The Role of a Parent Coordinator: What to consider when co-parenting with a narcissist

What is a parent coordinator?

In the US, the Association of Family and Conciliatory Courts (AFCC) published a document called the “Guidelines for Parent Coordination“.  This is as near as I can find to being a centralized body that defines parent coordination.  There are several states who utilize parent coordination as a standard in their family courts.  I do not live in one which does, although I have experience in dealing with a parent coordinator myself (a negative experience) which I elected to do when I was naive enough that I thought it would help.

Let’s examine the definition that the AFCC provides:

‘Parenting coordination is a child-focused alternative dispute resolution process in
which a mental health or legal professional with mediation training and experience
assists high conflict parents to implement their parenting plan by facilitating the
resolution of their disputes in a timely manner, educating parents about children’s
needs, and with prior approval of the parties and/or the court, making decisions within
the scope of the court order or appointment contract.
The overall objective of parenting coordination is to assist high conflict parents to
implement their parenting plan, to monitor compliance with the details of the plan, to
resolve conflicts regarding their children and the parenting plan in a timely manner, and
to protect and sustain safe, healthy and meaningful parent-child relationships.
Parenting coordination is a quasi-legal, mental health, alternative dispute resolution
(ADR) process that combines assessment, education, case management, conflict
management and sometimes decision-making functions.’

Now, to my knowledge… this definition and document is where anything resembling “governing” the professional body of “parent coordination” ends.  There is, again-to my knowledge, not a group that exists in the US which oversees parent coordinators to make sure that they are effectively fulfilling their role.   The only thing that I can think of is to file a complaint with the state board of psychology should there be any dispute with the performance of the parent coordinator.  Also worthy of noting is that of the many that I have spoken to… there are very few who are able to point to this document (or any document) to effectively define what they are doing when “parent coordinating”.

Are they effective?  Well,  I have issues to begin with in the definition.  It states “high conflict”, which I feel is a bit of misnomer and misguided when speaking of a personality disordered or narcissistic or abusive individual.  Yes, sometimes there are relatively psychologically healthy individuals who enjoy conflict and won’t let go… and likewise, personality disordered and narcissist and abusive people are by default “high-conflict”, but the net of it is that I feel like the term leads people to not recognize the extent of the issues that exist when trying to parent with a narcissist.

To answer the question of whether they are effective… I think that they should be in theory, but from the limited perspective that I have, they are unable to truly be effective given the cards that they are dealt.  It also means that you, as a co-parent to a narcissist, are taking the risk that this one person is able to effectively understand your situation and accurately make decisions based on what you and your children as individuals need.

That’s a lofty task, isn’t it?  It’s as lofty as asking a judge in family court to make all the right decisions given the limited amount of information that they are provided in a short amount of time, and without taking into account any of their own personal experiences or biases!

Questions to ask a parent coordinator if interviewing them:

How long have you been doing this?

What guidelines do you have on how to conduct this work?

What is the extent of your authority to make decisions about what our children need?

What do I need to do to terminate the your role as parent coordinator  if I feel it’s not working?  If my ex does?

Do you require us to meet in person? by phone?  together? individually? as a family?

Do you do child guidance?  If not you – then who?  How often to you get input from the child therapist, if there is one?

What authority do you have to speak to either of the parent’s therapists? The children’s therapists?

Do you conduct any psychological testing, or refer the either or both of the parents to receive testing if necessary?

How do you resolve disputes?

Do you handle”high-conflict” cases?  How do you deal with someone who is aggressive?  How do you deal with a parent who refuses to participate or comply with recommendations?

Have you worked with cases in the past where one or both of the parents have a personality disorder?  How do you manage that?

What do you recommend in cases where one or both of the parents have a personality disorder?  Do you have any general recommendations for parenting schedules in these cases?  Any general recommendations on clauses or items which should be included in the parenting plan when this is the case?

What guidelines do you have for yourself if you don’t want to move forward with the family and want to terminate being the parent coordinator?

What guidelines do you have on when we should or should not contact you?

Do you write up or provide a treatment plan?

Do you keep track of the decisions and recommendations made for the family?

Note: You would want to make sure the parenting coordinator has a strong personality to deal with your ex and is excellent with managing boundaries.  This means that they will also keep strong boundaries with you as well, so expect that.  They need to have experience in personality disorders – recognizing and dealing with them.

(as you can see, the list can be exhaustive – but can quickly get a flavor for the person’s ability to manage the situation strongly)

Risks of having a co-parenting coordinator or parent coordinator:

1. Face it…each of us comes into what we do with our own personal experience and biases and personalities.  So do the parent coordinators.  That in itself is a risk… they may or may not mesh with you or your ex.  They may or may not be forthcoming in their basic philosophies and beliefs.

2. You may be stuck using one for a long time, depending on the “out” clause you accept (or if you even have a chance to decide, as it may be court assigned).

3. They may not be on your side, or they may be fooled by your ex.

4. They might believe in parental alienation as being a “real” disorder.

5.  You need to have a parent coordinator that will be consistent and have high moral standards for doing what is best for the kids – both with you, your ex and with the court.

6.  The parent coordinator needs to be a strong witness if called to testify in a court hearing.  Note- parent coordinators and other mental health professionals charge the individual who subpoena’s them to court.  They usually have a set charge for spending the day or any amount of time in court.  Weigh whether this fee is worth if for you and have your attorney make sure that they have a good grasp on what the parent coordinator will testify.

Conclusion:  It would be great if there was an easy answer to dealing with personality disordered individuals.  So far, the knowledge of recognizing them, understanding them and their issues on their children is not broad enough.  Parent coordinators, despite their potential mental health training, are generally not any better equipped, and there is no good mechanism to evaluate them.  As much as it would be great to have a parent coordinator be that middle-person to help advocate for the children – don’t count on it.  Look within on how to deal with the situation and follow your instincts.


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