Lisa Ruggieri Changes State Law With Bower v. Bournay-Bower Case

The Background of the Bower V. Bournay-Bower Case

On May 8, 2014, attorney Ruggieri had the privilege of presenting an oral argument at the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in the case of Bower v. Bournay-Bower.

The issue before the Court was whether a family law judge had the authority to appoint a parent coordinator if the parties could not agree on the appointment.

Attorney Ruggieri represented the father, William Bower.

The mother and father had been involved in high-conflict litigation for several years. When their divorce was finalized, the parties filed cross-complaints for contempt. The father was frustrated because the mother was not abiding by the joint legal custody order.

The father asked the Court to appoint a parent coordinator to help the parties resolve their ongoing disputes relating to the children. The mother opposed the appointment, but the judge granted the father's request, and a parent coordinator was appointed. The judge explained that by the time the complaints were presented to her, she had no ability to offer relief to either party.

The Role of Parent Coordinators

A parent coordinator can be a professional who has a mental health and psychological background or a lawyer who serves as a neutral third party. In both instances, the parent coordinator helps the separated or divorced parents resolve conflicts that arise when the custody and visitation plans are implemented.

One of the primary goals of parent coordinators is to reduce the impact that the parents' conflict has on their children.

In recent years, the use of parent coordinators has become increasingly common in Massachusetts, especially when parents are developing and implementing custody and visitation arrangements.

Using parent coordinators does not prevent parents from seeking court intervention. However, the potential benefits of working with parent coordinators instead of seeking court intervention are notable, including:

  • Convenience to the parties
  • Less expensive
  • Expedited decisions on day-to-day disagreements

Understanding the SJC's Ruling on Parent Coordinators

On September 15, 2014, the SJC ruled that judges have the authority to appoint parent coordinators in appropriate circumstances. The case was sent back to the family law court to create a comprehensive rule regarding the appointment of parent coordinators. Specifically, the ruling needed to articulate:

  • The functions and duties of parent coordinators
  • The necessary qualifications, training and monitoring of parent coordinators
  • The scope of the parent coordinator's authority

The SJC reasoned that a rule would help ensure that proper safeguards were in place regarding the selection and appointment of parent coordinators, including but not limited to which issues can be referred to parent coordinators, the authority of parent coordinators, and payment of the parent coordinators' fees.