Penelope Hefner

Posted by Penelope L. Hefner

“Strike three – you’re out!” “Flag on the play!” “Flagrant foul!”

Think about watching your favorite sporting event without an umpire or referee. What would that game be like? Would the participants follow the rules? Would everyone truly be on their best behavior? Or would friendly competitions descend into chaos? Would people get hurt?

Now think about an arena with very different combatants: the divorce process – more specifically, a high-conflict case in the divorce process. Who is calling the balls and strikes? The judge, although well intentioned, simply cannot serve as a referee for every case on the docket. The judicial process would come to a screeching halt if a judge were interrupted hundreds of times per day to be asked to make a call on “the little things,” which actually mean a great deal to the people involved.

Meet your new referee

Enter the referee – a parenting coordinator. The parenting coordinator’s role is clearly defined in statute NCGS 50-91, which outlines that the court retains exclusive jurisdiction to determine fundamental issues of custody, visitation and support – the long-term outcome of the game. It’s a parenting coordinator’s role to help referee, essentially to assist the parties in resolving and deciding issues.

This can include anything from helping to settle arguments about a child’s extracurricular activities to establishing positive communication about recurring, problematic issues such as lateness to meetings or child exchanges etc.

An example of an issue that is perfect for parenting coordinator intervention is food. Let’s say parents are having a dispute about what the child is eating. One parent believes in a strict diet of fruits and vegetables with no wiggle room for any foods deemed to be unhealthy. The other parent has no issue with (and, in fact, often purchases) treats, snacks and so forth for the child. The first parent is terrified of what the child may be eating when she is with the other parent. Meanwhile, the other parent is frustrated by the first parent’s desire to control the child’s diet.

Without a parenting coordinator in place, such a seemingly innocuous issue is ripe for parents to bicker back and forth, involve the child, and run up attorney fees by sending repeated letters and filing motions. The consequences of this route are both significant to the child and costly to the parents’ wallets.

A parenting coordinator can help the parents come to a compromise. That might be a food journal, where the parents communicate about what the child ate while in his or her care. It might be a menu that the parents agree upon in advance each week. The parenting coordinator’s role is to arrive at a mutually agreeable solution and then monitor how progress is going.

We’re here to serve you

When given enough time and trust, the parenting coordinator can help both parents meet their needs while, most importantly, serving the needs of the child.

There are approximately 30 licensed parenting coordinators who serve Mecklenburg, Union and surrounding counties and four of them can be found at Sodoma Law and Sodoma Law Union. It’s an important credential that requires additional continuing legal education and certification. I was driven to become a parenting coordinator after witnessing the impact high-conflict divorce cases had on children. I have seen firsthand how parenting coordinators can make a significant difference for families throughout the divorce process.

The most prevailing reason I chose to pursue a legal career in family law was my passion for serving as an advocate for clients and, even more so, their children. In pursuit of that, I also serve as a guardian ad litem representing children’s rights. I have found that parenting coordinators have an amazing ability to help situations improve for the entire family in a very real way.

So if you suddenly find yourself in the proverbial sports arena of divorce without a referee, you may want to consider calling in a licensed parenting coordinator before you play the game. We’re always happy to help.

Contact our parenting coordinators to get started.