With summer approaching, many families are finding themselves back in a repeating cycle of seasonal disagreements. Trying to schedule vacations, sign kids up for camps, activities, and sports, and plan for the upcoming academic year is stressful enough without adding complicated co-parenting dynamics. You know fighting with your ex about these things isn’t good for your child, but by the time you get in front of a judge, that soccer camp your daughter wanted to attend will have long since passed. If this sounds like your family, you may want to consider a PC/DM.
What is a PC/DM?
PC/DM stands for “Parenting Coordinator and Decision-Maker,” which is actually two separate roles, governed by different rules. It is possible to have someone appointed as just a Parenting Coordinator, just a Decision-Maker, or both. They are neutral third parties, usually lawyers or mental health providers, who have received special training and are appointed by the court to help parents resolve conflicts and limit litigation. Their authority is provided for under C.R.S. 14-10-128.1 and C.R.S. 14-10-128.3 respectively, and they are governed by special ethical standards. Appointment of a PC/DM can occur any time after the entry of an order for allocation of parental responsibilities.
A Parenting Coordinator can be appointed by agreement of the parties, at one party’s request, or on the court’s own initiative. Unless the parties agree to the appointment, the judge cannot appoint a PC unless they find that the parties have failed to adequately implement their parenting plan and that mediation is inappropriate or has proven unsuccessful. The court will also consider documented evidence of domestic violence and its effect on the parties’ ability to engage in parenting coordination before making the decision to appoint a PC. A parenting coordinator’s court appointment to your case expires after two years, unless you agree to continue the appointment.
Parenting coordinator duties may include:
- Assisting the parties in creating agreed-upon structured guidelines for implementing their parenting plan;
- Developing guidelines for communication between the parties;
- Suggesting resources for the parties to learn communication skills;
- Informing the parties of resources for developing improved parenting skills;
- Assisting the parties in identifying sources and causes of conflict between them; and/or
- Assisting the parties in developing parenting strategies to minimize conflict.
Decision-makers can only be appointed with the written consent of both parties. This written agreement should set out the scope of the decision-maker’s duties and authority. By statute, decision-makers have binding authority to resolve disputes between parties regarding the implementation or clarification of existing orders regarding the parties’ children, including:
- Disputes concerning parenting time;
- Specific disputed parental decisions;
- Child support.
A decision-maker’s implementation or clarification of the pre-existing Court order must be consistent with the substantive intent of the court’s order. However, a decision-maker can make binding decisions that change the substantive rights of the parties or modify the substantive order that already exists, if the parties explicitly provide for this in their agreement. The decision-maker’s procedures for making decisions must be in writing and approved by both parties. This ensures that the parties understand how decisions are going to be made.
Benefits of a PC/DM
There are many benefits in having a PC/DM. First, a PC/DM is a specialized professional. Rather than appearing on a complicated co-parenting issue in front of a judge who may have never handled a family law matter before in their career, you and your co-parent will select a family law expert to act as your PC/DM. This means that you have someone who knows and cares about issues like yours making decisions in your case.
A PC/DM is able to address issues more quickly than a court. Instead of filing motions with the court and preparing for a trial that may take months to schedule, you communicate directly with the PC/DM about the issue that you and your co-parent are having with one another. As such, you are able to obtain a speedy resolution for minor disputes, allowing you and your children to move forward with summer plans, instead of being delayed with court proceedings. Having a PC/DM resolve your matter is far less costly than preparing for litigation.
Risks of a PC/DM
While there are many benefits in having a PC/DM, there is also risk involved. The parties are responsible for paying the PC/DM an hourly rate. While the state will never be responsible for these fees, the parties can agree to split the fees in whatever way they like, or the court can enter its own order regarding the share of fees. There is also the risk that a DM will make decisions you do not like. You have the right to ask the judge to overturn a DM’s order, but if you lose, you could have to pay the other side’s attorney fees. And while giving someone else the power to make decisions for your family may be uncomfortable, this is also the role of a judge.
It is important that any agreement regarding the appointment of a PC/DM specifically details the duties and scope of their authority. A PC/DM is only as good as the agreement that empowers them. The attorneys at GEM Family Law can assist you in selecting the right PC/DM and creating an agreement that fits the needs of your family.
Authored by: Attorney Louisa Schlieben and J.D. Candidate Meghan Johnson