The use of these terms may vary significantly across the country, and even in the Seattle area their use may vary, but I wanted to describe three fairly different roles that can be useful in different ways in cases involving children.
A Parenting Evaluator (or the very similar Guardian ad Litem) is someone appointed by the court to conduct an investigation and report back to the court about the family situation, the parenting abilities of the parents, and any areas of concern about the parents, and then to recommend what parenting arrangements might be in the best interests of the children. A parenting evaluation can be very useful when parents are involved in a heavily contested court battle, especially if there are allegations of abuse, mental health issues, substance problems, or other parenting deficits. While the court is not required to follow the recommendations of the evaluator, the report generally is a major factor in the court’s decision.
In more cooperative cases, such as where couples are engaging in Mediation or Collaboration, a Child Specialist is someone who acts as a resource to the parents. Rather than evaluating the fitness of the parents, a child specialist is there to provide information to the parents and to help them develop a parenting plan that will work for both parents and children. This may involve meeting the children to explore whether there are issues the parents should be made aware of (children often try to protect their parents in divorce by hiding what is going on with them), giving guidance on child developmental stages, and helping parents plan how to tell their children they are getting divorced. A Child Specialist can be very helpful for a couple that hopes to keep a good co-parenting relationship and want to develop the best parenting plan they can for their children.
Sometimes parents have ongoing issues dealing with each others different parenting styles. A Parenting Coordinator is someone, usually appointed by a court, who continues to work with the couple over time after the divorce to assist with communication difficulties and disagreements as they arise. Often a Parenting Coordinator may be authorized to make some decisions on the spot, subject to later review by the court. A Parenting Coordinator can be helpful in a case where two parents really need someone to referee ongoing disputes without having to go back to court every time something comes up.