Parenting Coordinator or Mediator? What’s the Difference?

If you are navigating a divorce or separation involving children, you may have encountered the terms Parenting Coordination and Mediation. Both parenting coordinators and mediators play essential yet distinct roles in resolving conflicts, particularly within co-parenting arrangements.

Parenting coordinators and mediators share certain similarities. They both act as independent third parties with the primary objective of helping you and your former partner reach mutually agreeable solutions. Their top priority is to ensure that any decisions related to child custody or support serve the best interests of the children.

However, these professionals play distinct roles in helping to resolve conflicts in and out of court. For example, parenting coordinators and mediators can differ in appointment, training, goals, and legal authority.


Mediation and parenting coordination can be voluntary or mandated by the court. However, mediators are used to help resolve a specific dispute of any nature in divorce, while the parenting coordinator is used to resolve ongoing issues involving childcare and co-parenting.

A parenting coordinator is usually appointed either by judicial order or through mutual agreement between the disputing parties in cases involving parenting issues or custody disputes. Judges often introduce parenting coordinators in high-conflict scenarios where consensus seems unattainable, and there is a significant risk of repeated requests for modifications to court orders from one or both parents.

Parents also have the option to engage with a parenting coordinator independently without needing a referral or court order. Typically, this involves signing an agreement outlining the terms of engagement, including processes and expectations for both parties and the parenting coordinator.


Mediators often possess backgrounds in law, psychology, social work, or related disciplines pertinent to conflict resolution. They are skilled practitioners equipped with techniques that promote constructive dialogue and effective problem-solving.

Parenting coordinators are trained in family law, psychology, dispute resolution, and social work. They hold specialized training in conflict resolution and family dynamics and meet additional qualifications mandated by the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC).

Goals and Matters Handled

The objective of a parenting coordinator is to guide co-parents in independently addressing parenting disputes without necessitating court intervention. Conversely, a mediator aims to facilitate focused discussions on a specific issue that may or may not involve parenting. They act as an impartial arbitrator and steer both parties toward achieving a mutually acceptable compromise.

Parenting coordinators play a crucial role in assisting former couples with matters stipulated within court orders. Their primary responsibility is to aid parents in implementing and adhering to their parenting plans or custody agreements.

Additionally, parenting coordinators help develop effective dispute-resolution strategies so parents can independently manage future conflicts. Typically engaged on an ongoing basis, parenting coordinators contribute significantly to long-term relationship-building and sustainable dispute resolution efforts.

On the other hand, divorcing couples and co-parents may opt for mediation to retain control over the decisions in their divorce case rather than having a judge determine the outcomes. Mediation usually begins early in divorce, with mediators stepping in as couples start outlining their preferred resolutions. Their involvement is generally limited to resolving specific disputes and is not an ongoing process.

Legal Authority

Parenting coordinators play a pivotal role in facilitating agreements between parents regarding their legal responsibilities towards their children. In situations where parents are unwilling or unable to reach an accord, these coordinators possess the legal authority to intervene and make recommendations to the court.

Depending on the scope of their appointment, parenting coordinators may have the authority to make decisions or provide recommendations to the court on specific issues, such as visitation schedules or communication protocols between parents.

In contrast, mediators do not hold any decision-making power. Their primary function is to assist parties in exploring options, identifying common ground, and working toward a resolution culminating in a signed written agreement.

The agreements forged during mediation are not legally binding until they are presented before and endorsed by a judge. Parties generally retain the freedom to withdraw from mediation at any point prior to reaching a resolution without incurring penalties.

While both parenting coordinators and mediators aim to resolve conflicts effectively, they serve distinct roles within this process. Depending on your specific circumstances, utilizing either or both services can be beneficial.

If you believe employing a parenting coordinator or mediator could benefit your situation, you should consult an experienced family law attorney. They can help you suggest parenting coordination or mediation to the other parent and recommend competent professionals who can assist you further.


Karen Rosenthal

Karen B. Rosenthal is a partner and co-founder at matrimonial litigation firm Bikel Rosenthal & Schanfield LLP, where she brings 35 years of matrimonial law experience to bear in matters involving high-net-worth equitable distribution, contentious custody battles, and other high-stakes disputes. Certified as an Attorney for the Child and a frequent speaker on topics related to children going through high-conflict divorce, she has been recognized as a leading New York lawyer by Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers, Crain's New York Business magazine, and New York magazine.

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