Coordinators to help couples cooperate in parenting after split

The Family Justice Courts (FJC) started a pilot scheme last year to train professionals to help feuding couples cooperate in parenting after the divorce and to carry out access arrangements the courts have ordered.
The Family Justice Courts (FJC) started a pilot scheme last year to train professionals to help feuding couples cooperate in parenting after the divorce and to carry out access arrangements the courts have ordered. PHOTO: ST FILE

When a marriage ends bitterly, anything and everything involving the children can be contentious.

For example, fights can be over minor issues such as where to hand a child over to the parent who does not live with the kid so that they can spend time together.

Warring couples take these fights to court, deepening the acrimony between them and clogging the courts' caseload. Often, their children are suffering silently, caught between both parents.

The Family Justice Courts (FJC) started a pilot scheme last year to train a pool of professionals, known as parenting coordinators, to help feuding couples cooperate in parenting after the divorce and to carry out access arrangements the courts have ordered.

These arrangements include where and when the parent who does not live with the child gets to spend time with the kid.

The FJC told The Straits Times that it is studying the possibility of amending the law to give parenting coordinators the power to make minor changes to court orders, to resolve disputes so that feuding couples do not continually take their fights back to court.

The FJC spokesman said if this happens, parenting coordinators would have the power, for example, to vary access arrangements.

FJC Presiding Judge Valerie Thean said last month, during its workplan announcements for the year, that professionals from the social sciences field will also be trained as parenting coordinators this year. A total of 24 lawyers have been trained so far.

Parenting coordinators now do not have the legal powers to make minor changes to court orders, and can depend only on mediation to resolve disputes over the orders.

However, if mediation does not work, some couples turn to litigation, a process that increases the tension as people often feel the need to fight back once the other party levels a charge at them, lawyers said.

When asked about the number of cases that coordinators have handled, the FJC said the pilot scheme was launched only in November last year and added: "There have not been many cases as yet as it is not widely known."

Senior Counsel Engelin Teh, a lawyer who has been trained as a parenting coordinator, said some couples declare war over small matters as they are bitter from all the unhappiness that led to the divorce.

She said: "They find it hard to allow the other parent to be involved in their child's life, so they make it hard for them to spend time with the child.

"My role as a parenting coordinator is to mediate and encourage co-parenting, to find ways to reduce the conflict and to help them understand it is in the child's interests to be able to bond with both parents and for the child to know he or she is loved by both parents."

Theresa Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 06, 2017, with the headline 'Coordinators to help couples cooperate in parenting after split'. Print Edition | Subscribe