Appointing a Parenting Consultant in Minnesota – A Sort of Referee for Parents Who Need a Whistle Now and Then

A parenting consultant is sort of like a referee.  When parents seem unable to resolve disputes there is an option to appoint refereea parenting consultant ( PC).  The PC acts in the capacity of a decision maker on issues that parents cannot or will not agree upon.  Unlike the parenting time expeditor, however, who may have similar duties, the PC has no statutory authority in Minnesota.

The PC is appointed upon agreement of the parties by contact commonly called a stipulation.  The stipulation  can be filed with the Court and reduced to an order.  Because the PC is appointed based upon contact,  the parents can incorporate any terms and conditions that they want within their appointment.

For example, parents may give the PC the decision-making power to settle disputes over day-care, vacation conflicts or holiday conflicts, or private school tuition contributions.  The parents can contract whatever they believe necessary as long as they have a “meeting of the minds”, which in legal contract language means both parties must understand and agree to the terms and conditions of the appointment.  

Just appointing a PC is not adequate.  The parents must have an agreement delineating the terms and conditions of the appointment.  A recent unpublished Minnesota Court decision from the Minnesota Court of Appeals held that a simple agreement to “use a parenting consultant” without specifying the details of the appointment is inadequate.  ( Hagelstrom v. Ulan) The  equivalent of the foregoing PC appointment is like saying – “Well, we have an appointment.”  And, exactly what does that appointment say?  “Nothing- we just have one.”   

The Hagelstrom case was followed by another unpublished Minnesota Court of Appeals case holding that parenting consultants have only as much authority as the parties may so agree. ( Custody of W.N.M.)  In this case, both parties submitted proposed PC orders to the Court.  Mom wanted the PC to have the authority to decide school attendance issues;  Dad, however, did not and his proposed PC Order did not grant PC the school attendance authority.  The trial Court sided with Mom and issued an Order granting the PC the authority to decide school attendance issues. 

The Appeals Court held that the trial Court’s appointment was an error because the parties had no “meeting of the minds” on this issue; and, that nothing in the Court’s record evidenced that the parties had agreed to allow the trial Court to make the decision that the PC could decide school attendance issues.  

In other words, both parents must agree to all of the terms and conditions of the PC appointment or both parties have to agree to allow the trial Court to make a decision if the parents dispute what should be included in the PC appointment.

What is the lesson here?  Be quite certain that the PC agreement you enter into is your complete and entire agreement.  Be certain that you understand whether or not you are granting the trial Court the authority to make a decision for you  in determining what power the PC has to make decisions.     If you are not in agreement, then try and mediate a “meeting of the minds.”   

Hagelstrom v. Ulan  

(Custody of W.N.M

Minn. Stat. Section 480A.08 defines an unpublished case as follows: “Unpublished opinions of the Court of Appeals are not precedential. Unpublished opinions must not be cited unless the party citing the unpublished opinion provides a full and correct copy to all other counsel at least 48 hours before its use in any pretrial conference, hearing, or trial. If cited in a brief or memorandum of law, a copy of the unpublished opinion must be provided to all other counsel at the time the brief or memorandum is served, and other counsel may respond.”

Kate Willmore, Saint Cloud, Minnesota, Family Lawyer, Wills, Trusts and Estates Lawyer,  and Mediator

(320) 217-6030

Copyright 2013

About Kate Willmore, Esq.

Kate Willmore, Saint Cloud, Minnesota, divorce, custody and family attorney brings over 25 years experience to every client's legal matter. *** Licensed in Minnesota and in California

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