and parental views of the process have generally been positive, there still seems to be uncertainty and a lack of uniformity about various aspects regarding the parenting coordination process and the role and functions of a parenting coordinator.
First of all, we have the Guidelines on the Practice of Parenting Coordination in South Africa (SA Guidelines), drafted by a task team of the National Accreditation Board for Family Mediators (NABFAM) to provide guidance for parenting coordinators concerning minimum qualifications, ethical obligations and conduct, practice and procedure, and children’s participation in the process. In addition, the South African Law Reform Commission published the draft Family Dispute Resolution Bill of 2020, which deals with the process of parenting coordination in Chapter 7.
Very importantly, we also have various court decisions dealing with parenting coordination in South Africa, which provide some guidance. However, the SA Guidelines, the provisions of Chapter 7 of the Bill and our court decisions are not always aligned and provide different answers to important questions, such as:
- When or under what circumstances should a parenting coordinator be appointed?
- Can the court appoint a parenting coordinator for parents in the absence of consent by both parents?
- Which issues could be dealt with by a parenting coordinator?
- Can a parenting coordinator oversee both the development and the implementation of a parenting plan?
- Who should be appointed as a parenting coordinator?
- What approach should be followed in the parenting coordination process?
- Should children be included in the parenting coordination process?
- Does a parenting coordinator need to afford the parties a formal hearing?
- Is parenting coordination really a non confidential process?
- What is a parenting coordinator’s relationship with the court and the parties’ legal representatives?
A lack of consensus regarding these questions has given rise to diverse practices among professionals and confusion for all involved in the parenting coordination process.
This presentation therefore endeavours to provide more clarity and certainty on the above questions from a theoretical perspective (as set out by Prof Madelene de Jong) and a practical perspective (as set out by Dr Lynette Roux).
CPD Points - 3