A parenting consultant (“PC”) and a parenting time expeditor (“PTE”) are both professionals who work with families to help resolve parenting time disputes, in lieu of bringing such issues directly to a judge. Both are often much less expensive than going to court and are great resources to utilize for problem solving without litigation. But there are some notable differences between the two, as further outlined below.

A PC must be appointed pursuant to Minnesota Rules of General Practice 114.02(a)(10)– which states “Parties may by agreement create an ADR [alternative dispute resolution] process”. Therefore, the parties must agree to appoint a PC. The scope of a PC’s authority is determined by the parties and the PC, based upon a stipulation and court order approved by the parties and the court. This stipulation is a binding and enforceable contract, and as such, it is against public policy to force anyone to sign and be bound to it. This is the reasoning behind the notion that a court cannot order a party to use a PC without their consent.

Examples of issues a PC can address are where a child should be enrolled in school, vaccination disagreements, modifying a parenting time schedule, or the child(ren)’s enrollment in activities. In lieu of bringing a motion on the issue, the parties would submit the issue to the PC, who will then make a binding decision that is typically subject to the right to be reviewed by the court if challenged by either party.

The fact that a party cannot be ordered to retain a PC is one of the major differences between a PC and a PTE.  A court can appoint a PTE regardless of the parties’ agreement. Minn. Stat. § 518.1751 authorizes the court to appoint a PTE.  The statute states that upon the request of either party, the parties’ stipulation, or even the court’s own motion, the court may appoint a PTE.

Another major difference between a PC and a PTE is that a PTE can only enforce, interpret, clarify, and address parenting time issues based on their inclusion or exclusion in an already existing court order. This is different from a PC who can make decisions on any issue covered by the parties’ contract, regardless of existing court orders. PCs generally have a broader scope and more authority than PTEs. For example, a PTE cannot modify a parenting time schedule (unless there is no court ordered schedule) or decide where a child should be enrolled in school if the parties share joint legal custody and disagree. A PTE can look at existing court orders and enforce, interpret, and clarify the language in the order.  Only if there is no language in the order regarding the issue at hand, may they address it accordingly. A PTE’s  decisions are binding unless vacated or modified by the court.

The other major difference between a PC and a PTE is that the former may be subpoenaed or called as a witness in a court proceeding unless a court order or contract provides otherwise.  On the other hand, a PTE may not be subpoenaed or called as a witness in court proceedings. A PC is typically appointed for a term of two years, whereas a PTE may be appointed to resolve limited or one-time disputes, or may be appointed on a long-term basis.  If a PTE is appointed on a long-term basis, it is generally for a term of one to two years, similar to the standard term of a PC appointment.

If you think a PC or PTE would be helpful for your case or have questions about their respective roles, contact the family law attorneys at Heimerl & Lammers today at (612) 294-2200.