The Illinois Supreme Court has adopted a new rule that establishes guidelines for the state’s courts to use “parenting coordinators” to resolve minor issues that are causing conflict in family law cases. The rule went into effect immediately, on May 24, 2023.
Rule 909 provides a framework that allows each judicial circuit, if it chooses, to adopt local rules “for the conduct of parenting coordination” that are consistent with Rule 909. This includes “specialized parenting coordination protocols, screening, procedures, and training in cases involving intimate partner violence.”
The new rule was initially proposed by the Illinois State Bar Association and approved unanimously by the Supreme Court Rules Committee, the Court said.
Chief Justice Mary Jane Theis noted in the press release that the “rule will improve the lives of children whose parents are going through a divorce.”
What is a parenting coordinator?
Rule 909 defines parenting coordination as a “child-focused alternative dispute resolution process conducted by a licensed mental health or family law professional, which combines assessment, education, case management, conflict management, dispute resolution, and decision-making functions.”
Parenting coordinators assist co-parents who struggle to cooperate in making parenting decisions communicate effectively on issues involving their children and implement and comply with parenting orders and agreements.
The goal is to shield children from the impact of parental conflict and help sustain healthy parent-child relationships, Rule 909 says.
How do they interact with the court?
Parenting coordinators are appointed by the court and do not replace judges.
“Judges still retain exclusive jurisdiction to adjudicate custody orders,” said Stephanie L. Tang, Chair of the ISBA’s Family Law Section Council. “The role of parenting coordinators is generally to make written recommendations to parents and parents have the right to file a motion in court to review those recommendations.”
Tang noted that “to add a bit more ‘teeth’ to these recommendations,” Rule 909 provides that if the parent seeks review of the recommendations and the court “substantially affirms” them, the court may order the parent who sought the review to pay the reasonable attorney’s fees of the other parent.
Importantly, communications with parenting coordinators, unlike mediators, are generally not confidential, Tang said, and immunity of parenting coordinators will be governed by 750 ILCS 5/506.
What actions should Illinois lawyers take?
Many judicial circuits already have parenting coordinator programs in place including Cook County, which adopted Local Court Rule 13.10 setting forth procedures for appointment, qualification, confidentiality, and duties of parenting coordinators, Tang said. She recommends that Illinois lawyers check to see if they practice in a county that has already adopted rules.
If they haven’t, Tang noted that lawyers should proactively work with their local courts to shape their program’s procedures and requirements. For example, in Cook County, parenting coordinators must meet the same qualifications as a mediator.
“As there is no Supreme Court-approved form for the appointment of parenting coordinators, attorneys should make sure their appointment orders set forth parameters for parenting coordinators, including but not limited to, their relevant duties and scope of appointment, authority and any limitations thereto, and allocation of fees,” Tang said.
And she recommends that Illinois attorneys review forms and cases from states that have parenting coordination programs in place, like Arizona, Florida, Missouri, New York, and North Carolina.
How will this impact children in Illinois?
“The rule will be of immeasurable assistance to our trial courts in dealing with high-conflict divorces and mitigating the effect of endless litigation on children,” said past ISBA President Rory Weiler in the press release.
Tang agrees, saying that the parenting coordinator program can assist in resolving daily conflicts without resorting to court intervention and promote normalcy in the daily interactions and routines of the children who are impacted.
“Oftentimes in high-conflict cases, parents constantly put their children in the middle of their conflicts, even after a final custody order is entered,” she said. “Studies have found this level of conflict frequently leads to psychological problems that interfere with parenting and exposes children to repeated intense conflicts detrimental to their mental health.”
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