APA Guidelines for Parenting Coordination for High Conflict Separated Divorced Parents

By Anita M. Schimizzi, Ph.D.

While splitting from a mate is rarely easy, it can be hugely difficult for couples that have children together. In this situation, it is most likely that you will still remain in one another’s life for a very long time in order to co-parent your children. For most couples, the stress and conflict of divorce gradually subsides to reasonable levels over the first few years. For others, however, the conflict rages on and oftentimes it is the children who suffer the most.

Research suggests that divorce in and of itself is not destructive to children, but rather it is ongoing parent conflict that takes the lead in negative child outcomes. For high conflict parents, those that cannot seem to work cooperatively and respectfully on behalf of their children, who drag out parenting decisions, spend inordinate amounts of time in litigation, and/or do not follow through with parenting agreements even when court ordered, there is a service worth considering. In fact, it will oftentimes be court ordered when the abovementioned get too severe. That service is parenting coordination.

Parenting coordination is intended to provide support, guidance, education, and sometimes decision-making for separated and divorced parents that are in long-term high conflict. In quick sum, it is put in place to help parents carry out their parenting agreement. The service is typically provided by an attorney or mental health professional who has completed intensive training in the area of parenting coordination. This person is called a parenting coordinator or PC.

While PCs have been practicing for years, there has been a lot of variation in the way that they practice due to a lack of universal guidelines. The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) is a major contributor to the formal development of parenting coordination services and released a set of guidelines developed in 2005. The American Psychological Association has now taken on the task of developing PC guidelines specific to psychologists that operate as PCs and they have published those in this month’s American Psychologist.

While the guidelines are designed for psychologists, they can be applied to PCs with other professional backgrounds as well. I write about these guidelines not just for the sake of PCs, but for those parents who work with PCs. My intention is to give parents a clearer picture of what goes into the process of parenting coordination as PCs attempt to move parents from entrenched conflict to cooperative, productive parenting.

The guidelines cover several key areas. They are not mandated. Rather, the guidelines are to be used as a framework for how a PC operates.

  1. PCs are expected to understand and appreciate how extremely complex this role is.
  2. They are to receive ongoing training to keep up with the psychological and legal knowledge needed for the role.
  3. They are to practice only if they have competencies in the many skills and areas of knowledge (such as cultural awareness and domestic violence) required for parenting coordination.
  4. PCs are to work to ensure family safety and recognize when that safety is at risk.
  5. PCs are to adhere to APA’s ethical guidelines and seek guidance when needed to address issues related to diversity.
  6. PCs must maintain clear, complete, and timely record keeping.
  7. PC work and billing are to be done in a responsible and timely manner.
  8. PCs are to work collaboratively with other professionals involved in a case.

To read the full guidelines online, go here.

I’ve been exposed to PC work enough to know that many parents in the situation of having to have a PC are resentful of the presence of this person, feel as if their hands are tied and their parenting powers stripped. It is my wish that these guidelines can shed light on the true complexities and intentions behind the process and, hopefully, parents can work with their PC in a collaborative manner to move forward both for the sake of their children and of themselves. In other words, I hope that you can make your PC obsolete. Thanks for reading. –Anita

AFCC Task Force on Parenting Coordination (2006). Guidelines for Parenting Coordination. Family Court Review, 44 (1), 164-181 DOI: 10.1111/j.1744-1617.2006.00074.x

American Psychological Association (2012). Guidelines for the practice of parenting coordination. American Psychologist, 67 (1), 63-71 DOI: 10.1037/a0024646