A number of recent appellate decisions in Massachusetts have addressed the boundaries of what Probate and Family Court trial judges have the power to do. Agreements reached between the parties, however, can include provisions that the judges don't otherwise have the authority to order. In this four part blog series we will explore some of the important areas that an Agreement can address but the trial court is limited in addressing. These are just some of the most recent examples, and not intended to be an exhaustive list of all the ways that Agreements are better than letting a Judge decide your fate.
Part 4: Parent Coordinator: Do you want help resolving parenting disputes without returning to court?
In Part 1, we discussed how the Appeals Court in Ventrice overturned a lower court's order that required parties to engage in out-of-court mediation prior to filing any further action in the Probate and Family Court. While Parent Coordination is different than mediation, the appellate courts have essentially ruled that the court's powers related to ordering participation in either of those types of out-of-court service is limited. In the case of Bower v. Bournay-Bower, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that Judges in the Probate and Family Court cannot grant a Parent Coordinator binding authority over the objection of one of the parties.
While disallowing the appointment in that specific case, the SJC went much further then necessary in order to open the door for what might be the "appropriate circumstances" to order a Parent Coordinator. In addition, the door is still left open for parties to agree to a Parent Coordinator and to define the terms of that coordinator's role to best fit their case.
This type of agreement is often recommended by attorneys in high conflict cases as a potential solution to avoid multiple court hearings. A parent coordinator can be cheaper than going back to court again and again, and more effective because they not only assist with the immediate problem but help parents learn how to communicate with each other. If successful, the parents will no longer need the assistance of the court or eventually even the parent coordinator to help them co-parent effectively.
A theme of this four part series, has been the advantages that parties can obtain when reaching agreements outside of court. Often these advantages relate to the necessity or likelihood of future court appearances and avoiding the self-feeding monster of litigation. If you've found this four part series helpful, you may also be interested in one of our previous posts that addresses more specifically the processes that you can employ to reach agreements without going to Court.