Guidelines for the Practice of Parenting Coordination

American Psychological Association

These guidelines are designed to address the developing area of practice known as parenting coordination. In response to the recognition by family courts and substantial evidence in the empirical and clinical literature that divorce does not end patterns of high parental conflict for some families (Garrity & Baris, 1994; Hetherington, 1999; Johnston, 1994; Maccoby & Mnookin, 1992; Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980), parenting coordination interventions began to be developed more than two decades ago. In the past decade, parenting coordination work has expanded across states and jurisdictions (Kirkland, 2008; Kirkland & Sullivan, 2008).

The course of the divorce process is commonly one of heightened anger and conflict, anxiety, diminished communication, and sadness or depression for one or both partners. These negative emotions are often accelerated by the separation and the adversarial nature of the divorce process. Although the majority of parents significantly diminish their anger and conflict in the first two to three years following divorce, between 8% and 15% continue to engage in conflict in the years following divorce, with little reduction in intensity of their feelings (Deutsch & Pruett, 2009; Hetherington, 1999; Hetherington & Kelly, 2002; Johnston, Roseby, & Kuehnle, 2009; Kelly, 2000, 2003; Maccoby & Mnookin, 1992; Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980).

Generally, this relatively small group of parents is not able to settle their child-related disputes in custody mediation, through lawyer-assisted negotiations, or on their own. They turn to litigation in the years following separation and divorce to settle these disputes and utilize disproportionate resources and time of the courts. They are more likely to have significant psychological problems, which may interfere with their parenting, and they more often expose their children to intense conflict and intimate partner violence, also commonly referred to as domestic violence (Johnston et al., 2009). As the negative impacts of continued high conflict on children became well established in the empirical and clinical literature (Clarke-Stewart & Brentano, 2006; Deutsch & Pruett, 2009; Emery, 1999; Grych, 2005; Hetherington, 1999; Johnston et al., 2009), family court judges, divorce intervention researchers, and psychologists practicing in the divorce and family area explored alternative interventions that would diminish the use of the adversarial process to resolve child-related disputes and deal effectively with these parents to reduce the conflict to which children were exposed (e.g., Cookston, Braver, Griffin, deLuse ́, & Miles, 2007; Cowan, Cowan, Pruett, & Pruett, 2007; Emery, Kitzman, & Waldron, 1999; Henry, Fieldstone, & Bohac, 2009; Johnston, 2000; Kelly, 2002, 2004; Pruett & Barker, 2009; Pruett & Johnston, 2004; Sandler, Miles, Cookston, & Braver, 2008; Wolchik, Sandler, Winslow, & Smith-Daniels, 2005).

Parenting coordination began gaining recognition in the 1990s as a result of presentations and trainings first offered at conferences, such as those of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC), and by experienced parenting coordinators (PCs). Initially, there were variations in role, source and degree of authority, and practice in different jurisdictions, and different titles were used to describe this innovative intervention model, including special masters, coparenting facilitators, or mediator/arbitrators. In 2003, AFCC appointed an interdisciplinary task force to develop guidelines for parenting coordination to guide mental health professionals, mediators, and lawyers with respect to training, practice, and ethics (AFCC Task Force on Parenting Coordination, 2006).

The complex and hybrid parenting coordination model continues to be refined in professional deliberations about the role, emerging statutes and case law, and court and local rules and regulations governing parenting coordination practice at the local jurisdictional level. These American Psychological Association (APA) “Guidelines for the Practice of Parenting Coordination” are intended to provide a specific framework and direction for psychologists for professional conduct and decision making in the practice of parenting coordination. Although designed for psychologists, many aspects of these guidelines may be relevant to other professionals as well.

The literature reviewed in drafting these guidelines was selected by the members of the APA Task Force for the Development of Parenting Coordination Guidelines to include the most seminal, relevant, and recent publications


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