Introduced by Representative Grad of Moretown
Subject: Domestic relations; parent coordinators
Statement of purpose: This bill proposes to provide a process for the appointment and employment of a parent coordinator in actions in which parental rights and responsibilities have been adjudicated, but parent-child contact issues remain in dispute because of high conflict between the parents, domestic violence, substance abuse, or other factors that significantly impede resolution.
AN ACT RELATING TO PARENT COORDINATORS
It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:
Sec. 1. 15 V.S.A. § 671 is added to read:
§ 671. PARENT COORDINATORS
(a) In an action in which parental rights and responsibilities have been adjudicated and determination of parent-child contact is a substantial issue, the court, at the request of a party or on its own motion, may appoint a parent coordinator if doing so will serve the best interests of the children, and one or more of the following conditions are impeding the resolution of parent-child contact issues:
(1) A high level of conflict between the parents.
(2) Domestic abuse in the parent’s relationship.
(3) Substance abuse on the part of either or both parties.
(4) Any other condition that, in the opinion of the court, significantly impedes the resolution of parent-child contact issues.
(b) The order appointing a parent coordinator shall do all of the following:
(1) Name a specific individual qualified as provided in subsection (g) of this section to serve as parent coordinator for the purpose of resolving issues related to parent-child contact in accordance with protocols established by administrative order of the supreme court.
(2) Direct each parent to contact the parent coordinator for the purpose of setting up an initial meeting.
(3) Set a date for a status conference eight to ten weeks from the date of the order or at another mutually agreed-upon time.
(4) Include a parent-child contact order that may be reviewed and revised by the judge at the status conference.
(5) Include an explanation of the purpose and process of parent coordination and the rights of the parties.
(c) The duties of a parent coordinator shall be as follows:
(1) The parent coordinator shall review the file of the case prior to meeting with the parties.
(2) The parent coordinator shall hold an initial separate meeting with each party at the courthouse or a facility with comparable security. All subsequent meetings with the parties shall be held separately and at such a facility unless the parties and the parent coordinator agree to hold joint meetings.
(3) At the initial meeting with each party, the parent coordinator shall explain the purpose and process of parent coordination, state that information gained by the parent coordinator in the process will not be confidential, and outline the rights of the parties.
(4) If at any time the parent coordinator determines that parent coordination proceedings should be terminated, the parent coordinator shall report that fact to the court, and the matter shall be set for a status conference.
(5) After meeting with both parties, if the parties agree, the parent coordinator shall file a stipulation signed by both parties authorizing the parent coordinator to obtain confidential information concerning the children from professionals and others who have worked with the children. If the parties do not agree, the parent coordinator or a party may request that the court issue an order permitting the parent coordinator to obtain such confidential information.
(6) The parent coordinator may meet with the children, the parties’ attorneys, other professionals involved with the children, and family members or others who know the children well.
(7) If the parties agree on a parent-child contact plan, the parent coordinator shall draft a stipulation that, if signed by each party, shall be filed with the court prior to the date set for the status conference.
(8) If the parties cannot agree on a parent-child contact plan, the parent coordinator shall submit a report to the court, including a narrative summary of the parent coordinator’s meetings with the parties and others and detailed recommendations for a parent-child contact plan. The report shall be filed with the court and mailed to the parties at least 14 days prior to the date set for the status conference.
(d) A party who objects to the parent-child contact plan proposed by the parent coordinator shall file written objections with the court within ten days after the mailing of the parent coordinator’s report and recommendations to the parties.
(e) At the status conference, if there is a stipulation, the court shall review the plan, may revise it, and shall issue a final order for parent-child contact based on the stipulated plan and any revisions. If there is no stipulation, the court shall consider the parent coordinator’s report and any objections. If there are no longer contested issues, the court may issue a final order for parent‑child contact based on the parent coordinator’s recommendations and any revisions that the court may make. If contested issues remain, the court shall set the matter for hearing. Pending the hearing, the court may leave in place the parent-child contact rules established in the order of appointment under subsection (b) of this section or may issue a temporary order for parent‑child contact based upon the parent coordinator’s recommendations.
(f) At the hearing, the parent coordinator may be called by either party or the court to testify, provided that the parent coordinator shall not be permitted to testify to statements made by a party that would otherwise be inadmissible as an offer of compromise under Rule 408 of the Vermont Rules of Evidence. Following the hearing, the court shall issue a final parent-child contact order.
(g) The supreme court shall establish by administrative order qualifications and training of parent coordinators that will enable them to carry out all of their responsibilities under this section.
Sec. 2. CODIFICATION
The office of legislative council shall codify Sec. 1 of this act in subchapter 3A of chapter 11 of Title 15.
The Vermont General Assembly
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