In a previous post, this blog described what a guardian ad litem is and what role this court officer plays in a child custody case.
To summarize, a guardian ad litem is a neutral person, not affiliated with either parent, who has experience in child custody cases. Often a family law attorney, a guardian ad litem will investigate and report to the court as to a child’s family situation. The goal of the guardian ad litem’s report is to give the judge a better idea of what the best interests of the child in question might be.
A slightly different type of professional whom courts may rely on to help in family law cases is a parenting coordinator. In New Jersey, a parenting coordinator, also a neutral party, will usually be a social worker or mental health professional with experience in dealing with family conflict. However, under certain circumstances, other people may act as a parenting coordinator.
Unlike a guardian ad litem, a parenting coordinator will continue to meet with the child’s parents, and the child, on an ongoing basis. The coordinator can serve as a parenting resource for both parents. Ultimately, a parenting coordinator is there to help parents make their own decisions; however, the court can give them some limited authority to decide relatively minor issues surrounding custody and parenting time.
Ultimately, though, the judge must remain in control of the case, and parents who disagree with the parenting coordinator’s decisions have to have the right to access the court.
Finally, in a divorce mediation, the mediator cannot make any decisions or enter any binding orders unless the parties have agreed. The role of the mediator is to use his or her experience with family law to help the parents reach compromises about child custody and visitation, usually on a one-time basis as opposed to part of an ongoing arrangement.