Disagreements on parenting time and decision making for children can be one of the trickiest parts of family law to resolve. Sometimes it may be appropriate to have the assistance of a third party to help parents get on the same page or make recommendations about parenting arrangements that are in the best interests of the children involved. This blog is meant to give some brief information about some of the options to assist parents and lawyers in Alberta when parenting is in dispute.
Parenting coordination is a therapeutic process with a psychologist or family law lawyer who specializes in the breakdown of family relationships. Generally the parenting coordinator only sees the parents and would not see the children although they may recommend that the children undertake therapeutic counselling with a psychologist or counsellor. Parenting coordination is a lengthy process meant to get parents back on the same page and give them tools to parent together so that eventually the parenting coordinator’s assistance is no longer necessary.
In high conflict matters, sometimes the parenting coordinator is given the authority to issue binding decisions on contentious parenting issues. This means that if there is some type of disagreement the parenting coordinator tries to work with the parents to find a mutually agreeable solution. If an agreement cannot be reached then the parenting coordinator makes a decision as to what would be best for the children.
Parenting coordination can be very effective even in a very high conflict situation. Parents have a regular long-term relationship with the parenting coordinator as they work toward a healthy co-parenting relationship. It can be helpful in minimizing conflict when a professional psychologist or trained family lawyer explains the long-term damage being done to the children by high conflict co-parenting. On the flip side, parenting coordination can be very expensive and most parenting coordinators want to have a minimum time commitment from the parents, usually for about two years.
PN7s, PN8s, Voice of The Child, and Children’s Counsel
Practice Note Reports
Psychologists prepare Practice Note 7 (PN7) and Practice Note 8 (PN8) reports to assist courts in making decisions about parenting. These are reports prepared after the psychologist meets with the parents, the children, and sometimes third parties such as counsellors or teachers. PN7 reports provide a report about the family but do not give recommendations on appropriate parenting arrangements. PN8 reports are similar but they do include recommendations for moving forward and what kind of parenting arrangements are in the children’s best interests. Both PN7s and PN8s are meant to give information to the decision maker (ie a judge or arbitrator) to help the decision maker determine what parenting arrangements will be best for the individual children involved in the parenting dispute.
Voice of The Child Report
A voice of the child report is a brief snapshot of the child’s opinions prepared by a psychologist or lawyer. The professional will interview the children on one or two occasions and provide a report to tell the court and the parents what the children’s views and preferences are.
Children’s counsel is a lawyer hired to represent the children. They can be hired privately or through organizations like the Children’s Legal & Educational Resource Centre or Legal Aid Alberta. Whenever possible, the lawyer will act for the children in the same way as the parents’ lawyers act for them, referred to as a traditional advocacy role. This means that principles like solicitor client privilege apply. Sometimes children’s counsel will take on an amicus role, meaning that they are more in the role of a friend of the court meant to provide assistance from the children’s point of view.
As always, it is very important to discuss these options with a family law lawyer if you think that one of these professionals may be suited to assist your family.