The Idaho Senate has narrowly approved a measure that would give courts the authority, in the words of the legislation, to “award attorney fees and costs to the prevailing party on a motion to set aside or modify the decision of a parenting coordinator” in child custody cases, which are often a contentious point in divorce actions.
House Bill 446 passed by a single vote in the Senate , 18-17, and now awaits Gov. Butch Otter’s signing or veto. It had previously passed in the House.
“This bill come to us from the courts,” said Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise. “It relates to magistrate courts in particular.”
Bock explained that “parenting coordinators were put into law because magistrate courts found that there were so many disputes in custody cases, they needed to get things in place so they could be mediated in a more expeditious way. As a result, more and more fights have ended up back in courts and many of these appeals are filed in a frivolous way.”
Bock acknowledged that there was opposition to the bill. “Some would say that this does not have enough sideboards, but it’s not like this would give a judge the free reign with attorneys’ fees, no matter what.”
One of those standing in opposition was Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa. “I trust and appreciate our judges,” Lakey told the Senate members, “but I have concerns about this bill. It provides for the awarding of attorney’s fees by the decision of a single appointed parenting coordinator. This person is not a judge, they are not subject to the same judicial rules and ethics as a judge. With this bill we are giving that person’s decision the same weight as a judge’s decision.”
Lakey added that “I can illustrate this with a sports analogy. Judges are used to calling balls and strikes, but here we have judges calling balls from a pitcher that doesn’t follow the same rules as the other pitchers.”
“Generally, I think parenting coordinators are more a problem than they are a help,” noted Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, who practices family law. “I think we should have these matters be decided by a judge.”
Bock responded to Rice’s remarks, noting that in divorce and child custody cases “it is in the best interest of a child to have the parties working together harmoniously. A parenting coordinator doesn’t pretend to be a judge. That’s not what we are talking about here.”
Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, debated in favor of the bill, noting that “to me the biggest sideboard here is that there is nothing mandatory here. This is all within the discretion of the court.”