The question before the Supreme Judical Court in Bower v. Bourney-Bower, was whether a Probate and Family Court judge has the authority to appoint a parent coordinator. A parent coordinator can be an attorney or a professional with a background, education, experience and training in psychology and/or mental health who serves as a third party neutral.
A parent coordinator is assigned either by a judge or hired by the parents to aid in resolving custody and day-to-day parenting disputes.
In Bower v. Bournay-Bower, the court appointed a parent coordinator over the objections of the mother and provided the parent coordinator with the authority to make binding decisions on the issues of custody and parenting time.
After the hearing, the Supreme Judical Court held that:
- when one parent does not consent to a parent coordinator, a judge does not have the authority to appoint a parent coordinator with binding authority; and
- under appropriate circumstances, a judge may appoint a parent coordinator, even without the consent of both parties.
The Supreme Judical Court acknowledged the important role that parent coordinators may serve in assisting separated or divorced parents in resolving custody and visitation disputes outside of court.
The Supreme Judical Court sent the case back to the Probate Court to create a comprehensive rule regarding the appointment of parent coordinators.
Specifically, the ruling needed to address:
- The functions and duties of parent coordinators
- The necessary qualifications, licensing, training and monitoring of parent coordinators
- The scope of the parent coordinator’s authority