Written by attorney Brian Jay Smith

Parenting Coordinators in Arizona

Your former spouse always drops the kids off late and picks them up early. During your last telephone conversation, your ex-spouse announced from out of nowhere that he or she was going to take the kids for three weeks during the middle of summer and you already had plans. So, you go to court - AGAIN.

You’re in family court for the tenth time in two years because your ex-spouse will not abide by the orders of the court regarding your parenting time. From out of nowhere, the judge appoints a parenting coordinator and orders both of you to meet with this person and won’t allow you to go back to court regarding child custody until you do. The judge says something about a rule, but you don’t catch it. What is this parenting coordinator all about?

What is a Parenting Coordinator?

A parenting coordinator is appointed by the court to assist parents in resolving disputes about parenting their children and to make recommendations to the court for orders if the parents are unable to reach a resolution.

According to Rule 74 of the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure, “a parenting coordinator may be an attorney who is licensed to practice law in Arizona; a psychiatrist who is licensed to practice medicine or osteopathy in Arizona; a psychologist who is licensed to practice psychology in Arizona; a person who is licensed by the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners as a social worker, professional counselor, marriage and family therapist, or substance abuse counselor; any other Arizona licensed or certified professional with education, experience, and special expertise regarding the particular issues referred; or professional staff of conciliation services."

Rule 74 of the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure

Rule 74 of the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure is the rule that allows the judge to appoint a parenting coordinator. Any time there is a proceeding in your case regarding child custody, the judge can, on his or her own motion, appoint a parenting coordinator if he or she finds any of the following factors:

  1. The parents are persistently in conflict with one another;
  2. There is a history of substance abuse by either parent or family violence;
  3. There are serious concerns about the mental health or behavior of either parent;
  4. A child has special needs; or
  5. It would otherwise be in the children's best interests to do so.

The judge will often give the parents a couple of weeks to choose a parenting coordinator or, if they cannot agree, the judge will appoint one. During the hearing, the judge will also say how long this person will be the parenting coordinator. The standard term is one year, but it could be longer or shorter, so it is important to closely read the minute entry from the hearing.

You Don’t Want a Parenting Coordinator – What Do You Do?

Rule 74 of the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure also tell you how a parenting coordinator can be removed.

You can’t just remove the parenting coordinator on your own – the judge must do it. The parenting coordinator could resign, but that is unlikely, as you will be paying him or her for their services. You can lodge a complaint about the parenting coordinator, and if the complaint is not resolved, then you can file a motion to remove the parenting coordinator. Finally, the judge could find that the services of the parenting coordinator are no longer needed and terminate him or her. Absent any of these circumstances, you have to live with your parenting coordinator. It is important to lodge any complaints that you have with the parenting coordinator and the opposing party or their attorney as soon as you have them, otherwise, the issue will never be addressed. One such complaint might be your inability to pay the parenting coordinator’s retainer and hourly fee.

Some times, though, a parenting coordinator is not a bad idea.

What is a Parenting Coordinator Good For?

The five factors outlined in Rule 74 are what led to the appointment of the parenting coordinator in the first place. Most likely, the reason is the first one – persistent conflicts. Where you spend more time bickering with your former spouse about parenting your child, a parenting coordinator is a good idea. A parenting coordinator tends to diminish the number of times that you have to go to court to resolve your disputes. It is also useful where there are allegations of substance abuse. Ultimately, the parenting coordinator will strive to do what is in the best interest of the child.

It is important to note what a parenting coordinator cannot do. According to Rule 74(E), “the parenting coordinator shall not have the authority to make a recommendation affecting child support, a change of custody, or a substantial change in parenting time."

Well, What If I Don’t Like a Recommendation of the Parenting Coordinator?

Rule 74(I) allows you to object to the recommendations of the parenting coordinator. If you do object, you must clearly state in writing the objection to the recommendation, the basis for the objection, a proposed solution, and whether a hearing is requested. You must submit these objections to the clerk, the judge and the opposing party or their attorney.

Rule 74(J) only gives you ten days to make such an objection and request a hearing with the judge. Failure to raise a timely objection may result in the court adopting the parenting coordinator’s recommendations and issuing binding orders on both parties.

In the event that the recommendation that the parenting coordinator make is regarding a time-sensitive issue, the parenting coordinator can make a binding temporary decision. This decision is not a precedent for future decisions and after such decisions are made and entered in court, the parenting coordinator must submit his normal reports no later than five days after an oral determination.

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