In the case of A.H. v. C.M., 2012 Pa. Super 277 (2012), the Pennsylvania Superior Court was faced with the issue of whether the court’s denial of a Mother’s request for a de novohearing after challenging a decision of the parties’ Parenting Coordinator was an error of law. The court ultimately determined that it was in fact an error to not grant Mother a de novo hearing to review the decision of the parties’ Parenting Coordinator. Although a procedural decision, the Superior Court discussed the role of a Parenting Coordinator in Pennsylvania custody cases. Within the past five years, the concept of Parenting Coordinators has become more widespread in PA family law cases.
In the A.H. v. C.M. case, the parties had a parenting coordinator order which was entered with the court as part of their custody order. This order stated that the decision(s) of the parenting coordinator are subject to review by a court hearing. Specifically, if one of the parents objects to the decision made by the parenting coordinator, that parent must file a motion for review within twenty days of the written decision by the Parenting Coordinator.
The trial court here denied the Mother’s request for review of the Parenting Coordinator’s decision without holding a de novo hearing. The Superior Court, in its opinion on this matter, stated that in family law custody cases, “the discretion that a trial court employs in custody matters should be accorded the utmost respect, given the special nature of the proceeding and the lasting impact the result will have on the lives of the parties concerned.” Ketterer v. Seifert, 902 A.2d 533, 540 (Pa. Super. 2006)(quoting Jackson v. Beck, 858 A.2d 1250, 1254 (Pa. Super. 2004)). More specifically, the court stated that a printed record in the hands of an appellate court judge in a custody matter cannot substitute for the face-to-face and actual interactions between a trial court judge and the parties involved. However, the Superior Court ultimately determined here that Mother should have been granted a de novo hearing in order to review the decision of the Parenting Coordinator. The Superior Court discussed that this de novo hearing was permitted in accordance with Mother’s due process rights.
What Exactly Is a Parenting Coordinator?
The Superior Court in A.H. v. C.M. discussed the role of a Parenting Coordinator in a Pennsylvania child custody case. Parenting coordination is child-focused, and the role of a parenting coordinator is to inform parents about the needs of their children and to assist parents in complying with custody orders. Furthermore, parenting coordinators can assist in implementing parenting plans, with the goal of making sure that children are not directly faced with parental conflicts in their lives.
For more information on parenting coordination, visit http://www.afccnet.org/