The State of Colorado enacted legislation in 2005 to address supportive professional roles for ex-partners who are involved in protracted conflict related to parenting. These roles include Parenting Coordinator, Domestic Relations Decision Maker, and Domestic Arbitrator. Judy Larkins offers services in all of the following roles, and welcomes the opportunity to speak with you about serving in your case.
Understanding the distinction between these roles is especially important when:
- Parents need resources for intervention in high-conflict cases
- Parents wish to have access to speedy resolution without resorting to a formal court process for every dispute that arises
A Parenting Coordinator may be appointed by the Court or by agreement of the parties, after an order concerning parental responsibilities has been made. The PC is a neutral third party whose job it is to assist in the resolution of disputes between the parties concerning parental responsibilities. The PC must be an individual with appropriate training and qualifications who has a perspective acceptable to the court.
If the court appoints a parenting coordinator without agreement of the parties, the court must also make the following findings:
- That the parties have failed to adequately implement the parenting plan;
- That mediation has been determined by the court to be inappropriate, or, if not inappropriate, that mediation has been attempted and was unsuccessful; and
- That the appointment of a PC is in the best interests of the child or children involved in the parenting plan.
In addition to making the findings noted above, prior to appointing a PC, the court must consider the effect of any documented evidence of domestic violence on the parties' ability to engage in parent coordination.
The PC shall assist the parties in implementing the terms of the parenting plan. PC Responsibilities include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Assist the Parties in creating agreed-upon, structured guidelines for implementing their parenting plan
- Developing guidelines for communication between the parties
- Suggesting resources for the parties in learning communication skills
- Informing the parties of resources for developing improved parenting skills
- Assisting the parties in identifying the sources and causes of conflict between them
- Assisting the parties in developing parenting strategies to minimize conflict
The PC cannot be the same person who served as an evaluator or child representative but may, if the parties agree, be the same person who has served as a child and family investigator.
A court order appointing a PC must be for a specified term of no longer than two years. If an order fails to specify the length of the court ordered appointment, it will be construed to be two years from the date of appointment. Upon agreement of the parties, the court may extend, modify, or terminate the appointment, including extending the appointment beyond two years from the date of the original appointment. The court may terminate the appointment of the PC at any time for good cause. The parenting coordinator may withdraw at any time.
A court order appointing a PC must include apportionment of the PC 's fees between the parties. The state will not be responsible for payment of fees to a parenting coordinator.
In a judicial proceeding, administrative proceeding or other similar proceeding between the parties to the action, a PC cannot testify and cannot be required to produce records as to any statement, conduct or decision that occurred during the PC 's appointment, just as judges in Colorado cannot testify to such matters in cases in which they have acted in a judicial capacity. However, the PC can produce records and testify as needed to collect fees from a party to the action.
Role of Domestic Relations Decision Maker CRS §14-10-128.3 - Binding Authority to Resolve Disputes within the Context of Existing Court Orders:
At any time after the entry of an order concerning parental responsibilities and upon written consent of both parties, the court may appoint a qualified Domestic Relations Decision Maker. The Court may grant the DM binding authority to resolve disputes between the parties as to implementation or clarification of existing orders concerning the parties' minor or dependent children, including, but not limited to, disputes concerning
- Disputes concerning parenting time
- Specific disputed parental decisions
- Disputes related to child support
A DM must have the authority to make binding determinations to implement or clarify the provisions of a pre existing court order in a manner that is consistent with the substantive intent of the court order. The Decision Maker appointed pursuant to the provisions of this section may be the same person as the parenting coordinator, often referred to as a PC/DM.
The DM’s procedures for making determinations must be in writing and must be approved by the parties prior to the time the DM begins to resolve a dispute. If a party is unable or unwilling to agree to the Decision Maker’s procedures, the DM can withdraw from the matter.
All decisions made by the Decision Maker must be in writing, dated and signed by the DM. Such decisions must be filed with the court and mailed to the parties or to counsel for the parties, if any, no later than twenty days after the date the decision is issued. All decisions are effective immediately upon issuance and continue in effect until vacated, corrected or modified by the DM or until an order is entered by a court pursuant to a de novo hearing.
A party may file a motion with the court requesting that a decision of the DM be modified by the court pursuant to a de novo hearing. A motion for a de novo hearing must be filed no later than thirty days after the date the decision is issued.
If a court in its discretion, based on the pleadings filed, grants a party's request for a de novo hearing and substantially upholds the decision of the DM, the party that requested the de novo hearing must pay the fees and costs of the other party and the fees and costs incurred by the DM in connection with the request for de novo hearing, unless the court finds that such a requirement would be manifestly unjust.
A court order appointing a Decision Maker must be for a specified term of no longer than two years. If an order fails to specify the length of the court ordered appointment, it will be construed to be two years from the date of appointment. Upon agreement of the parties, the court may extend, modify or terminate the appointment, including extending the appointment beyond two years from the date of the original appointment. The court may terminate the appointment of the Decision Maker at any time for good cause. The Decision Maker may withdraw at any time.
A court order appointing a DM must include apportionment of the Decision Maker’s fees between the parties. The state will not be responsible for payment of fees to a Decision Maker.
A DM is immune from liability in any claim for injury that arises out of an act or omission occurring during the performance of his or her duties or during the performance of an act that the Decision Maker reasonably believed was within the scope of his or her duties, unless the act or omission causing such injury was willful and wanton.
In a judicial proceeding, administrative proceeding or other similar proceeding, a Decision Maker cannot testify and cannot be required to produce records as to any statement, conduct or decision that occurred during the DM’s appointment, just as judges in Colorado cannot testify to such matters in cases in which they have acted in a judicial capacity. However, a Decision Maker can testify and produce records in the following circumstances:
- To the extent testimony or production of records by the DM is necessary to determine the claim of the Decision Maker against a party; or
- To the extent testimony or production of records by the DM is necessary to determine a claim of a party against a Decision Maker; or
- When both parties have agreed, in writing, to authorize the Decision Maker to testify.
If a person commences a civil action against a Decision Maker arising from the services of the DM or if a person seeks to compel a DM to testify or produce records in violation of Colorado law and the court decides that the DM is immune from civil liability or that the Decision Maker is not competent to testify, the court will award to the DM reasonable attorney fees and reasonable expenses of litigation.
Role of Domestic Arbitrator CRS §14-10-128.5 – Binding Authority to Modify the Existing Court Orders
With the consent of all parties, the court may appoint an arbitrator to resolve disputes between the parties concerning the parties' minor or dependent children, including, but not limited to, parenting time, non-recurring adjustments to child support and disputed parental decisions. Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, all awards entered by an arbitrator must be in writing. The arbitrator's award is effective immediately upon entry and continues in effect until vacated by the arbitrator, modified or corrected by the arbitrator as provided by law, or modified by the court pursuant to a de novo hearing.
Any party may apply to have the arbitrator's award vacated, modified, or corrected for the limited reasons allowed by law. Also, one of the parties may move the court to modify the arbitrator's award pursuant to a de novo hearing concerning such award by filing a motion for hearing no later than thirty days after the date of the award.
In circumstances in which a party moves for a de novo hearing by the court, if the court in its discretion, based on the pleadings filed, grants the motion and substantially upholds the decision of the arbitrator, the party that requested the de novo hearing must be ordered to pay the fees and costs of the other party and of the arbitrator incurred in responding to the application or motion, unless the court finds that such a requirement would be manifestly unjust.
Disclaimer -- Content is general information only. For specific questions as they relate to your situation, seek legal counsel.
For More Information:
Parenting Coordinator: Understanding This New Role by Beth Henson
The Colorado Lawyer / February 2006 / Vol. 35, No. 2 / 31
"For years, many Colorado courts have appointed parenting coordinators in family law cases. Until 2005, there was no statute that established or defined the role of a parenting coordinator, and the result was a lack of uniformity and agreement as to what such role entailed. However, House Bill 05-1171 (“H.B. 1171”), which was signed into law by Governor Owens in June 2005, provides a framework for professional intervention in family law cases that includes parenting coordinators, domestic relations decision-makers (“decision-makers”), and arbitrators. The driving goal behind H.B. 1171 was a desire to provide resources for intervention and assistance to parties in high-conflict cases. Thus, the hope is that such parties will not be forced to resort to formal court proceedings to resolve every single dispute or disagreement that arises. H.B. 1171 is structured in such a way as to provide three levels of intervention in a high-conflict case, from the lowest level of intervention to the highest. This allows an individualized approach to each case. This article discusses the roles and qualifications of parenting coordinators, decision-makers, and CRS § 14-10-128.5 arbitrators. It also provides a brief overview of parenting coordination legislation in other states."