If you are a parent going through separation or divorce it is highly likely you are worried about the effect it will have on your children. Making decisions about children can be difficult for parents when emotions are running high, but parents have a duty to act in the best interests of their children.
Putting children first can be difficult when separating parents don’t agree on arrangements. This is especially common in early stages of separation when hurt feelings can get in the way of collaboration.
How the children will be cared for, how much time they will spend with each parent, where they will go to school, religious instruction, how time with new partners is managed, conflict management etc., all needs to be worked out.
It is common for parents in this situation to use a mediator to get help in agreeing a parenting plan. In addition to divorce mediation where adults have help in agreeing arrangements for their children, child-inclusive mediation is useful to enable children to voice their views and wishes. What is child-inclusive mediation?
Child-inclusive mediation is a process of mediation designed to assist parents in reaching good decisions for their children’s future arrangements. It is a process that helps separating parents to focus on the best interests of their children.
Importantly, it gives children the opportunity to have their views heard. Children who have had an opportunity to express their views about the issues affecting them often feel less anxious as a result. Child-inclusive mediation is different to divorce mediation as it also considers parenting issues through the child’s eyes. It can help parents to make parenting decisions that include the wishes of their children.
How does child-inclusive mediation work?
The process provides opportunities for children and young people to think about their needs in a safe and confidential environment. Children can have their voices heard by an independent mediator without the fear of upsetting either parent. The idea is for children to feel listened to and to have their views respected.
The process also helps parents to understand and take account of the child’s wishes. Usually children get the opportunity to sit face to face with a mediator without parents being present so they can say exactly how they are feeling.
Child-inclusive mediators are trained to ensure children feel they are in a safe space and will explain to the child that what they say is completely confidential. It means the mediator will not tell the parents what the child has said unless it is something the child wants the parents to know. Children are not asked to make choices or take responsibility for decisions. After the meeting the mediator will only feedback to parents what the child has agreed they wish their parents to hear.
Children can be seen separately or together with siblings.
Are child-inclusive mediators specially trained?
Yes, child-inclusive mediators are fully trained mediators who are registered with the Family Mediation Council and have completed additional specialist training. Child-inclusive mediation requires thorough training. From September 2018 all family mediators will be required to practise child-inclusive mediation.
Why is child-inclusive mediation important?
Separation or divorce is a bewildering time for children. No matter how well they seem to be coping, the situation will affect them on some level. Children can easily feel as though their opinions don’t matter when parents separate, whether there is acrimony over childcare arrangements or not. Seemingly silly logistics, like ‘who will look after the goldfish or the cat’ can be forgotten about and not relayed to children. These small details can be extremely worrying for children.
Divorce or parental separation can be extremely damaging to children, especially when there is a lot of conflict. Children can feel like they are caught in the middle. Such stress can lead to dysfunctional behaviour and development.
Child-inclusive mediation reassures children that parents are taking their views seriously. Tina Day, head of Family Law at George Ide attended the new child-mediation course and said, “the training demonstrated to me that seeking the views of children can have a powerful impact on the parents’ discussions regarding their separation or divorce. Providing children with a confidential and neutral channel to report back to their parents is a privilege that should be valued and taken extremely seriously.”
During the difficulty of separation, children will often say what they think a parent wants to hear, as opposed to what they really think. Child-inclusive mediation can help a child to make parents aware of true feelings.
Is child-inclusive mediation suitable for all ages?
Child-inclusive mediation is particularly suited to children aged 10 and above, but younger children should not be excluded from having a similar opportunity. Many family mediators will talk to children in this capacity from age 4 upwards. Exceptions are when children have a learning difficulty or mental illness, or where there are safeguarding concerns.
Child-inclusive mediation is a powerful intervention and has the potential to change the outcome of the pathway taken after separation or divorce. For more information on child-inclusive mediation and how to find a local mediator, get in touch with the Family Mediation Council.
Dakota Murphey draws inspiration from established law firms such as George Ide. For more information on Child-inclusive mediation, visit their website here.