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February 19, 2018 Podcast

Season 1 Episode 5: Parenting Coordinators in Child Custody Cases

Season 1 Episode 5: Parenting Coordinators in Child Custody Cases

 
 
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In Episode 5 of our Podcast, ‘A Year and a Day’, host and Certified Parenting Coordinator Jaime Davis discusses the topic of Parenting Coordinators in child custody cases with fellow family law attorney and Parenting Coordinator Katie King.  If you are involved in a high conflict custody dispute and you and your co-parent have a difficult time making decisions that affect your children, a Parenting Coordinator may be the answer.  This podcast episode will explain what a Parenting Coordinator is and how to get one, as well as offer tips for working with your Parenting Coordinator once one has been appointed.

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Note: Our Podcast, “A Year and a Day: Divorce Without Destruction”, was created to be heard, but we provide text transcripts to make this information accessible to everyone. All transcripts on our website are created using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers and could contain errors.

Jaime Davis: Welcome to Episode 5 of Year in a Day. I’m your host, Jaime Davis. In Episode 4, I discussed the topic of gray divorce and the unique issues facing divorcing couples over age 50 with Haleh Moddasser, Senior Vice President and Managing Partner of Stearns Financial Group’s Triangle office. In this episode, I will be speaking with fellow family law attorney and parenting coordinator, Katie King. Katie is a board-certified family law specialist and partner with Wake Family Law Group in Raleigh. Katie is also certified by the North Carolina Dispute Resolution Commission as a family financial mediator, and she has been certified as a parenting coordinator in high conflict custody cases since 2008. Katie and I have gotten to know each other over the years as opposing counsel in each other’s cases, and we both attend the peer discussion group for parenting coordinators in Wake County. Welcome Katie.

Katie King: Thanks, Jaime.

Jaime Davis: So Katie, what is a parenting coordinator?

Katie King: A parenting coordinator is defined by statute as a neutral person, who meets the qualifications under the statute, to help parents work out high-conflict divorce issues, so, basically, the statute says that a parent coordinator – I usually refer to them as a PC, um, so when I talk about a PC, I’m talkin’ about parenting coordinator, um, a PC will have certain qualifications. A PC has to be a lawyer, a doctor, someone with a degree in psychology, social work, counseling, medicine, or something like that, and a PC has gone through a certain level of training related to developmental stages of children, dynamics of high-conflict families, divorce, problem solving, mediation, and legal issues, and, so, with that training, a PC is appointed to help these high-conflict families with these issues.

Jaime Davis: And, so, what does the PC do?

Katie King: The PC does whatever the judge, um, asks the PC to do, and, so, that can be defined by the PC appointment order, but where you have a high-conflict divorce family, the PC is there to, basically, keep the parents from going to court all the time, so to help manage the dayto-day logistics the, the court just doesn’t have the resources to deal with.

Jaime Davis: What are a few examples of things that a PC can decide?

Katie King: The, when a PC is appointed, the judge will issue what’s called a PC appointment order, and that order will set out, there’s, in Wake County, at least, there’s checkboxes, and those boxes will list anything that the judge wants the PC to decide, so, for example, it could be healthcare decisions, it could be transportation and exchanges, it could be appearance, grooming issues, it could be extracurricular activities, uh, participation in visitation by significant others, so there’s a whole laundry list, and then a judge can also appoint a PC to deal with specific issues that aren’t in those checkboxes, so if the parents have an issue coming up with school selection, for example, the judge could allow the PC to make that decision, or maybe the parents have an issue with passports or travel, or just something unique. I had a case where I had the authority to resolve issues relating to what type of movies were appropriate for the children to watch and what types of video games the children could play, so it really just depends on that specific family and what they need or what the judge thinks they need.

Jaime Davis: So, in that case, were the parents arguing over, I guess, the ratings on the video games and the movies? Was that the issue?

Katie King: Exactly, and in these high-conflict cases, issues that parents in kind of your average custody case, if there is one, issues that wouldn’t be a problem in those cases, where you got these high-conflict dynamics, they can’t agree on even the most basic things, and, so, particularly when you’ve got parents who just have different standards and different beliefs, and they don’t like each other and are fighting, then sometimes PCs have to get involved to decide what, or really relatively in the grand scheme of things, mundane issues.

Jaime Davis: Yeah, and in my experience dealing with PC cases, ’cause I’ve done a few of these in my day as well, –

Katie King: Because we did our training together –

Jaime Davis: Absolutely.

Katie King: – back in 2008.

Jaime Davis: Yeah, um, eh, it also seems that one of the issues is that maybe during the marriage one parent or the other was the parent who primarily just made decisions for the kids; maybe it was always mom, but sign the child up for soccer and basketball, or whatever else it was that she wanted the child to do, and now that the parents are separated, she or he is having a really hard time actually communicating with the other parent about those decisions. Have you found that as well?

Katie King: I have, and the other dynamic I think is at work is this idea that if the other parent, who one parent maybe holds in a ver, a very high level of disdain, if that parent endorses an idea, it has to be a bad idea. You, even if otherwise it would be a good idea, it’s this idea that it’s a zero sum gain –

Jaime Davis: Right.

Katie King: – that if the other parent wants it to be a certain way, that, um, that it must be a really bad idea, so you’re already dealing with people who are having a hard time with each other as individuals, and then you’re asking them, in most of these cases, ta, to make decisions together, and a lotta times they just simply can’t do that.

Jaime Davis: That’s a really good point. Is there anything a PC can’t do?

Katie King: Well, beyond, like I said, in Wake County, you know, we have the order that lists the checkboxes and, so, sometimes a family will come in and they’ll have an issue relating to the holidays, and if that box is not checked in my PC appointment order, even if there’s legitimately a dispute about the holidays, I can’t make a decision about that, so I would say that anything that I don’t specifically have the authority to do in the checkboxes, and then a couple other things, I can’t do anything to do with financial issues, which is really awkward because there’s a lotta times that families have issues, like extracurriculars or private school, where my decision is going to have a financial impact, –

Jaime Davis: Right.

Katie King: – yet I can’t do anything about that financial impact.

Jaime Davis: There’s so much crossover, –

Katie King: There is.

Jaime Davis: – you know.

Katie King: There is, and, and I don’t know the answer to that, how to resolve that other than, uh, there are times where if the parents will agree for you to make that decision, I believe the PC has the authority if the parents agree ta, to make a financial decision, um, but most the time they’re not going to agree because why would they?

Jaime Davis: Why would they, exactly.

Katie King: Obviously, one person is gonna be impacted, so anything that I don’t have the authority to do under checkboxes, anything that I don’t have, um, that involves a financial impact, and then the third category would be if there is, um, something that’s already covered by the court order, so I don’t have the authority to change the parties’ court order in any kinda significant way, so when I get a PC case, they already have a custody order. It may be a temporary order, it may be a permanent order, and my job is to help the family implement that order and then fill in gaps where something isn’t specifically set out, so, like I said, if they have a holiday schedule, even if I have that box checked to deal with holiday schedule, I can’t change their holiday schedule unless it’s a tweak, so, for example, maybe dad is flying internationally and, because of the cost of plane tickets, he needs to get back in town at 8:00, and he’s supposed to exchange at 6, well, that would be an example of I’m not making a significant change to the custody order, but that would be the thing that in your average custody case the parents could work together, and, um, save a lot of money, and, and avoid that conflict, but in these PC cases, that may be a big dispute, and, so, a, a PC has the authority to make those little changes that don’t affect the basic timesharing arrangement and fill in the gaps, um, where the order might not provide for something. On, on the other hand, there may be times where, let’s say, they have a holiday schedule and it doesn’t have anything about Halloween – I’ve had this issue come up – and, for whatever reason, when they were negotiating that order, maybe 3 years ago, 5 years ago, 10 years ago, nobody cared about Halloween, but now Halloween is an issue, I can’t go back and create a Halloween schedule where there wasn’t one.

Jaime Davis: Right.

Katie King: I leave that up to there’s really good attorneys who were involved in drafting these orders, and the way I look at it is, if these attorneys, if Halloween was a big issue, it, it should’ve been covered when the order was either negotiated, or if the judge didn’t think to put Halloween in, for whatever reason, I’m gonna guess that there was a good reason, and I can’t change that.

Jaime Davis: And, so, if there is something like that, like, let’s pretend that folks all of a sudden think Halloween is really important and they want it included, what do they do there if their parent coordinator can’t make the decision?

Katie King: If they can agree, then I can make the decision, so, but, again, usually they’re not going to agree, because Halloween’s an issue for one parent and, so, why would the other parent, if the alternative is there’s not gonna be any Halloween schedule, then the parent who either already had Halloween that year or doesn’t care about Halloween, they’re not gonna agree for me to make that sched, scheduling change, but if they can agree, then I believe I have the authority to make that decision, and sometimes what we do in that situation is I will work with the parents’ attorneys and we’ll do a quick consent order, for example, another order that just says this is what they’ve agreed to for Halloween, and it becomes a modification of that order, and that’s something that attorneys can help with, and if it’s something that just isn’t in there and nobody agrees for me to handle the issue, it’s either just not gonna get addressed, or if it’s a big enough issue, which, hopefully, Halloween would never be a big enough issue ta go back to court on, they could file a motion to modify if there’s other significant reasons for changes, but, um, typically, by the time people get to that point, there are a lot of problems with the order, not just one issue like that.

Jaime Davis: You mentioned earlier that both lawyers and therapists can become parenting coordinators. Are there reasons why a person may prefer to have one over the other as the PC in their case?

Katie King: I think it really depends on the family and, and what the family needs. I know as an attorney, when I’m not acting as a PC, in most cases I want a lawyer PC, and, and that’s partially because I think in many cases, not that there’s not excellent mental-health professionals as PCs, but in most cases, a lawyer – because most of us are also dealing with these high-conflict cases as attorneys and as professionals in an advocacy role, sometimes a lawyer, in my opinion, is better able just to address the issue head on without feeling like our role is to somehow fix the family or, um, not that mental-health professionals can be in a therapeutic relationship as PCs, but I, I don’t try to make the people I work with better people. I just try to help them manage their parental relationship, so that there can be peace for their kids, but if there are families that have significant mental-health issues or there’s some other reason that a mental-health professional needs to be involved, then, then it could be a good fit in those cases.

Jaime Davis: Yeah, I agree. I do think it is very case specific as to what kind of person you may want to be the PC for your particular family. I know that, at least in my experience, school choice or selection seem to be a biggie, um, and that a lot of times parents are willing to agree for that issue to get kicked to the PC. Have you found that as well?

Katie King: I have, um, especially when you’ve got a young child and you haven’t even dealt with kindergarten yet, and there’s gonna be a big dispute. Lotta times with 50/50 parents, for example, the child has two great options that – in terms of school choice, and –

Jaime Davis: Sure.

Katie King: – so it’s not like in a primary custody situation where it may make more sense for the child to go to the school, um, that is the base school for ever, whatever the address is that the primary parent is living at, so I have a lot of judges appoint a PC in that role to make school decisions, and a lot of that is too, you know, Jaime, that with our court system it can take months and months to get a court date, so a lot of times there’s just simply not the time to go to court –

Jaime Davis: Right.

Katie King: – and ask the judge to make that decision.

Jaime Davis: Right. By the time you get to your hearing, –

Katie King: Right.

Jaime Davis: – the, the deadline has passed, and whatever –

Katie King: That’s right.

Jaime Davis: – your choice was may be gone.

Katie King: That’s right, and I think a lot of times in picking the PC to go back to what we were just talking about, when you’re looking at a PC, I know when I’m in an attorney role and not as a PC role, a lot of times I’m looking for a PC that I might think has a particular qualification for this particular family, not just in the context of mental-health professional versus lawyer, but maybe I want a PC who has small children. I know I get a lot of people who want to use me as a PC because they know I have both a younger child and, and a school-age child, and so a lot of those logistics that parents are dealing with, they feel like I might be particularly in tune to, and I do the same thing when I’m picking a PC.

Jaime Davis: I agree with you.

Katie King: I might want someone who is a dad. I might want someone who’s a mom with young children or, you know, I – there’s a lot of different reasons, and you’re also wanting someone that your family, um, that you’re tryin’ to find a PC that they will connect with, because it’s a very difficult role, and it’s an uncomfortable role for families, and you want someone at the outset there can be some sort of at least positive connection.

Jaime Davis: Right. I think odds are good that at one point or another, one or both of the parents is going to disagree with whatever decision you make as a PC, um, and if they can at least connect with you on some sort of more basic personal level, hey, we’re both parents, or hey, we both have kids in elementary school. I think that helps them sometimes swallow what might otherwise be a more difficult PC decision.

Katie King: Well, and I feel like in some PC relationships, or in a lot of PC relationships, I’m in some ways the, the third awkward parent in the situation, –

Jaime Davis: Right.

Katie King: – and so I want the families I work with to know that I’m gonna give them practical advice, that I’m a working parent, that I have a young child and an older child, and I want to make good practical decisions for them, because they already have lawyers in their life, and even though I’m a lawyer, when I’m in their life, I’m acting as their neutral. I’m an impartial person, and I want them to know I’m gonna give them practical, uh, practical advice and give them practical direction as they do things, but you’re right that at any given time when I make a PC decision, if there’s a dispute, someone is not going to like the decision I make, and often neither of them is going to like –

Jaime Davis: Right.

Katie King: – the decision I make, and I jokingly tell my PC families that if you guys continuously agree that you don’t like what I’m doing, guess what, the better option is that you make decisions for, for your family yourself as the parents and you not have to have a PC make those decisions, so, uh, that’s kind of a unintend, unintended yet positive consequence of the PC process is sometimes the parents dislike the decisions so much and dislike allocating that authority to a third party, which I don’t blame them. In an ideal situation, they don’t have to have that third party in, in their parental relationship, but if they can agree that hey, we can do a better job making these decisions ourself, that’s great. That’s a successful outcome. This is one of those areas that as attorneys we want to put ourselves out of business. I don’t want to have a PC family that I have to be with for years. My goal is that I get appointed for a 1year term, and at the end of it, they don’t need me anymore, and that’s a good outcome, strangely enough.

Jaime Davis: Right, yeah. I mean part of the goal of being a PC is to, at the very least, help these folks with their communication skills and equip them with some of the tools that maybe they can use to start trying to resolve some of these issues on their own. I know a very basic one is how do you respond to the other party’s email. If they send you an email, you know, as a parent, not as a PC, but if one parent sends the other parent an email with two or three different ideas or questions or points or whatever they are, what is the best way for that parent to respond to it, well it’s point by point, right? Maybe you number those points. Maybe if you have nothing else to add to it, you just say okay, so that the person knows that you received the email, you read the email and you’re acknowledging that you’re okay with whatever the idea is. Um, if there is somebody out there listening to this who is involved in a custody dispute, and they think they could benefit from a PC, how do they go about getting one appointed in their case?

Katie King: Well, first they have to have a custody order, or they have to be in, in the custody litigation process, and when they’re in the custody litigation process, the statute, um, for parent coordinators in North Carolina says that a judge can appoint a PC at any point in a custody proceeding, so either the parents already have a custody order, or maybe they are going in front of the court for the first time. They may ask the judge for the appointment of a PC, and that’s in the judge’s discretion to do that. The judge may also, on his or her own motion, appoint a PC in a case, regardless of any, if anyone asks for one, and then sometimes parents on their own together will consent that they need a PC, and sometimes we’ll see that come up. Maybe they have an order that just hasn’t been working. Maybe there are some contempt or enforcement issues, and they feel like hey, we really need a PC to, to help us work through these issues, so there’s various situations where you can get a PC, but it all starts with there has to either be a custody order that’s getting ready to get entered, or you already have a custody order. There are times – it’s a little bit unusual, um, and you and I were talking about this not too long ago about what if you don’t have a custody order?

Jaime Davis: Right.

Katie King: Well the good news is if you don’t have a custody order, hopefully you’re not so high conflict that you had to go to court and get one. Maybe you resolved your issues by a separation agreement or some sort of con, um, contract relationship parenting plan, but if you don’t have a court order and you’re not gonna get a court order appointing a PC, there’s certainly no reason that parents can’t create almost a contractual relationship with a PC. It’s a little bit different, because it’s not controlled by statute, but I have a couple families I work with that they’ve essentially made me the arbitrator, which would be a, a decisionmaker in their custody conflicts, and they’ve created by contract the role of a PC in their private agreement versus having the court appoint me as a PC, so it’s a little bit unusual, but it works for these families, and again, the goal is to have a decisionmaker, because even in the best custody situations, there are going to be times where there’s conflict over school choice or communication or an, any of these issues that sometimes parents just can’t come together on.

Jaime Davis: And really some of the more mundane issues seem to be the biggest problems, like where do we drop the kids off? Are we gonna meet at somebody’s house? Are we gonna drop them off at a store? What time are we gonna exchange the children? What happens if somebody is 15 minutes late? How do we deal with that? It really does seem to be a lot of these very logistical small issues that can be giant for these families that are embroiled in the conflict. I also think it’s really important for folks to know that if they do not consent to having a PC that they have to show the court when they ask for a PC that they both have the ability to pay the PC’s fees, –

Katie King: That’s right.

Jaime Davis: – um, because this is not a free service, and so –

Katie King: That’s right.

Jaime Davis: – if you’re gonna have a PC, you’ve gotta be able to show the court hey, not only are we high conflict, but we can also afford, um, the PC’s fees, so along those lines, in your experience, how much does a PC generally cost?

Katie King: So most of the time, when an attorney is acting as a PC, that attorney is going to charge a lower hourly rate than his or her normal lawyer rate, so when I’m acting as a PC, I’m charging almost $100.00 less than I am when I’m acting as an attorney, and part of that is because you want it to be accessible for people.

Jaime Davis: Right.

Katie King: You want – it’s kind of like when we’re acting as mediators. We charge less as mediators than if we’re acting as the attorney advocate, so you want to make it more affordable. It’s still certainly an expensive process, but what I have found is that most PCs are gonna be charging less than a normal hourly rate, and when a PC receives an appointment, the judge is gonna say how the fees are gonna be split, so most families, the judge is gonna say they’re gonna be 50/50, that all of my fees will be divided, but you’ve got families where you might have one parent who makes significantly more. I’ve had families where they divide them 80/20, 60/40. I’ve never had a family that was 100 percent one parent paying, and I, I would certainly discourage against having that situation, because it really gives the other parent no incentive whatsoever to not abuse the process.

Jaime Davis: Right.

Katie King: I think sometimes with a 50/50, at least both parents are equally financially invested in the process, but the judge does have to find that, that they have the ability to pay, um, or the parties have to agree how they’re gonna split those fees.

Jaime Davis: Well, and in some cases, it has seemed most fair to me that if both parents were working that maybe they shared the PC fee in proportion to their incomes. You know, if one parent was making 60 percent of the income, the family income, and the other parent was making 40, maybe that’s how they pay for their PC. That way they both have some skin in the game, but it’s also fair to both of them and not an undue burden. Um, I also really like the fact that a parent coordinator can actually reallocate the fee.

Katie King: That’s right.

Jaime Davis: If one of the parents is abusing the process, the PC can say nope, parent, you’re paying 100 percent of the fees for whatever issue you just brought up, because it was a frivolous issue, and we really shouldn’t be talking about that, so I think that’s a really good way to prevent folks from abusing it.

Katie King: That’s right, and I think that once they know that hey, if I keep bringing these issues up, or if I’m the one who’s sending 90 percent of the PC emails, I’m gonna get tagged with that bill when it comes out, or, or a portion of it. I always tell the families I work with that at the outset, and it’s actually in the PC appointment order as well, that your fees are supposed to be divided whatever the court has decided or they’ve agreed, but I have the authority to allocate them separately, but I’m gonna give you a heads up when I’m gonna do that, so –

Jaime Davis: Right.

Katie King: – there’s not gonna be a surprise. Usually I’ll say something like if I continue to see this issue come up, you’re gonna get a bill that’s 100 percent. Thankfully it doesn’t happen that often, but it is nice that when you do have someone abusing the process that there is some relief for the other parent. Um, one of the things you were talking about earlier, Jaime, about communication and kind of these mundane things, emails, I would say communication is probably 75 percent of my cases; I’m dealing with communication, and a lot of that is just how do we send an email to each other, and –

Jaime Davis: Right.

Katie King: – you know about – there’s a program called Our Family Wizard that family lawyers use and recommend pretty frequently, and our judges really like it, and the whole idea of Our Family Wizard is to create essentially this, um, online forum for the parents that documents when an email was sent, when it was read. There’s a family calendar. There’s all of these ways to coordinate communication, and, and I would say probably half of my PC families, if the judge hasn’t already ordered them to use Our Family Wizard, I ask them to use it, because one of the benefits of it is it can give the PC – we can have what’s called professional access where we can go in there and review the communications and just make sure the communications are appropriate. Sometimes the parents behave a little bit better if they know that their PC can be in there monitoring email, and it’s certainly a better alternative to having to screen all the emails. I – back in the day, I had families that I worked with where I had to essentially edit all of their emails, and that’s just too expensive for the parents to deal with, and because the goal is their, our relationship is not long term, I can’t be filtering them all the time. Doesn’t mean there’s not times where I do have to filter them, but at the outset, I try to create a forum for them to communicate more practically and appropriately and then create systems, so like you talked about numbering things, bullet points. I’ve had some professionals say if you’re writing in paragraphs, you’re writing too much to the other parent, just short and sweet factual, not editorial, something that’s easy to respond to and, and easy to review, but streamlining communication is a huge issue with these families.

Jaime Davis: Right. I mean no matter how many times their lawyers have told them not to put anything in writing to the other parent that they would be ashamed to read out loud in court, they’re gonna do it anyway, and they’re gonna do it anyway, because they’re a high-conflict family, and they don’t know how to communicate with each other very well, –

Katie King: That’s right.

Jaime Davis: – and so I agree with you, Katie. Our Family Wizard is a great program. Um, I also think it’s good, because it helps with accountability, in terms of getting rid of the excuse that I didn’t get it. I didn’t –

Katie King: That’s right.

Jaime Davis: – get your email. Well, all of these have read receipts, and you know when they’ve been viewed and opened and sent, and so it takes away another one of those excuses that’s not really a valid excuse, and, um, I think it can be really helpful for these families.

Katie King: Well, and ultimately, PC work, the whole point of it is to keep these parents from going to court and to help them have tools for having a better parenting relationship, –

Jaime Davis: That’s right.

Katie King: – and so anything that we can do as attorneys and in particular as PCs to minimize the potential for conflict and, most importantly, to have peace for the children of these families, because –

Jaime Davis: That’s right.

Katie King: – at the end of the day, that’s the whole point of the role is that there be peace for these children and that these high-conflict parents can be, um, I don’t want to use the word managed, but that they can, we can work with them to come up with ways that their children are not going to have a crazy childhood, because their parents can’t even send a simple email.

Jaime Davis: So let’s talk a little more about communication. You mentioned having professional access to the Our Family Wizard account. Um, when a PC client tells you something, is it confidential?

Katie King: No, and I’m glad you asked that, because that’s a question that comes up a lot. PC families are almost always represented by attorneys, and so they’re used to having attorneys involved in their life, and they’re used to having an attorney that they feel like they have privileged communications with, because they do, but when I’m a PC, even though I’m an attorney, I am not the attorney for either of those parents, and so even in the statute it sets out what kind of access the other parent can have to communications with me, so I tell the families I work with at the outset that whatever you send to me is not confidential, that it’s not privileged, even though I’m an attorney and that even though I’m not necessarily going to forward whatever they email me to the other parent, I can, and likewise, if the attorney for the other parent sends me a request for all of those emails or subpoenas my file, all those communications are going to be fair game, and so I try to have people at the outset be really mindful of don’t send me something that you don’t want the other side to see, and don’t send me something and tell me not to share it with the other side, because even if I don’t intend to share it, because I’m using my own discretion, it doesn’t mean it still can’t be requested by the other attorney or subpoenaed, um, by the judge.

Jaime Davis: Right, I think most PCs do a really good job knowing what not to share with the other side, in terms of not wanting to further inflame an already heated situation, but by the same token, you know, sometimes those communications have to be shared, because that’s the only way to resolve the issue, and so really the safest course of action, in my opinion, is to not send anything to your PC that you wouldn’t want the other side to see anyway. Would you agree with that?

Katie King: Well, and that’s just good advice in general. When we’re acting as attorneys and not as PCs just to – I tell parents all the time when I’m acting as the attorney, any email you send is a potential exhibit in court, –

Jaime Davis: Right.

Katie King: – so don’t send something that you don’t want the judge in your case reading, and, and that’s the same thing with PC communications. One, don’t send something that if the other side read it, it would be an exhibit for them, um, in their case, and don’t send something that if I were subpoenaed, and a judge has to sign off on a PC subpoena, but if I were subpoenaed and the judge was reading that, it would make the judge think poorly of you, so just using good commonsense as a parent, which really should be the case whether you have a PC or not, –

Jaime Davis: Absolutely.

Katie King: – that I tell people all the time, when you’re in a custody case, you’re living under a black cloud, and you have to be a way better parent than I do, for example, in my parenting life, –

Jaime Davis: Right.

Katie King: – ’cause nobody’s trying to complain about me, I hope not, in my personal life, but when you’re a parent in a custody case, everything you do and everything you say is scrutinized, which is extremely, extremely stressful but also is a good thing to remember when you’re communicating. Don’t send something that’s gonna be a bad exhibit.

Jaime Davis: I mean you’re under a microscope. You just are.

Katie King: That’s exactly right.

Jaime Davis: I mean the judge is being tasked with deciding what is in the best interest of your children, and how you parent your children is directly related to that, and so for so long as you have involved yourself willingly or not in this process, you gotta deal with it, and you gotta learn to live with it, and you’ve gotta learn how to parent while being watched for a certain period of time.

Katie King: That’s right.

Jaime Davis: So something that you and I have talked about before that I think is really interesting, um, is that you have an actual process for how you make a PC decision. Talk to us about that a little bit. What is your PC process?

Katie King: So I try to – and it goes back to the idea that I am an impartial person, and when I make a PC decision, I want the parents to understand where I came from with this decision, so that they understand it, and so I kind of have a formula when I – and it’s not something that it always looks the same in every decision, but just the way I think about the decision, and the first thing that I do is I make sure when there is a PC decision that I’m making that the parents have first attempted to work it out with each other. I don’t want parents coming to me and using me as a alternative to having to work with the other parent, because again, the goal is that I am out of business as a PC for this family at the end of my term, that they don’t need me, so I’m not doing them any favors by becoming a way that they can work around the other parent, so first thing I want to do in any PC decision is have you talked to the other parent? Is there actually a dispute, or have you just come straight to me? Maybe you know the answer that there’s already gonna be a dispute, but at least try to work it out with the other parent, so once I’ve determined that there’s actually a dispute, then I want to hear from both parents on the issue, and I want to know what everyone’s position is. Sometimes there might be a time where I might need to talk to someone else about the decision.

Jaime Davis: Well, so let me stop you right here. So you want to hear from both parents. Does that mean a phone call, a meeting, an email? How do you get everybody’s input?

Katie King: It, it depends on the issue, honestly. Most PC work is via email, which is good and bad. It’s good because it creates transparency, that it’s very clear what I said to everyone, because sometimes these families, whether it’s intentional or not, will twist my words. No, Katie said –

Jaime Davis: Sure.

Katie King: – XYZ, and they kind of use me sometimes as the bad guy that I’m gonna somehow be mad at the other parent, but email is the, is a great way, because of transparency. It’s not a great way, because sometimes I need more information that’s just too bulky to get in email, so totally depends on the issue. I mean they’re gonna email with them about it, I’m gonna have a phone call. Sometimes I’ll have a meeting. Sometimes when I’m having a meeting, I will bring in both parents, and that can either – usually if I bring both parents in, I have a pretty good idea that it can be manageable, but it’s not gonna be this big conflict, because again, the role is not to make things worse, but –

Jaime Davis: Sure.

Katie King: – to try to improve things, so it, it just totally depends on the issue, Jaime, but most of the time it’s gonna be email.

Jaime Davis: Okay, so you have now contacted the folks –

Katie King: Mm hmm.

Jaime Davis: – to get the information. You’ve heard from both sides, and then what do you do?

Katie King: So then there may be other people I need to talk to, so a lot of PC families have other professionals that work with them. There might be therapists involved. There might be –depending on the issue, there might be a doctor involved. There may be a school that’s involved. There may be a significant other that’s involved, and so there may be times where I need to talk to a third party or multiple third parties, and in that case, the PC statute says, and the PC appointment order says the parents will sign releases for me to talk to whoever I need to, so sometimes it’s gathering more information from these third parties. Sometimes it’s doing other research. If I’m doing school choice, for example, I’m gonna be looking at information, the North Carolina report cards, for example. I’m gonna be looking at maps to see where everything is. There’s gonna be a lot of collateral information, and so that first stage, once I’ve identified the dispute, is gonna be that information gathering, getting everyone’s positions, getting information and then once I do that and I’ve been able to sort through everything, and I make a PC decision, I’m gonna send that PC decision to the parents in writing, and usually it’s gonna be email. Um, it might be a letter attached to an email, or it might just be written right into an email, and it’s gonna say something like, Dear Mom and Dad, here’s the issue, here’s mom’s position, here’s dad’s position, here’s my authority to resolve the decision under your PC order, ’cause again, if I don’t have the authority, I can’t make a decision anyway, and then it will explain what my decision is, and then it will usually give some sort of reason for that decision, and when I send that email, it’s going to go to both parents, and then I will also copy their attorneys on it, and the reason why I do that is that when I make a PC decision, the statute and the PCappointment order tell the parents that that order is binding as, that decision is binding as if it’s an order of the court, and so they need to comply with it, unless the judge reviews it and says otherwise, so if I make a decision and one or both parents think it’s just flat-out wrong or that I didn’t have the authority to do that, that parent can actually file a request with the assigned judge in the case and ask that judge to look at the decision, and until the judge reviews it, they have to comply, but if the judge looks at it and determines that, uh, the PC shouldn’t have made that decision, the judge actually has the authority to, to change and overrule my order, because remember, the judge has the ultimate authority in, in the case as a whole. I’m not taking anything away from the court. I’m just filling in the gaps for the issues that the court just simply can’t deal with and, and doesn’t have the resources to deal with.

Jaime Davis: So what if you make a PC decision, nobody asks the court to review it, but one of the parents still doesn’t follow the decision, what happens?

Katie King: I think it depends on the case. There are times where if one parent doesn’t do what my PC decision requires that the other parent will have no hesitation to file for contempt, because remember my decision has the authority of a court order, and so a lot of times, the other parent will jump in and go ahead and file for contempt for violating the order, and then there’s other times where I have the ability to file a report to the court and ask the judge to check in on this family and see what’s going on, and as a result of that report to the court, the judge may issue what’s called a show-cause order to determine whether someone should be held in contempt, so it really just comes down to one, if anyone’s gonna do anything about it, and two, who is gonna do something about it. Is it gonna be the parent, the other parent, or is it gonna be me, and that really – a lot of times people, when they have a PC, they feel like my job is to police the order and that I’m going to always be there as someone that when dad didn’t do what he was supposed to do, mom’s gonna send me an email and that somehow I have the ability to go make dad follow the order, and I don’t, and you know how it is that they, they want the other parent to follow the order, as the other parent should, but I’m not the custody-order police, and all I can do is remind parents what their obligations are and clarify them where necessary, and then if it’s appropriate, there may be times where I file a report to the court and ask the judge to check in on this family and potentially issue an order to show cause to consider whether someone should be held in contempt.

Jaime Davis: In your experience, has there ever been a time when having a parent coordinator was not helpful or appropriate?

Katie King: I had a custody case that I tried as the attorney last year, and that was really one of the big issues in the case, and, and one of my law partners and I were actually talking about this in another case not too long ago about a PC can be a really good thing in the right case. When you have two parents who need some help with decision making, maybe they need help with communication, but there are other parents that will steamroll a PC, and by that I mean they will overuse the PC, they will use the PC to perpetuate their own position in the case, they will use the PC to work around the other parent as a way to avoid coparenting with the other parent, and so there’s cases where the parents don’t need a PC. They just need to not share legal custody and decision making, –

Jaime Davis: Right.

Katie King: – and that’s another alternative, because really with a PC, we are in that role because the parents, by the court order, share decision making, and if you’ve got parents who are so high conflict that they cannot utilize a PC in an effective way to help them make decisions together, there are some cases that are, and I hate to use the word bad enough, but where these issues are significant enough where they just need to not share legal custody. One parent just needs to be able to make the decision, or they need some other mechanism to help make decisions together, other than a PC.

Jaime Davis: Right. I, I agree with that. Uh, in some cases, the amount of time that it takes for these two people to attempt to reach a decision about anything is detrimental to the child. Nothing gets done. The poor child never gets to play soccer, never gets to play basketball, never gets to go to whatever extracurricular activity they want to go to, because if dad suggests it, mom is always gonna say no, and if the PC is involved, mom is always going to bring it to the PC. Then mom is probably going to not like the PC decision. She’s then going to have the PC decision reviewed, and this poor child is never going to get to do anything. Um –

Katie King: Well, keeping in mind too that this is going to cost this family a fortune, and so –

Jaime Davies: Absolutely.

Katie King: – even if beyond just the practical result of that, a lot of families, they’re already spending tons of money on attorneys, and then you put a PC in there, and if you’ve got the PC having to decide every single issue for this family, a lot of families simply can’t afford that.

Jaime Davis: Right. Well, we are almost out of time. Are there any additional tips that you have for folks who think they may need a PC in their custody case?

Katie King: Think we’ve covered the, the big things. Just understanding the role of a PC, understanding the limits of a PC, going into the PC relationship with a positive attitude but not to be – sometimes people, and, and I understand this, but sometimes people come into the PC relationship, and they just kiss up the whole time. I mean –

Jaime Davis: Right.

Katie King: – I know that sounds silly, but they are so, even though I’m a neutral person, they are so wanting me to be on their side from the beginning, and they either do that in one of two ways. One, they flatter me in a way that is very, very fake and very humorous, or they want to poison me against the other side from the outset, that I don’t want to rehash the past, but let me tell you what dad’s been doing for the last 10 years, or let –

Jaime Davis: Right.

Katie King: – me tell you – I, I don’t want to say anything ma, bad about mom, but did you know she was hospitalized last year, or they just come at the outset and try to just create this, uh, this forum or create this narrative, and it’s just not helpful, and so I tell people from the outset, um, have a discussion with your attorney about what the PC can and cannot do, go into the PC relationship with a positive, appropriate attitude, um, but understand the limits of what the PC is doing. I’m not your advocate. I’m a neutral person. There’s gonna be times where you don’t think I like you, and there’s gonna be times where the other parent doesn’t think that I like them, and that’s because I’m a neutral, and I’m not here to be your cheerleader, I’m not here to be your attorney. I am here on behalf of the court, and most importantly, on behalf of your children, so that they can have a peaceful life, and so you guys can stop spending your money on lawyers and stop visiting the judge.

Jaime Davis: Right, and just start parenting your children.

Katie King: That’s right. That’s right.

Jaime Davis: Well, Katie, thank you so much for joining us today. I think this has been a really great discussion, um, and hopefully some folks will have some of their questions about PCs answered. If anyone has additional questions for you, what’s the best way for them to reach you?

Katie King: Can always contact me by email, and my email is katie@wakefamilylawgroup.net.

Jaime Davis: I hope you all enjoyed this episode of A Year in a Day. If you have any suggestions for future episodes, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at jdavis@divorceistough.com. As a reminder, while in my role as a lawyer my job is to give folks legal advice, the purpose of this podcast is not to do that. This podcast is for general informational purposes only, should not be used as legal advice and is specific to the law in North Carolina. If you have questions before you take any action, you should consult with a lawyer who is licensed in your state.

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gailor hunt attorney
'A Year and a Day: Divorce Without Destruction' is a law podcast produced by Gailor Hunt Davis Taylor & Gibbs, PLLC partner Jaime Davis. You can learn more about Jaime's experience and expertise on her bio page. If you have a question about the podcast, you can email Jaime at jdavis@divorceistough.com. Please note, the purpose of this podcast is not to give legal advice. This podcast is for general, informational purposes only and should not be used as legal advice. The information discussed in this podcast is specific to the laws in North Carolina. Before you take any legal action you should consult with a lawyer who is licensed in your state.
Katie King
The guest on this episode of our podcast is Katie King, a family law attorney, Family Financial Mediator , Parenting Coordinator and partner at the Wake Family Law Group (Schilawski O’Shaughnessy Grace King & Mauney, PLLC), in Raleigh, North Carolina. You can learn more about Katie's experience and expertise on her bio page. If you have a question about anything discussed in the podcast, you can email Katie at katie@wakefamilylawgroup.net.

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