parent and child holding hands | parenting coordinatorAny parent going through divorce knows that the natural challenges that come with parenting are multiplied many times over when you’re going through a divorce. Every decision — from the profound to the mundane — must be hashed out with someone with whom you may not be on the friendliest of terms.

That’s why, in 2005, the Texas Legislature added new roles to the Texas Family Code: the parenting coordinator and parenting facilitator. So, what are parenting coordinators and facilitators, and how, exactly, can they play a role in your divorce or custody proceeding?

Parenting coordinators and facilitators must have a background as either a mental health professional or an attorney, and they each have specific training requirements that are set forth in the Texas Family Code.

Parenting coordinators are shielded from litigation — they cannot be called to testify in a case — so their role is solely to serve the family as the parents uncouple and move forward into a co-parenting relationship.

Parenting facilitators, on the other hand, can be called to testify either in a divorce or a custody proceeding (technically a suit affecting the parent-child relationship [SAPCR]), as well as subsequent modification or enforcement proceedings if they remain appointed in their role.

For these reasons, if you are divorcing or considering divorce and are considering the appointment of a parenting coordinator or facilitator, thoughtfully consider whether you and your lawyer will want or need this type of testimony in a future proceeding.

The experienced family law attorneys at Brousseau Naftis & Massingill, P.C. have decades of experience representing clients in divorce, custody, and other family law matters. For more information, contact us today for a no-obligation consultation.

When Are Parenting Coordinators & Facilitators Appointed?

Typically, parenting coordinators and parenting facilitators are appointed in high-conflict cases, but they can be useful in any case in which it would be considered in the best interest of the child to do so. This can include the following situations:

  • The divorcing couple have issues communicating;
  • There is a “hot button” issue the parents need help working through; or
  • There are very young children, and the couple will need assistance navigating all the parenting decisions or possession changes that may arise as the children grow up.

Both parenting coordinators and parenting facilitators have individual and joint sessions with the parties to assist them in communicating and resolving issues. The Texas Family Code defines their role as aiding the parties in “identifying disputed issues, reducing misunderstandings, clarifying priorities, exploring possibilities for problem solving, developing methods of collaboration in parenting, understanding parenting plans and reaching agreements about parenting issues to be included in a parenting plan, complying with the court’s order regarding conservatorship or possession and access to a the child, implementing parenting plans, obtaining training regarding problem solving, conflict management, and parenting skills, and settling disputes regarding parenting issues and reaching a proposed joint resolution or statement of intent regarding those disputes.”

Their work with the couple may begin by helping the couple develop their own parenting plan (conservatorship, possession and access, and child support) and later involve addressing problems as small as the exchange of school shoes at pickups and drop-offs or as critical as selecting a course of mental-health treatment for a teenage child in crisis.

Facilitators and coordinators can help a couple learn how to write non-confrontational text messages to each other, or negotiate the terms of the first meeting between a parent’s new dating partner and the children.

Quite simply, parenting coordinators and parenting facilitators — although they are neither judges nor arbitrators and do not issue rulings — give parents another option than the courtroom to work through the many issues that will come up as they co-parent children post-separation. Furthermore, using parenting coordinators and parenting facilitators in the right way in your case may save you money. Typically, the hourly rates of coordinators and facilitators — particularly those who are mental health experts rather than attorneys — are less than those of your family law attorney and, in many instances, you will be splitting those hourly expenses with your co-parent.

Sooner Is Better

Although a parenting coordinator or facilitator can be appointed at any time, the engagement of a parenting coordinator or facilitator at the beginning of a case can have a meaningful impact on the case itself and on the parties’ ability to co-parent post-separation. Through early intervention with a parenting coordinator or facilitator, not only can parents learn to communicate more effectively with their co-parent right off the bat — which in itself may eliminate many of the issues that arise during a case — the parents can even develop their own temporary or final parenting plan by working with the coordinator or facilitator without the involvement of the attorneys or the court.

To offer parents this type of alternative before real damage is done in court can have a lasting positive impact, not only during the case itself, but also for the remainder of the parties’ co-parenting relationship.

Quite simply, the right parenting coordinator or facilitator appointed to work with a receptive couple can change the entire trajectory of a case and, as a result, a family.

A version of this article was originally published in the September 2021 issue of the Dallas Bar Association’s Headnotes.