Effective May 24, 2023, the Illinois Supreme Court adopted Rule 909 which provides procedures, definitions and rules for the appointment of Parenting Coordinators. Here’s what you need to know.
Under Illinois law, a parenting coordinator is a qualified third party who is appointed by the judge to address and resolve parenting conflicts on an out-of-court basis. The idea is to create a mechanism for the resolution of parenting disputes in high-conflict cases more quickly and inexpensively than going through the court system. Specifically, they are required to make recommendations within 14 days, and the cost is typically split between the parties by court order, though the court can may one party responsible for the entire cost. One way to think of a parenting coordinator is as a referee to address parenting disputes on an expedited basis.
What is parenting coordination? Supreme Court Rule 909 defines the term as:
- a child-focused alternative dispute resolution process
- conducted by either a licensed mental health or a family law professional
- which combines assessment, education, case management, conflict management, dispute resolution, and decision-making functions.
Which licensed mental health or family law professionals are qualified to be parenting coordinators? Each circuit court is allowed to decide that issue for itself. However, the Supreme Court suggested that the minimum qualifications should include:
- a juris doctor (i.e., law degree) or a master’s degree in social work, psychology, or counseling or higher, or an equivalent degree in a related field;
- at least five years of experience in law, mental health, or a related field;
- completion of an approved course on domestic violence; and
- attendance at least four hours per year of continuing education programs, which shall address, at a minimum, psychological issues, the needs of children in cases of family separation, and family dynamics.
While all of this is very new at the state level, Cook County has been using parenting coordinators for several years, and has its own set of rules. Cook County’s rules regarding qualifications are similar to the ones set forth by the Supreme Court, but not exactly the same. In Cook County, the qualifications for a parenting coordinator are set forth in Rule 13.4, which provides that the parenting coordinator must:
- possess a master’s degree in social work, psychology, counseling, or a juris doctorate degree or an equivalent in a related field;
- have at least 5 years’ experience in mediation, mental health or a related field;
- attend a 40-hour approved mediation training course which shall cover conflict resolution and mediation process and techniques; and
- attend continuing education programs as determined by the Director of Family Mediation Services which shall include, at a minimum, psychological issues and needs of children in cases of separation as well as family dynamics.
Who is this for? Supreme Court Rule 909 specifies that parenting coordination is for parents who are unable or unwilling to:
- cooperate in making parenting decisions;
- communicate effectively with regard to issues involving their children;
- implement and comply with parenting agreements and orders; or
- shield their children from the impact of parental conflict
In other words, a parenting coordinator is for parents who simply cannot follow the rules or cannot work together, to the detriment of their children. The parenting coordinator’s job is to:
- assist parents to understand and comply with court orders;
- help parents reduce communicate and collaborate better;
- educate parents about their children’s needs in order to make timely and appropriate decisions; and
- resolve conflicts swiftly in order to reduce the amount of damaging conflict between parents to which children are exposed.
How does one go about getting a court order for parenting coordinator? In Cook County, Rule 13.10 sets forth the rules and procedures for obtaining a parenting coordinator. In Cook County, the court may appoint a parenting coordinator when it finds:
- the parties failed to adequately cooperate and communicate with regard to issues involving the children or have been unable to implement a parenting plan or parenting schedule;
- mediation has not been successful, or has been determined by the judge to be inappropriate; or
- the appointment of a parenting coordinator is in the best interest of the children.
How is a parenting coordinator different from a mediator? Simply put, they are different because the parenting coordinator’s recommendations must be followed. Parents do have the ability to challenge a parenting coordinator’s decision by filing a motion with the court. However, if neither party challenges the decision in court, the decision stands and must be obeyed.
What types of disputes can a parenting coordinator address? The following is a non-exhaustive list of some of the issues a parenting coordinator is authorized to deal with:
- disputes regarding the time, place, and manner for the pickup or drop-off of the children;
- disputes regarding the children’s participation in educational and extracurricular activities, including who pays for the related expenses;
- disputes regarding minor alterations of parenting time to accommodate changes in schedule or availability of the child or a coparent, including make-up time if permitted by prior court order;
- disputes regarding holiday scheduling;
- disputes regarding discipline and problematic behavior issues; and
- disputes regarding health and personal care
In order to accomplish these goals, the parenting coordinator is authorized by law to:
- monitor parental behaviors, including whether they are compliant with court orders;
- mediate disputes upon request of a parent or request of the judge;
- make recommendations for outside resources, such as counseling or therapy;
- make guidelines or rules for communication between the parents;
- document allegations of noncompliance for the court; and
- make recommendations to the court upon proper notice and
Issues that a parenting coordinator may not address. While parenting coordinators do have broad powers, they are not without limits. Supreme Court Rule 909 imposes the following specific limitations on their authority. They may not make recommendations on:
- allocation of parental responsibilities for decision making;
- initial allocation of parenting time;
- any allocation of parenting time beside minor alternations described above;
- establishing visitation by a nonparent (i.e., a grandparent or step-parent);
- child support;
- spousal maintenance; or
- allocation of property or debt in a divorce.
Recommendations. The parenting coordinator is required to provide recommendations in writing to the parents within 14 days of the receipt of all information necessary to make a recommendation. The parents may then submit the recommendations to the court for entry as an agreed order.
Challenges. In order to challenge a parenting coordinator’s recommendations, either parent may file a motion with the court for review. The court will then make a decision, either affirming or rejecting the parenting coordinator’s recommendations. The court also has the authority to make the parent challenging the recommendations pay if the court affirms the recommendations.
Summary. If you find yourself in a high-conflict case involving parenting disputes, courts are increasingly likely to appoint a parenting coordinator to address the issues on an out of court basis. In such cases, it is crucially important that you have an attorney who understands the process, understands what is at stake, and adequately prepares you for what is to come.
For more information, please contact us for a free 30-minute consultation.