A parenting coordinator works with divorced and divorcing parents and their children when the parents are unable to effectively co-parent their children. Parenting coordinators develop a relationship with the family, and when parents are unable to come to an agreement about aspects of their children's upbringing, the parenting coordinator will attempt to assist in the development of a resolution. If the parents are unable to resolve the issue, the parenting coordinator may be empowered by the courts to make the decision for the family. The scope of authority and practice for parenting coordinators largely depends on local law and court policy.
In high-conflict divorces, particularly those involving children, spouses often have difficulty resolving issues in an amicable and speedy fashion. In some cases, divorce mediation can assist in this process, as can simply trying to come to a settlement with the assistance of lawyers or relying on a judge to make a decision. Sometimes bringing in a specialist parenting coordinator may be the least stressful and expensive option. If parents are unable or unwilling to set aside their differences and their conflict negatively affects their children, a parenting coordinator can assume and delegate parenting responsibilities until parents are better able to negotiate and manage their relationship.
Those couples who might benefit most from a parenting coordinator are those who are unable due to high emotions or radically different parenting styles to come to agreements about basic things such as visitation, their children's schooling, or religious upbringing. In places where parenting coordinators are empowered to make decisions for families or courts give their recommendations substantial weight in deciding cases, parents can use the services of the parenting coordinator as an alternative to constantly going to court, a slow and expensive process, to get matters resolved.
Parenting coordinators are typically mental health professionals or lawyers by training and are not used in all court systems or in all areas. In the United States, for example, there is a great deal of controversy over their use, as some regard the work of parenting coordinators as intruding on the rights of individuals and families and usurping judicial power. Domestic violence activists have also questioned the use of both parenting coordinators and divorce mediators, noting that such interventions may make matters worse for the victim of domestic violence, who may have to convince yet another party of the severity and danger of his or her situation.