What Does the Parenting Co-Ordinator do?
“Parenting Co-Ordinators” perform various functions during the re-organisation of parenting arrangements and which parenting co-ordinator is used when depends largely on the stage of the separation/divorce process.
Parenting Co-Ordination in Hong Kong is similar to the USA model and recognises that parents with advice are best placed to craft suitable arrangements for their children.
The introduction of Mediation was the first step in helping parents to tailor-make their own separation/divorce; the use of Parenting Co-Ordinator’s is the second. Parenting Co-Ordinators themselves are drawn from two main streams, psychotherapy and legal professionals. It can be seen as a continuum of training and background.
Overseas, those who wish to qualify as a Parenting Co-ordinator require recognised training as a Family Mediator.
The general formulation of what a Parenting Co-Ordinator does, is that it is a non-confidential process where high conflict parents agree in writing that a third party (the “PC”) can help them with recommendations/decisions to resolve matters in line with an existing Agreement/Order. Parenting Co-ordination is neither counselling nor therapy.
The name “Parenting Co-Ordinator” is not the best; much world-wide debate has looked for a better name. Whether or not the role is confidential/non-confidential also varies between jurisdictions and, in Hong Kong, the terms of the Parenting Co-Ordinator’s contract must be clear as to scope of service.
Much confusion comes from the fact that those from a psychotherapy background can perform some or all of the functions of a Parenting Co-Ordinator; yet may be unwilling to perform those functions that relate to non-confidentiality and court involvement. It may assist the reader if we name Parenting Co-Ordination on a Confidential basis as “Parenting Co-Ordination Lite” (“PC Lite”)
PC Lite is extremely helpful. If done early in the separation/divorce process many issues disappear. As children will be living in two households; a PC Lite service can draw up a detailed Parenting Plan. Many such Parenting Plans are attached to Mediated Agreements. The creation of Parenting Plans is an area where those with a psychotherapy background have much to offer as regards Child Development issues; whereas those with a legal background have much to offer in what kind of clause/provision reduces conflict between parents.
If parents are either at: 1) pre-divorce counselling or 2) early in the legal process; or undertaking Collaborative Practice (https://www.hkcpg.com.hk/) or Mediation, then the parents may choose to engage a Parenting Co-Ordinator (“PC1”) to assist. Such assistance would be Confidential; in line with the confidential nature of those processes. PC1’s advice is informative, and educative, it is not a recommendation nor determinative; all choice and decision remains with the parents.
When the parents have decided upon the parenting arrangements, a Consent order will be made. Where, over time, it transpires that there are some unforeseen gaps in the Parenting Arrangements, and the parents are unable to resolve the issue themselves or with mediation, they may go back to PC1 for advice which remains confidential and a parent may choose not to accept. PC1’s advice may not be shown to court.
Before seeking the assistance of the court; one intermediary step is to appoint a Parenting Co-ordinator (“PC2”) to whom the parents give the authority to make a determination on the matter (“PC Proper”). Any determination will be made within the confines and spirit of the Mediation Agreement/Consent Order and be available faster and with less cost than going to court. PC2 may make a recommendation for the parents, and one parent may still refuse to follow and continue onto court; however, as part of the agreed non-confidential process, PC2’s recommendation may be shown to court.
The person who is available as PC, usually has been trained in many roles – Psychotherapist, Family Consultant, Child Interviewer, Child Inclusive Mediator, Child Focused Mediator, Solicitor - and they can only perform one role per family.
It may be that when the family matter gets to court that the Judge recommends the assistance of a Parenting Co-ordinator.
If that PC assistance is to help parents draw up a Parenting Plan, then that is PC Lite. The PC advises; the parents choose, the work is Confidential, the Mediator and Solicitor help facilitate the discussion; and then there is Agreement and a Consent Order.
If that PC assistance is to help the parents implement and comply with the specifics of child arrangements as set out in an Interim/Final Order; then you are into PC Proper – which is Non-Confidential and means that the court may be told about matters it requests, and/or about matters the parents have agreed to be non-confidential.
At times, at the Interim Order stage, some parents request the court for a PC (Proper) as they understand the process to be non-confidential; and they wish to present the PC’s report to the court. However, the PC (Proper) will decline that role, as correct procedure is to wait for assistance to the court to proceed via the Social Welfare Department and joint expert Custody Evaluators. The PC approached for PC work, can still do PC Lite.
If there is an Interim Order as to child arrangements that is to be implemented, and a more detailed Parenting Plan is to be drawn up; then the scope of work for the PC has to be specific. It is preferable to have one professional responsible for implementation of the Interim Order (PC Proper), and another professional to facilitate developing the final Parenting Plan (PC Lite).
This is because if there is non-compliance with the existing Order as to child arrangements, the PC may have been contracted to make recommendations and/or report such breach to court, i.e. the parents are in a non-confidential PC-led process; whereas developing a parenting plan is generally a confidential parent-led process. In other words, it is unwise for the same person to do PC Lite (facilitate a Parenting Plan/Confidential) and PC Proper (help implement the Parenting Plan/Non-Confidential), at the same time, as that would be a dual role and confusing for parents.
After there has been a full trial and a final order has been made, that it is the usual time to appoint a PC Proper to assist. Often it has taken at least two years to get to this stage, and tensions will still be running high, especially for high conflict parents. The appointment of a PC Proper helps the parents adjust to the Order that has been made; the Final Order becomes the Golden Thread by which the PC helps the parents to implement the terms of Order and assist the parents to Co-parent or Parallel Parent, as the case may be.
In these circumstances, as a basic Parenting Plan structure has already been devised; the PC Proper can help the parents with unforeseen gaps. Facilitation can be used by the PC Proper at this stage, as the PC is only helping to fill in the child arrangement structure that has already been framed out. And if facilitation is not possible then, by contract, the PC Proper has been given the authority to resolve the minutiae that is causing the friction. Reducing the stress and conflict between the parents is what has been shown to be most beneficial to the children and the parents.
It is at these times, once the Final Order is in place; that it is helpful to have a legally trained PC, as their decisive training allows timely decisions based on their experience of what would happen had the parents gone to court over that matter. Many small matters can be dealt with by email/Zoom and that does away with the need for parents to take time out of normal life to travel to someone’s office for a meeting.
What Else Gets in the Way?
As children are the priority; if there are any disputes; Child Arrangements will be dealt with first before Finances. That will mean that Child Orders can be in place while the parents are still in fight-mode over finances; the myriad stresses that exist can impact a parent’s interpretation and implementation of the Child Order. This is the time when it is helpful to have a PC proper in place.
How Have the PC’s Been Trained?
The earliest trainings in HK were organised about 2013 by Hong Kong Family Welfare Service (HKFWS) and the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council (CMAC). Their chosen trainer is a psychotherapist who promotes a Co-operative Parenting model based on shared goals and values. The trainer has been in HK many times for her three day training and her manual has been translated into Chinese.
To qualify for these trainings, participants were required to have at least five years’ family practice. The attendee’s were solicitors, psychotherapists, and social workers, etc. Not everyone who did the training has volunteered to be on the list of trained persons. The list is not in alphabetical order.
In 2017 the Hong Kong Law Society brought to HK a clinical psychologist who is now a past President of the AFCC (Association of Family and Conciliation Courts). As a specialist in parental intransigence and using a Parallel Parenting model, his 3-day training taught solicitors parenting co-ordination for high conflict parents. He has also been widely published in resist-refuse issues.
The HKLS maintains a panel of Parenting Co-Ordinators. To qualify for the panel; inter alia, the solicitor must have a Practicing Certificate, been a lawyer for at least 10 years and have 5 years of family law practice. https://www.hklawsoc.org.hk/pub_e/pcs/coordinator.asp
The third trainer was brought to HK in 2019 by a local private health provider for a shorter two day training. This trainer is also a clinical psychologist, past president of the AFCC and well-versed in the Parallel Parenting model. The participants, three of whom then had mediation training, were mainly psychotherapists. Of the 30 or so attendees; 16 have joined a referral list.
Public Services / NGOs
Most if not all of the NGO/Govt provider social workers and psychotherapists were trained under the Co-operative Parenting model and have adapted that to fit their many years’ experience in helping families in distress and conflict.
The parenting co-ordination used in these social work settings is therapeutic, supportive and counselling based.
NGO’s and the Govt have long recognised the need to co-operate in this area and in 2019 the Specialised Co-parenting Support Centres (SCSCs) were set up. These service areas work on a Hong Kong geographic basis, and offer Chinese and English-speaking support. Contact details are:
- Hong Kong Island: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Kowloon East: email@example.com
- Kowloon West: firstname.lastname@example.org
- New Territories East: email@example.com
- New Territories West: firstname.lastname@example.org
The SCSC model is designed to provide Parenting Co-ordination services, where the co-ordination is based largely on developing Parenting Plans to assist the mediation process and to assist co-operative co-parenting. At these SCSCs, the services are confidential and they prefer not to provide reports to Court. It can be considered Parenting Co-Ordination Lite and has been very effective in helping parents to appreciate the need to modify their behaviour and practice compromise.