In addition to the more traditional routes of attending mediation and filing a motion with the court, another alternative that may be available to the parties when a parenting time dispute arises is the appointment of a parenting time expeditor. Generally, a parenting time expeditor may be appointed upon the request of either party, by the agreement of the parties or on the court’s own motion. The main purpose of a parenting time expeditor is to resolve parenting time disputes by enforcing, interpreting, clarifying, and addressing circumstances not specifically addressed by an existing parenting time order and, if appropriate, to make a determination as to whether the existing parenting time order has been violated.

“Parenting Time Dispute” Defined

A “parenting time dispute” is defined as a disagreement between parents about the parenting time with their child, including disputes about an anticipated denial of future scheduled parenting time. “Parenting time dispute” is defined to also include a claim by a parent that the other parent is not spending time with a child, as well as a claim by a parent that the other parent is denying or interfering with parenting time. Thus, the expeditor has the authority to decide issues that fall within this broad framework.

Role of the Expeditor

A parenting time expeditor’s initial goal is to attempt to resolve a parenting time dispute by facilitating negotiations between the parties in order to promote an agreement. If, however, despite these efforts, it becomes apparent that the dispute cannot be resolved by an agreement of the parties, the parenting time expeditor is authorized to make a decision resolving the dispute. In this way, the expeditor initially fulfills the traditional role of a mediator by attempting to get the parties to reach a mutually acceptable agreement, but this process goes one step further by giving the expeditor the authority to decide the dispute if the parties are unable to do so.

The Expeditor Process

Within five days of notice of the appointment, or within five days of notice of a subsequent parenting time dispute between the same parties, the parenting time expeditor meets with the parties (together or separately) and makes an effort to facilitate an agreement to resolve the dispute. If a parenting time dispute requires immediate resolution, the parenting time expeditor can confer with the parties through a telephone conference or similar means. An expeditor is authorized to make a decision without conferring with one of the parties if that party chooses not to participate in the process (or is otherwise unresponsive to the expeditor’s attempts to reach the party). If the parties do not reach an agreement with the help of the expeditor, the expeditor must make a decision resolving the dispute as soon as possible, but typically not later than five days after receiving all the information necessary to make a decision.

Unless the parties mutually agree, the parenting time expeditor is not allowed to make a decision that is inconsistent with an existing parenting time order, but the expeditor may make decisions interpreting or clarifying a parenting time order, which includes the authority to develop a specific schedule when the existing court order grants “reasonable parenting time” (or the like) to a party without additional details. The expeditor is authorized to award compensatory parenting time in cases where one parent has been wrongfully deprived of parenting time, and the expeditor may also recommend to the court that a party pay attorney’s fees, court costs, and other costs if the parenting time order has been violated.

After a resolution has been reached either by agreement of the parties or by the expeditor rendering a decision, the expeditor then reduces the agreement or decision to writing and provides a copy to the parties. Unlike traditional mediation, a decision of the expeditor is binding on the parties unless it is subsequently vacated or modified by the court.

Recent Expeditor Trends

The expeditor process has been gaining popularity due to its efficiency and its ability (as its name implies) to provide the parties with a relatively quick resolution to parenting time disputes. Indeed, some divorce decrees and custody determinations nowadays have this alternative dispute resolution process expressly incorporated into the order. As with traditional mediation, this is another avenue that the parties can take in an attempt to resolve parenting time disputes without the formalities associated with filing a formal motion.