By Chief Justice Mary Jane Theis, Illinois Supreme Court
On May 24, the Illinois Supreme Court adopted new Rule 909 to establish a statewide framework for court to utilize parenting coordinators. These individuals can help resolve minor issues causing conflict in family law cases. I invited retired Judge Grace Dickler, former presiding judge of Cook County’s Domestic Relations Division, and Nancy Chausow Shafer from the ISBA Family Law Section Council to tell us more about this important program.
By the Hon. Grace Dickler (ret.) and Nancy Chausow Shafer, ISBA Family Law Section Council
Parenting is a rewarding and challenging journey, and when parents separate or divorce, the challenges can become even more complex. However, a relatively new concept called Parenting Coordination (PC) begun in the 1980’s is providing a powerful solution for families navigating the difficulties of co-parenting. In this article, we will explore the new Illinois Supreme Court Rule 909 implementing the concept of Parenting Coordination, its benefits, and how it supports families in creating healthier and more harmonious environments for their children.
The Illinois Supreme Court recently adopted Supreme Court Rule 909 after it was proposed
by the Illinois State Bar Association. It also follows a similar rule in Cook County establish guidelines for Parenting Coordinators. Rule 909, which establishes ground rules for Parenting Coordination, also invites the Circuit Courts to adopt their own rules establishing Parenting Coordination protocols, screening, procedures, and training in their circuits. This article will answer some common questions: What is Parenting Coordination? How does Parenting Coordination work? Why do we need a new program? How will it help Illinois families?
Parenting Coordination is an out of court process for families to resolve disputes, especially persistent and repeated disputes between parents on minor parenting issues. This process is only used after there already is a temporary or final parenting plan and Allocation of Parental Responsibilities. No matter how carefully drafted, there are always things that come up in life which are not easily resolved by simple application of the language of their document. Rule 909(b) specifically provides: Parenting coordination is for coparents 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. This language in the Rule is adopted from the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) Guidelines for Parenting Coordination, concepts the Supreme Court wisely included in our Rule 909.
Parenting Coordination has a dual purpose both to educate parents to problem solve and resolve disagreements, and to make the decisions when the parents can’t or won’t. The most successful end to a Parenting Coordinator appointment is when the parents no longer need their services to resolve their inevitable disagreements.
Parenting Coordination begins with a court order or written agreement for these services. It is important that the document specifically spell out the Coordinator’s duties, process and scope. Rule 909 provides a road map for the Parenting Coordinator (PC) and the parties for the process. The PC’s work includes four goals:
(1) assisting coparents with clarifying, implementing, and complying with their parenting plan orders;
(2) helping coparents reduce misunderstandings, clarify priorities, explore possibilities for compromise, and develop methods of collaboration in parenting their children;
(3) educating coparents about their children’s needs in order to make timely and appropriate decisions in a manner consistent with the children’s developmental and psychological needs; and
(4) timely resolving conflicts that may arise concerning parenting plans in order to reduce the amount of damaging conflict between coparents to which children are exposed and diminish a pattern of unnecessary relitigation about child-related issues.
The PC has five (5) possible specific duties enumerated in the Rule. The court order or agreement should specify which duties will apply in a specific case:
(1) monitor parental behaviors, including their compliance or lack thereof, with orders entered in their case by the court; (2) mediate, and make recommendations with respect to, disputes between the coparents upon request of a coparent or court order; (3) make recommendations to the coparents for outside resources as needed and/or guidelines or rules for communication between the coparents; (4) document allegations of noncompliance for the court; and (5) make recommendations to the court upon proper notice and petition.
The Parenting Coordinator’s scope of decision making is defined in the Rule. After attempts to educate the parents and assist them in making their own mutually acceptable decisions, if they are unsuccessful the PC may make recommendations for resolution, which will be binding on the parents. The parents may then bring the issue to the Court to challenge the PC’s recommendations if the recommendations are either: (1) in contravention of the child(ren)’s best interests; or (2) outside the scope of the authority granted to the parenting coordinator under this Rule, the applicable local circuit court rule(s), or the court order appointing the parenting coordinator.
Rule 909 was carefully drafted by the Court to avoid issues of unconstitutional delegation of judicial authority, and to promote the best interest of the families, especially their children.
Parenting Coordination has emerged as a powerful and effective tool to support families navigating the challenges of co-parenting after separation or divorce. By promoting cooperative co-parenting, streamlining decision-making, reducing conflict and litigation, strengthening co-parenting skills, and ensuring consistency and stability, PC benefits families and, most importantly, the children involved.
While every family's situation is unique, Parenting Coordination provides a structured framework for parents to address conflicts, make decisions, and work together for the best interests of their children. By investing in Parenting Coordination, families can pave the way for healthier relationships, increased harmony, and brighter futures for their children.