For the past few years, some Pennsylvania counties have experimented with parenting coordination, which involves the appointment of a lawyer or therapist to assist parents in resolving routine conflicts that do not (read: “should not”) rise to the level of judicial intervention. Perhaps this method ultimately will be abandoned, as rumors have it, but for now, there is a recent decision emphasizing the importance of judicial oversight.
In A.H. v. C.M., 2012 PA Super 277 (December 18, 2012), a York County judge was rebuked by the Superior Court for refusing to conduct an evidentiary hearing when one parent objected to the recommendation of a parenting coordinator. It seems that mother and father got into a brouhaha over something that happened at a child’s school recital. (The precise nature of the dispute is not identified in the opinion, but the trial court’s reaction and even the Superior Court opinion imply that it was a minor incident.) The parenting coordinator heard from both parents and issued a recommendation that “Mother had violated the parenting coordinator’s policy regarding communication between the parties.” Mother filed exceptions, which required the judge to conduct a de novo hearing under local rules and Yates v. Yates, 963 A.2d 535 (Pa. Super. 2008). Instead, the judge gave Mother four minutes to argue at motions court, and then heard from father and the parenting coordinator. The trial court adopted the parenting coordinator’s findings and warned the parents to never again darken its door. Mother appealed.
In its decision, the Superior Court rebuked the trial judge for citing Yates while disregarding its holding, which requires an evidentiary hearing when there is a dispute over a parenting coordinator’s findings. The Superior Court also warned the judge about a comment that “the court did not want to see this case back again, and would deny any future petition for review of the parenting coordinator’s decisions.” The warning was accompanied by a footnote citing the relevant sections of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
Will the statewide rules for parenting coordination ever be adopted?