Screening for Parenting Coordination: It is a Very Different Thing
Author: Hilary Linton
Screening for power imbalances and family violence is mandated by Regulation 134/07 under the Arbitration Act.
That Regulation requires family arbitrators, including parenting coordinators, to certify that they have screened both parents separately for power imbalances and family violence before they conduct any arbitrations and also throughout their retainer.
Lawyers, parents, judges, and even some PCs are not always aware that screening is a mandatory pre-requisite for an enforceable award.
PCs can screen cases before and during the term of their contract. (Note: there is an important difference between ‘screening out’ and ‘resigning’ which I will address in a later article.)
PCs should explain the purpose of screening to all potential clients and their counsel. They should explain that, even though counsel and parties may have consented to a PC in a court order or minutes of settlement, the consent of the parents is meaningless until the PC has met them both and screened them for suitability for parenting coordination.
PCs should normalize the possibility that a case may be screened out at any time if the PC believes that the matter is no longer appropriate for parenting coordination.
Here are three important differences between screening in PC and in mediation:
1) Screening for private adjudication requires the screener to understand and explain what private adjudication involves. The PC should explain how they conduct their arbitrations and assess the ability of each party to fully and meaningfully participate in that process.
Proportionality is important in PC work. We must assess whether the parents are capable of participating in an effective and proportionate arbitral process and if they are sufficiently governable to comply with Awards made. If not, the PC should decline the retainer.
2) Mediation is voluntary and either parent can terminate their involvement at any time. In PC files we are screening to ensure that these parents are good candidates for a 2-year commitment to our process. PCs must assess whether the parents can manage, afford, tolerate this process for two years. If not, it should be screened out.
3) Parenting coordinators are uniquely vulnerable to being manipulated by a powerful, controlling personality. These are often the more likeable and ‘reasonable’ parent, and sometimes also the more affluent one. The victim of coercive control can seem difficult and unreasonable in comparison.
If the PC is not highly attuned to this dynamic, the PC relationship can lend itself to an unconscious alignment between the PC and the more powerful parent, resulting in the PC becoming just another means by which one parent maintains control over the other.
PCs should be alert to their own biases, recognize any patterns in their own behaviour, and make sure their process creates a safe place for parents to honestly disclose their fears or concerns. They should take seriously any pattern of clients complaining that they did not take power imbalances seriously and be ready to screen matters out when the process itself is causing harm.
Hilary practised civil and family law for almost 15 years, and was a partner at a Toronto boutique family law firm when she started her dispute resolution career. She established Riverdale Mediation Ltd. in 2001, where the Riverdale team provides affordable family mediation, arbitration, parenting coordination and arbitration screening services, working with lawyers and with unrepresented parties. Hilary works hard to understand what each client needs to reach a workable settlement.