The Vermont Superior Court Parent Coordination Program:
- Minimizes children’s exposure to conflict and danger
- Gives both parents and children a chance to be heard
- Helps parents better understand the needs of their children
Parent coordination is a process that gives both parents and children a chance to be heard regarding a range of issues. Those issues include visitation and exchanges, health and safety issues, how decisions will be made for the children, and how parents will communicate.
Separated parents meet separately with a parent coordinator, who encourages them to resolve conflicts about their children. The process minimize the children’s exposure to adult conflict and to reduce the risk of danger to all family members. Parent coordinators also connect parents and children to resources in the community for support.
The parent coordination process focuses on the child. The process is not confidential. At the end of the process, the parent coordinator submits a report to the court. If the parents have reached agreement on the issues, the parent coordinator reports what the parents have agreed to do. If the parents do not reach an agreement, then the parent coordinator makes recommendations in the report to the court.
The parent coordination process begins with an order of referral from the family division judge. The parents hire the parent coordinator for up to 15 hours. Parent coordinators may adjust their fee based on each parent's income.
Parent coordination can occur before, during, or after a separation or divorce. The program is available to parents who are (or have been) married as well as to parents who have never been married.
A parent coordinator is an experienced professional who helps parents in a high-conflict relationship discuss issues affecting their children. Parent coordinators have special training in (among other things) family dynamics, child development, conflict resolution, the effect of divorce and separation on children, family law, domestic abuse, and substance abuse. Parent coordinators in this program agree to charge eligible parents according to a sliding fee scale.
The parent coordinator:
- Meets with each parent separately
- Conducts home or community visits with the children
- Consults with counselors, teachers, and others involved with the children
The parent coordinator strives to develop a detailed and documented parenting plan. The plan is based on:
- Existing court orders, including any existing orders granting relief from abuse
- Parents' suggestions
- Recommendations from the professionals involved with the children
The parent coordinator works with parents to craft a plan that meets the children's needs.
Parent coordinators who accept cases through the Vermont Superior Court Parent Coordination Program charge an hourly rate of $80.
That $80 hourly rate is split evenly between the parents. Some parents qualify for a subsidy from the Judiciary, which lowers their out-of-pocket share of the parent coordinator's hourly fee.
The subsidy is based on two factors: each parent's household income and the number of children living with each parent. The subsidy can lower a parent's out-of-pocket share of the parent coordinator's hourly fee to as little as $10 per hour.
Parents pay fees in advance to the parent coordinator in 10-hour increments. During the first meeting, each parent might be required to pay up to 12.5 hours fee of the parent coordinator’s services. Later in the process, if the parent coordinator believes that more time than the original estimate is needed, the parent coordinator will request additional time at a status conference or hearing.
Determining Each Parent's Hourly Fee
Each parent brings the completed subsidy application form and any supporting documentation to the first meeting with the parent coordinator.
The parent coordinator reviews the subsidy application form and consults a sliding fee scale [link to sliding fee scale webpage] to see how much of an hourly subsidy the parent qualifies to receive. The amount of the subsidy is based on two factors: the parent's household income and the number of children living in the household.
After the parent coordinator calculates the parent's hourly subsidy, the parent coordinator subtracts that subsidy from $80 to determine the parent's out-of-pocket portion of the hourly fee.
Each parent's portion of the hourly fee will range from $10 to $80 an hour depending on how much of a subsidy the parent is eligible to receive.
Learn more about the sliding fee scale.
The process begins with an order from the court. Each parent receives an information packet along with the court order.
The order requires each parent to call the parent coordinator named in the order within seven days. The parent coordinator will schedule meetings with each parent separately soon after the initial call.
Before your first meeting, you will need to fill out an intake questionnaire. Depending on your income, the parent coordinator might also ask you to complete a form to apply for a subsidy to help you pay for parent coordination services. The parent coordinator will also ask you to review a form called the "Agreement to Enter into Parent Coordination" before the first meeting. All of these forms are in the information packet.
The parent coordinator needs to receive your completed intake questionnaire at least five days before your first scheduled meeting with the parent coordinator. Please keep a copy of the completed intake questionnaire. You should also bring the copy of that form and the other forms to the first meeting with the parent coordinator.
Parents do not need to have a lawyer while working with a parent coordinator. Some people find it helpful to get legal advice during this process. See the Finding Legal Help web page for information about free and low cost ways to get the help of a lawyer.
The parent coordinator schedules separate meetings with each parent.
During your first meeting with the parent coordinator, the parent coordinator will calculate the hourly fee you will pay, explain the process, answer any questions about the process, and begin to learn what you want to accomplish.
At this first meeting, the parent coordinator will review with you the agreement to enter Into parent coordination. The parent coordinator will answer any questions you have about that form or the parent coordination process. The parent coordinator will ask you to sign this form.
After the first meeting with each parent, the parent coordinator will contact and work with counselors, teachers and others who know the children. The parent coordinator will also meet with the children to get to know them and to try to understand their needs.
The parent coordinator often meets by phone or in person with each parent separately, as well as with the children and others, to gather information and develop a proposed agreement. That proposed agreement will have specific terms about when and how parent-child contact can occur.
Once the parent coordinator has prepared the proposed agreement, the parent coordinator presents it to the parents and asks them if they agree to its terms.
When detailed and specific agreements have been made with the help of the parent coordinator, the parent coordinator files a document reflecting the arrangements with the court.
If parents reach an agreement, they submit the written parenting plan to the court. The assigned judge reviews the plan and may incorporate its terms into an order.
If the parents do not reach an agreement, the parent coordinator may submit a recommended parenting plan to the court. The judge then decides whether to include the parent coordinator's recommendations in an order after a hearing or a status conference.