The Supreme Court of Florida amended the Florida Rules for Qualified and Court-Appointed Parenting Coordinators (“Parenting Coordinator Rules”). See In Re: Amendments to the Florida Rules for Qualified and Court-Appointed Parenting Coordinators, Case No. SC20-942 (Fla. December 2, 2021).
Summary of Florida Parenting Coordinator Rules
The amended Parenting Coordinator Rules have four parts. First, Part I of the Florida Parenting Coordinator Rules provides for qualifications and rostering of Parenting Coordinators. Each judicial circuit must create and maintain a roster of parenting coordinators from which the trial court may appoint a qualified parenting coordinator. Section 61.125, Florida Statutes provides for qualification and disqualification of Parenting Coordinators (PCs). See Parenting Coordinator Rules 15.000 – 15.020.
Parenting Coordinator Rule 15.020 states the chief judge or designee in each circuit shall require qualified PCs to renew their qualifications. To be included on the roster, PCs must submit a statewide renewal form and verify they’ve completed 16 hours of continuing PC education every two years. Renewals for qualified PCs and verification of continuing PC education are due on or before December 31 of every odd-numbered year.
Second, Part II of the Parenting Coordinator Rules states ethical standards of professional conduct for parenting coordinators. See Parenting Coordinator Rules 15.205 – 15.298.
Third, Part III of the Parenting Coordinator Rules states discipline procedures for PCs. See Parenting Coordinator Rules 15.300 – 15.385.
Finally, a newly added Part IV of the Parenting Coordinator Rules authorizes the Committee on Alternative Dispute Resolution Rules and Policy to promulgate, adopt, and amend operating procedures for training of PCs, for continuing PC education, and for approving and reporting compliance by PCs with the requirements. See Parenting Coordinator Rule 15.400.
What is Parenting Coordination?
Parenting coordination is a way parents work with a neutral professional to resolve parenting disputes. When parents are unsuccessful in working out disputes, a parenting coordinator assists them in creating or implementing a parenting plan. By educating parents and making recommendations, parenting coordinators facilitate resolving disputes. In some cases, with the court’s and the parents’ prior authorization, parenting coordinators may make limited decisions when parents get stuck.
Parenting coordination is based on communication, education, negotiation, facilitation, and problem-solving. Parenting coordinators integrate skills and knowledge they’ve drawn from mental health, law, and conflict resolution. See Parenting Coordinator Rule 15.020.
Florida Parenting Coordinators: Discipline Procedures
The Talent Pool:
“PCRB” – Parenting Coordinator Review Board – 20 people, 4-year terms (3-term max)
- 6 judges
- 10 qualified parenting coordinators from professions eligible to be qualified parenting coordinators under section 61.125, Florida Statutes. At least 5 must be nonattorney parenting coordinators.
- 4 Florida attorneys licensed at least 3 years with substantial family practice. Not qualified as parenting coordinators, not judicial officers during terms on PCRB, but who know and have experience with parenting coordination practice, statutes, procedures.
“RVCC” – Rule Violation Complaint Committee – Investigates the complaint.
- 3 members of Parenting Coordinator Review Board – 1 judge or attorney (Chair of RVCC) + 2 qualified parenting coordinators.
- The RVCC disbands after the Panel disposes of the case (and related cases as the Chief of Alternative Dispute Resolution deems appropriate) to which it is assigned.
- Rule 15.270 grants RVCC jurisdiction and powers to conduct the proper and speedy investigation and disposition of any complaint.
The judge or attorney chairing the RVCC may compel:
(1) the attendance of any person at an RVCC meeting;
(2) any person to give statements, testimony, and depositions; and
(3) production of documents, records, and other evidence;
The RVCC shall perform its investigatory function and have concomitant power to resolve cases prior to panel referral.
The “Panel” – Adjudicates the formal charges associated with a rule violation complaint against a parenting coordinator.
The Panel comprises 3 members of the PCRB the DRC selects who didn’t serve on the RVCC
Each panel shall have jurisdiction and powers to conduct the proper and speedy adjudication and disposition of any proceeding before it. The panel shall perform the adjudicatory function, but shall not have any investigatory functions.
The panel chair may:
(1) compel the attendance of witnesses;
(2) issue subpoenas to compel the depositions of witnesses;
(3) order the production of records or other documentary evidence;
(4) hold anyone in contempt prior to and during the hearing;
(5) implement procedures during the hearing;
(6) determine admissibility of evidence; and
(7) decide motions prior to, during or subsequent to the hearing if related to the hearing.
Florida Parenting Coordinators – Contempt Process
Parenting Coordinator Rule 15.340(b) authorizes the chair of an RVCC or panel to hear motions for contempt or to hold anyone in contempt for conduct during the RVCC meeting or panel hearing. The chair files the order of contempt in the local court. The circuit court issues orders and judgments as the court deems appropriate.
Rule Violation Complaint Process (Rule 15.345)
Any person or the DRC files a Rule Violation Complaint with the DRC. If an individual files the complaint, it must be written, sworn to under oath, and notarized using a form the DRC supplies. If the DRC files the complaint, it doesn’t have to be sworn or notarized, but must be signed by the Chief of Alternative Dispute Resolution or DRC staff attorney.
The DRC assigns the complaint to the 3-person Rule Violation Complaint Committee (RVCC) and informs it of the parenting coordinator’s prior sanctions history, if any.
In 10 days after receiving a complaint from an individual, the DRC notifies the complainant of the receipt. The RVCC has a conference call to determine whether the allegations, if true, would constitute a violation of the parenting coordinator rules. If the RVCC finds the complaint facially insufficient, it dismisses it without prejudice and notifies the complainant, who may refile within 20 days. If the RVCC finds the complaint facially sufficient, it lists the rule or rules the parenting coordinator may have violated and submits the list to the DRC.
The DRC serves the PC with the list of alleged rule violations, the complaint, and a link to the rules in effect at the time of the alleged violation.
The PC has 20 days from service to file with the DRC a sworn, written response.
Investigating the Complaint
Before or after the PC responds, the RVCC may direct the DRC to appoint an investigator to assist the RVCC and the RVCC may investigate the complaint if the RVCC chair authorizes the investigation. The investigation may include: meeting with the PC, the complainant, and anyone else.
To resolve the matter, the RVCC may meet or communicate with the complainant and PC, together or separately.
The parenting coordinator may agree to sanctions. Rule 15.360. The DRC distributes any consent agreement including sanctions to all circuits through the chief judges, all trial and appellate court administrators, and the ADR directors. The rules the parenting coordinator violated and consent agreement (with confidential information redacted) get published on the DRC’s page on the Florida Courts’ website https://www.flcourts.org/Resources-Services/Alternative-Dispute-Resolution/Rules-Discipline-Sanctions.
If there’s been no disposition, the RVCC reviews the complaint, response, any investigative report, underlying documentation, and determines if there’s probable cause to believe the alleged misconduct occurred and would constitute a violation of the Parenting Coordinator Rules.
If NO probable cause, the RVCC dismisses the complaint with prejudice and advises the complainant and PC in writing. The decision is final.
If YES probable cause, the RVCC may:
- Order formal charges be drafted and forwarded to the DRC for assignment to a panel.
- Decide not to proceed by filing an order of nonreferral explaining why and advise the complainant and PC.
Florida Parenting Coordinators Hearing Panel Procedures (Rule 15.350)
Upon an RVCC’s referral of formal charges to the DRC, it must send the formal charges to the parenting coordinator and complainant.
The DRC retains a Prosecutor and may retain a panel adviser.
The DRC assigns the case (and may assign related cases) to a hearing panel.
Absent stipulation of the parenting coordinator and PCRB or good cause, the DRC sets the hearing for a date 30 – 120 days from the assignment.
Before the hearing, the accused PC may admit to charges and panel may impose sanctions.
Formal Charges Against a Parenting Coordinator: The Hearing (Rule 15.350(i))
The Panel Chair must be physically present. The Florida Evidence Code applies.
Unless the parenting coordinator claims a privilege or right properly available under federal or state law, the parenting coordinator may be called as a witness to make specific and complete disclosure of all matters material to the issues.
Rule 15.350(i)(6) gives the parenting coordinator the rights to:
- defend against all charges
- examine and cross-examine witnesses
- compel the attendance of any witness to testify
- compel production of documents and other evidence through the panel’s subpoena power.
Burden of Proof (Rule 15.355): The Prosecutor bears the burden of proof for rule violations. The burden of proof is clear and convincing evidence. Parenting Coordinator Rule 15.355.
Confidentiality (Rule 15.375): All complaints alleging misconduct against parenting coordinators subject to disciplinary action under Florida’s Parenting Coordinator Rules, including the PC’s response and all other records made or received during the complaint procedure, are exempt from public disclosure under Florida Rules of General Practice and Judicial Administration 2.420(c)(3)(B). These materials stay confidential until a finding of probable cause or no probable cause is established, regardless of the outcome of any appeal.
Review (Rule 15.385): Within 30 days of panel’s written decision, the parenting coordinator whom the Panel sanctions or finds has violated the Parenting Coordinator Rules may seek review by the chief circuit judge or designee of the circuit that qualified the PC in the case that gave rise to the underlying action.
The Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure control to the extent applicable or as modified by procedures for qualification and appeals of discipline of parenting coordinators as adopted in each circuit. The PC invokes the circuit court’s jurisdiction to review disciplinary action by submitting an original and one copy of a Notice of Review of Parenting Coordinator Disciplinary Action to the chief judge of the circuit or designee within 30 days of the panel’s written decision. A copy shall be provided to the DRC. A copy of the panel decision shall be attached to the notice. The standard of review of disciplinary action is competent substantial evidence.