In Minnesota, divorce decrees and paternity orders frequently provide for alternative dispute resolution (ADR) should later conflicts arise about the order's terms. One of the options available to help parents resolve those conflicts is the appointment of a parenting consultant.
Like parenting time expeditors, parenting consultants can help clarify, enforce and interpret the terms of a parenting time order, and their services are usually paid for jointly by the parties. There are a number of differences, however. A court can decide on its own that a parenting time expeditor (PTE) will be appointed. In contrast, a parenting consultant is appointed only if the parties contract to have one. The agreement between the parties, which is then formalized by a court order, creates the powers a parenting consultant has in that particular case.
These powers are usually more expansive than those of a PTE. In addition to being able to interpret and enforce existing orders, parenting consultants may actually be authorized to change the amount of parenting time one party receives, or reconfigure an existing schedule. This can be really helpful in a case involving very young children; as the children grow older, longer periods of parenting time including overnights may become appropriate. Likewise, when a relationship between a parent and child has been limited by a parent's substance abuse, the consultant can increase or decrease parenting time as needed based on the parent's progress in recovery.
Minnesota favors parents having joint custody where possible, and most parents prefer this arrangement. In practice, though, it can offer many challenges. What if one parent wants public school for the child, and the other wants private? Or if one parent thinks the child is ready for sleep-away camp, and the other doesn't? The parenting consultant is available to make the decision when the parents cannot.
Why would parents opt to contract for a parenting consultant when these decisions could be made by a judge? There are three primary reasons: time, money, and thoroughness. A parenting consultant's decision can be rendered within days; to have a motion heard by a judge and a decision rendered can take four or five months, during which a conflict often escalates. Having one's day in court comes at a financial price as well: the legal fees to have an attorney prepare and file a motion and then argue it. Even after all that time and expense, a judge with a crowded docket may not have access to all the information the parties would wish in order to make a truly informed decision. A parenting consultant, unlike a judge, can speak with relevant people like teachers, coaches, and counselors in order to get a broader picture of a situation before making a decision.
Because of the power with which parties entrust their parenting consultant, it's critical to exercise great care in choosing one. Lisa Banas has a background in both social work and law, has worked with children in need of protection, and has years of experience practicing family law. She is uniquely qualified to address the needs of families with the skill and compassion they deserve.