Most jurisdictions have no laws or regulations that outline a parent coordinator's role, so their use and ethical obligations often vary, say experts. Even the names used vary: In California, a coordinator is called a "special master," in New Mexico, a "wise person" and in Hawaii, a "custody commissioner."

However, parenting coordination includes some basic components. Generally coordinators:

  • Educate parents about children's developmental needs and the impact of divorce.

  • Highlight the importance of putting children's needs first.

  • Teach parents communication skills and coach them on how to resolve disagreements about their children.

  • Make binding decisions on such issues as drop-off times and holiday visits when parents can't agree. 

In addition, both parents usually must agree to the coordination and to pay for it. None of the parents' communications with the coordinator are confidential, and the coordinator can speak with parents' therapists, children's therapists, teachers and other professionals to gather necessary information.

At first blush, it might seem that the roles of parenting coordinators and custody evaluators might overlap, but they actually dove-tail nicely, say experts in the field. Custody evaluators work while the divorce case is being heard--gathering evidence to make recommendations to judges--while coordinators make no evaluations. Instead, coordinators put evaluators' recommendations into action.

--D. SMITH BAILEY