Parenting Consultants
- by Eric C. Nelson, Attorney

Use of Parenting Consultants has become very common in divorce cases, usually in the post-decree setting, as an efficient and cost-effective way to deal with ongoing post-decree issues between the parties.

Essentially, the Parenting Consultant takes the place of the judge, and is empowered to make binding decisions to resolve disputes over the children, such as legal custody disputes (like choice of school), as well as parenting time modifications and other parenting decisions. There are three big advantages to using a Parenting Consultant:

1. The cost is a lot less than going to Court, because the parties typically split the PC’s fees, and lawyers don’t have to get involved.

2. A decision can be obtained within a matter of hours or days if necessary, as opposed to the process of bringing a motion in court, which is a process that can take two to five months before receiving a decision.

3. Unlike the judge, a Parenting Consultant can himself investigate the matter by talking to the parties and anyone else with pertinent information, reviewing records, etc.

Most of those who work as Parenting Consultants are from a mental health or social work background. Perhaps 10% of those who do PC work are lawyers. Generally lawyers will be a bit more expensive, but not always.

The criticism I have of the non-lawyer PCs is that many don’t appear to appreciate that their primary function is to decide disputes between the parties. Many of them are conflict-averse, and want to engage in a lot of happy-talk and get everyone to come out agreeing. And while reaching an agreement is ideal if there is an obvious solution, the reason some families need a PC in the first place is because the parties aren’t able to work things out on their own. For the most part, they just need a decision; and not a mushy decision that raises more issues than it resolves, but a clear
written decision which definitively resolves the issue presented. An attorney PC is much better disposed to doing this.

(Case in point: in one case of mine, the parties hired one of the most expensive and well-respected Parenting Consultants in town to resolve post-decree parenting time issues. After spending thousands of dollars to bring her up to speed, she referred the matter to a parenting time evaluator to do a separate parenting time evaluation, rather than doing the job herself as she was paid to do).