When parents decide to separate it can be a very difficult time for everyone involved. The age of the child needs to be considered when determining how involved they should be the decisions concerning the arrangements for them.
Babies and toddlers will obviously have little understanding of what is happening and wouldn’t be able to vocalise or even make choices about their situation.
As children get older their awareness becomes more mature and due to the now very complicated arrangements that can be made for children after separation, it is more important for their views to be heard.
Mediation after Separation
It is widely known now that separating or divorcing couples who wish to apply to court for arrangements for their children, now have to show that they have attended a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting and considered the possibility of mediation before they make an application.
Often these days both parents work and Fathers also now take a much more active role in their children’s upbringing. This is very different to the more traditional roles that parents took many years ago, where the care of the children nearly always defaulted to the mother and the father would be the bread winner.
With co-parenting and all manner of other ways that parents can share the care of their children, it is a much more difficult compromise to reach especially when communication has broken down.
Involving Children over 10 Years in Mediation
The Family Mediators Association (FMA) says: “The government has suggested that children aged 10 and above should generally have access to a mediator when questions about their future are being resolved in mediation.”
Children over the age of 10, have a more advanced consciousness than younger children and in most cases, are competent enough to express their feelings or wishes. For this reason children over 10yrs old are now encouraged to have a voice in mediation and could have a consultation with a mediator to discuss their views on the arrangements. In some circumstances mediators will see children less than 10, possibly with an older sibling or they express a particular wish to talk.
This is very important as we have come across many separating couples where either the child’s wishes are not taken into account or their feelings are interpreted incorrectly. For example, at the end of a tempestuous relationship between parents, the child is likely to be stressed with all the fighting and may withdraw their feelings or feel they need to take sides to appease one parent.
Child consultation is a very complex process and the mediator needs to be fully trained in child consultation. But it is important that parents understand the views, needs and desires of their children when a separation is agreed. To involve them in the mediation process is a good way to do this.
Children like to be informed and they appreciate having their views and options heard, although they will need to understand that they are not responsible for the overall decision.
Consultations with a child usually last about 45 to an hour. Siblings will be seen separately or together depending on what the children themselves prefer.
The benefits of Direct Consultation with Children
An example of a case we had recently, showed how two parents were both misreading the reasons for their children’s distress at hand over time. The parents had already separated and had arranged for the children to see their dad every other weekend. At hand over time the children would become upset, the mother was sure this was because they didn’t want to see their dad.
The father thought it was because they didn’t get to see enough of him. When talking to the children it transpired that the kids were upset because their parents always openly rowed at hand over, with name calling and general unpleasantness.
Sometimes it takes a third party, listening ear who is not involved with the family to enable the children to speak freely without the worry of upsetting either parent. In this situation, it enabled the parents to take a step back, look at the situation with a new perspective and then address the issue.
They increased the contact with dad and both parents were very mindful to be cheerful and polite at hand over. It is also very important for parents to always react positively about the time or things that children have done with the other parent and never say anything bad about the other parent.
The benefits can be simplified as follows:
- The children have a safe and neutral place where they can express their viewpoint on decisions about their arrangements.
- Upholds children’s rights to be heard and to participate – to feel that their view is important and will be taken into consideration
- Can help children be less anxious or stressed through the separation process. There will be less chance of depressive symptoms, anger or behavioural problems.
- Helps parents understand the emotional needs of their children and therefore helps them to co-operate and make shared decisions to produce more sensitive arrangements which are more likely to be sustained over time.
- Can help the father or mother to recover confidence in developing and sustaining a good relationship with the children going forward.
- Helps both children and the parents to be more contented with the arrangements for residence and contact, as everyone has had a voice and been heard. The resulting compromise means no one feels unheard which is the most damaging thing likely to cause deep resentments.
Can we Help You?
Here at Progressive Mediation, we are very experienced in all aspects of family mediation and particularly where children are involved.
If you would like to speak to us about your situation and find out more about how direct consultation with your children can help, call us today on 0117 924 3880.