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Ruddy v. Ruddy, Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Unpublished Disposition No. 10-P-1951, September 13, 2013

In Ruddy v. Ruddy, the Massachusetts Appeals Court vacated an order which dismissed a husband’s request for the appointment of a new parent coordinator, finding that the parties’ separation agreement was unambiguous in providing that the parties were to utilize a parent coordinator for a period of longer than one year.

The parties were divorced pursuant to a separation agreement, which named a specific parent coordinator who "will serve a term of one (1) year, which shall be renewable for successive periods by agreement of the parties, or, if the parties are unable to reach agreement, the Parent Coordinator will be determined by the Probate & Family Court." The parties utilized the coordinator for over a year until the wife disagreed with one of her recommendations and, thereafter, she refused to acknowledge or work with the Parent Coordinator. The husband filed a complaint seeking a new parenting coordinator, which the judge dismissed on the apparent basis that the judge did not subscribe to the notion of appointing parenting coordinators. The husband appealed.

The wife argued that the separation agreement required the use of a coordinator for only one year, while the husband asserted that they were to continue to use a parenting coordinator until the children reached the age of majority. The Court noted that "[f]ree from ambiguity, the words of the agreement, like any other contract, must be given their usual and ordinary meaning . . ." but "[t]he mere existence of a disputed interpretation by the parties does not create an ambiguity." The Appeals Court found that it was "reasonably clear" that the use of a parenting coordinator was intended to continue beyond the term of one year, particularly since the agreement addressed how future coordinators would be appointed. The Court held that "the agreement does not leave to judicial discretion the issue of whether a parent coordinator would be appointed." The Appeals Court noted that contrary to the judge’s reluctance, the practice of requiring parenting coordinators in a divorce proceeding is established in the Commonwealth, and may be extremely helpful for parents and children alike in avoiding unnecessary litigation.

The Court vacated the Order dismissing the husband’s complaint for appointment of a parenting coordinator, and remanded the case for appointment of an alternate parenting coordinator.