Most parents’ main concern surrounding their separation relates to the effects it is going to have on their children, what is going to be in the best interests of their children, whom they should live with, how contact is going to work, how are the children going to cope with all this change and potential initial upheaval to their routines etc. Whilst a parent’s primary concern is any children involved when separating, at times when emotions are running high and the hurt and upset that can often surround separation, it can be difficult to distinguish between our own emotional state and that of our children and make the right decisions based upon what they actually need and want. This can be especially difficult when parents can’t agree on what they feel is in the best interests of the children, and so collaboration between the two becomes impossible. Their own ideas as to what is right for the children becomes the primary concern rather than the children themselves.
How does child-inclusive mediation work?
When these disputes arise, and the collaboration between the separated parent becomes very difficult to manage and attain, then a mediator is often used to assist the parents in working more collaboratively together in the best interests of the children and help them to reach good, workable decisions about how the shared parenting of any children should work. But rather than just mediating between the two separated parents, child-inclusive mediation seeks to give a voice to the children also involved. It gives children an opportunity to express their feelings about the situation to a neutral third party and can often help a child to feel less anxious, as they have an opportunity to openly speak about what may be upsetting for them without the fear of upsetting either one of their parents.
Child-inclusive mediation provides a safe and confidential environment in which children and young people can have someone who will listen to their concerns, have their views respected and talk about their hopes for the future now that their parents are no longer living together as a couple. The process can help the parents understand their child’s perspective better and consider this when discussing the future plans for the shared parenting of their children.
The mediator will most likely see children alone and away from their parents. This is done so the child is better positioned to speak freely and more openly than if their parents were present. The mediators are specially trained to ensure that children feel safe and explain that what they say is completely confidential. The mediator will not tell the parent what the child has said when they have spoken to them unless it is something that the child specifically wants the parent to know, and the child is most certainly not asked to make any decisions or take responsibility for any decisions being made. But whilst what is spoken about with the child remains between the child and the mediator, it helps the mediator potentially guide future mediation sessions with the parents to fully incorporate the wishes of any children involved and help the parents to recognize the effects of the separation on those children. Most importantly, by parents allowing children to speak to a mediator, children know that their parents care about them and that their voices matter.
Ensuring that the child’s voice is listened to throughout separation is extremely important for the child as it can help to eliminate stresses that can be easily avoided and ease small worries and concerns. Sometimes these concerns can be far larger and particularly worrisome for them, but making sure that they feel someone is listening to them and that opinions matter can remove some of the anxiety of the situation. Children can often feel caught in the middle of two parents, both of whom they love and, especially where there are high levels of conflict involved, it can seriously affect the child’s mental well-being, behaviour and development.
Before the family mediator can meet with a child, the parents would need to have each attended a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting and jointly attended a Mediation session. A Mediation Information Assessment Meeting is a one-to-one meeting where the mediator explains the mediation process, and principles of mediation, provide legal information, and potentially signpost to other support services. The mediator will also answer any questions the participant may have, find out more specific details about the case, and understand what the participant would like to achieve from mediation. If you want to book a free no-obligation consultation to learn more, please click here.
Considerations to participation
Children over the age of 10yrs are usually invited to talk to a mediator, where appropriate, but it does depend upon a child’s maturity level and any other additional needs that they may have. Younger children can be seen, but it is rarer. Child-inclusive mediation is not suitable for children younger than five years of age. Both parents and the child themselves have to agree to see a mediator, and if any refuse, child-inclusive mediation will not take place. Parents are assured that their children will not be asked to make decisions or choices regarding their parents’ separation, that parental authority will always be respected and that the processes involved in the mediation with their child, will always be fully explained. Children involved in the process are reassured that what they say is confidential and they will not be forced into anything that they are uncomfortable with, that it is not about them having to make any decisions or choices and that they can ask as many questions as they like.
What happens after my child has seen the mediator?
Once the mediator has undertaken the session with any children involved, the parents have the opportunity to have a further joint session with the mediator in which the mediator can discuss with the parents anything that the child/children want the parents to know and the observations that the mediator may have had regarding the child/children. This can help the parents to bring the focus of any discussions back to the children. It can be very upsetting for the parents to hear how their separation affects their children. However, it can be a powerful tool in helping them understand their child’s viewpoint a little better and make life and the separation process a little easier for them. For any children involved, this process can be a powerful tool in helping them to express themselves in a situation where they often feel powerless and that the choices about themselves are being made by the separating adults rather than them being actively involved in the process.
If you would like to learn more about child-inclusive mediation or are interested in attending mediation, please book a free mediation consultation.