By: Sarah T. McCain
In cases involving child custody, especially those of a high conflict nature, you may hear the term “PCDM” mentioned as you near the end of litigation or settlement communications. It is often the recommendations of a Child and Family Investigator or Parental Responsibilities Evaluation that open discussions regarding whether to appoint a PCDM to a case. However, you must first know what a PCDM is before you can assess whether one would be beneficial to you and to your family before making this commitment.
A PCDM is a parenting coordinator/decision maker. You can appoint one person to fill this role and, once appointed, they may remain in this position for a period of up to two years, though their appointment can be terminated earlier by agreement of the parties or order of the court. Appointments generally begin following the conclusion of a case and once court orders concerning parenting time and parental responsibilities have been entered. The role of the PC/DM is actually two different roles and a person can be appointed to do either, or, or both. Parenting Coordinators and Decision Makers have different rules, functions, and consequences (for the parties).
Firstly, a parenting coordinator can be appointed by agreement of the parties or upon the order of the court, contrary to the wishes of one or both parties. In appointing a PC, the court should make a finding that the parties are struggling in operating under their parenting plan and mediation has not been successful before, suggesting the need for involvement of a third person to help resolves issues. For example, a parenting coordinator may be helpful with two parents who are attempting to coordinate an out of state parenting time agreement or a parenting time plan that requires a significant amount of flexibility. A parenting coordinator is tasked with assisting the parties to reach a resolution. This individual can assist with finding resources to assist the parties, developing guidelines for communications, or even identifying causes of conflict. There are limits as to what a parenting coordinator can do when they placed in this role. For instance, while a parenting coordinator can provide suggestions, a parenting coordinator cannot make the decision for you. A qualified parenting coordinator should be able to determine when they can be of assistance to parties, but this individual should also be able to determine when the matter is too high conflict to be persuaded by the suggestions of a parenting coordinator.
This is where a decision maker (DM) may be a better option. A decision maker cannot be appointed forcibly orders by the court, but rather can only be appointed by agreement of the parties. A DM may be extremely beneficial in cases where every issue, no matter how small, is a high conflict affair. The duration for a DM appointment is the same as for a parental coordinator and can be extended for a variety of reasons beyond the two years, if necessary. The biggest difference between the parenting coordinator and a decision maker is the fact that a decision maker can make a binding decision concerning the issues presented to them. In essence, the decision maker serves as a private judge, making decisions within the scope of the authority granted to them by the parties’ stipulation. The DM can address issues such as parenting time, parental decisions, and even child support, depending on what authority the parties have conferred. A DM’s decisions are binding and are filed with the court, to become orders. Along with this authority to make decisions come certain requirements to even get started. For example, the decision maker needs to outline their procedures and receive the written agreement of the parties, as to those procedures, prior to commencement. Every DM has their own procedures and knowing how they typically operate is essential to moving forward. For example, some decision makers take a more informal approach. They may collect data via email correspondence and make a decision off of a review of those emails. The more informal approach might apply when smaller issues are being contested. They may also complete their process by meeting with the parties directly, to hear their arguments and receive their evidence before making a decision. With some DM’s or issues, the process can also be incredibly formal and more like a court hearing , where witnesses are called and exhibits are provided.
When pondering whether to engage a PC, a DM, or a PCDM, the issue of cost should be discussed with your attorney. If some instances, attorney involvement may be minimal and money may be saved in lieu of going through full blown litigation with the court. Conversely, when the DM process becomes formal and more like a hearing, the cost can be every bit as much as going to a court hearing, with the difference being that the DM is also getting paid by the parties, while a judge in a courtroom is not. Your child custody attorney can help you understand your options and which route best suits your situation before entering into an agreement for a PCDM. Speaking with a qualified attorney about your options is truly the first step when post decree conflict becomes too much.