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Mediating children’s issues

Research shows that if parents can co-operate with each other, children can cope better with their parents separation than when their parents continue to be in conflict.

Mediation can help separated couples reach a settlement, but importantly, particularly when children are involved, mediation can help parents find ways of co-operating in the future.  Mediation can:

  • Give parents the opportunity to explore their children’s needs and preferences.
  • Help find ways to preserve working relationships with the other as a parent.
  • Help identify ways of communicating in the future.
  • Help parents discuss detailed plans, for instance, bedtime routines and ideas about discipline.
  • Give parents an opportunity to explore issues that are not particularly legal and cannot be determined by the court, for instance differing views on how you bring the children up and how you deal with those differences.
  • Give parents a voice.
  • Increase learning about children’s needs and co-parenting in the future, helping parents understand that they need to find a way of co-operating forever.
  • Help inform parents and children about what is happening in a co-operative age-appropriate way

From a child’s point of view, parents need to be able to cooperate. The more that parents can co-operate, the less the damage to children associated with separation and the more easily they can develop without problems.

Research from the United States has shown that 12 years after mediation non-resident parents who attended mediation are more involved with their children than those where a court application was made.

Consulting the children

Giving children a voice when their parents separate can be very important. Children want to know what is happening and want to have their say. It is preferable for parents to talk to their children and find out what their wishes and feelings are so they can take them into account. Sometimes this can be very difficult for parents in the throes of their own emotional turmoil.

Sometimes, as part of the mediation process, we see children. This is particularly helpful where both partners may have different views about the children’s wishes. They can benefit from having someone who can listen to how they are feeling and have an independent voice through a mediator.

Children can find it very difficult to balance talking about their own needs against their desire not to hurt the feelings of their parents. It can be helpful to involve them in decisions about arrangements for them – as long as they do not feel burdened with resolving their parents conflict.

Before we decide whether to see a child or not we consider the child’s age and maturity. We will check both parents agree to us talking to the child and also check both parents will take on board what the child tells us. It is unusual for us to see a child who is under 7 years old.

Between 7 and 9 years old

Between 7 and 9 years old, children begin to make judgements about parental behaviour and can get caught up in their parents conflict.

For example, we saw two sisters who said that they were upset when their parents argued at handover. Mum said she thought it was the contact that was distressing them;  Dad said they were upset because they did not have enough contact.  In fact it was their parents’ conflict which was upsetting them. Through mediation, we discussed what they could both do to make the handover less traumatic, by trying to put their own feelings about each other aside so they could communicate in a civilised way.

From the age of 9

From the age of 9, children do sometimes experience painful conflicts of loyalty and may side with one parent and become hostile to the other. It can be useful for parents to know how they are feeling. It may help them begin to understand the cause of their hostility.

For example, a child told us about dad promising he would not have another affair and then doing so. The child felt totally let down and abandoned, compounded by seeing mum’s extreme distress despite her endeavours to hide it. She felt pressure by mum and dad to see dad. We were able to have a useful session with both parents about how to reduce the pressure. We discussed ways that dad could slowly build up the child’s trust. He was able to stop blaming mum for influencing their child and this prevented a needless application to the court.

Research from Australia where consultation with the children is more common than in the UK has shown that Direct Consultation:

  • Gives children a safe place to express their views.
  • Helps repair parental relationships which might have been damaged by separation.
  • Helps parents understand the emotional needs of their children.
  • Helps produce sensitive agreements which can be sustained over time and in an age-appropriate way.
  • Helps improve father-child relationships.
  • Helps the father to recover confidence in developing and sustaining a relationship with the children.
  • Upholds children’s rights to be heard and to participate
  • Helps both children and parents be more contented with the arrangements for residence and contact.
  • Can help children be less anxious, have fewer fears and fewer depressive symptoms after their parents’ separation.
  • Helps parents co-operate and make shared decisions about their children into the future.
Related Articles

Below are a selection of related articles from our blog:

Parenting Plan Questions – A Parenting Plan should not be set in stone. Situations change, children grow up, parents find new partners and may share responsibility for other children. Think about what the future may hold and try to build change into the plan.

Co Parenting Guidelines –  Parents should aim for a decent, business-like, working relationship with one another that meets the needs of their children.

January Divorce and Separation Month – Sadly many relationships break up in January. Over Christmas, families and couples often spend long periods together, highlighting underlying tensions.

What do Children Want – A new study has been published into the perspectives of young adults who experienced parental separation in their youth.

How do we tell the Children? – Telling your children can be a very painful and difficult thing to do. Read this post to help you understand from the child’s perspective.

Shared Care for the Children – Could it work? – This post looks at how the possibility of shared care or even equal care can work if the attitudes of the parents are right.

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