When parents separate, children of all ages can be left feeling a variety of emotions including anger, confusion and upset. They often feel that decisions are being made about their future over which they have no control over or say, and this can build resentment to one or both of their parents.
Even when parents talk to their children openly about their feelings, it is often hard to be truly impartial and to set aside their own feelings towards the other parent and allow their children to be truly heard.
'Every mediator will try and ensure the children’s
perspective is very much centre in the room'
As part of the mediation process, the voice of the child is one of the most important elements of the process. Every mediator will try and ensure the children’s perspective is very much centre in the room and will use various techniques to try and get parents to think about the decisions they are making from the child’s point of view.
Oftentimes, it can be helpful to literally hear the voice of the child and to not let the parents speak on behalf of their children and that's where older children can be involved. The child or children can come and speak to the mediator so that their view point can given, be listened to and be fed back to the parents by the Mediator. This can really help parents focus on what their children are actually saying, but more importantly, can help the child feel heard and involved in the decision making about their future.
This method of gaining the child's input is called Child Inclusive Mediation or Direct Consultation with Children. It is not a magic wand that can solve all issues - it relies on parents being honest and open and the mediator carefully needs to consider whether it is right for each family, but it can be a very powerful tool to help families in difficulty.
'Often they vote with their feet and decide not to see
the parent they perceive as being most in the wrong'
There is no specific age limit for involving children in mediation – it largely depends on the individual child and their ability to understand, but as a general rule, it tends to be used mostly for children of High School age. Children of this age can easily become entrenched in very fixed views about their parents and who is “at fault”. Often they vote with their feet and decide not to see the parent they perceive as being most in the wrong. Through Child Inclusive Mediation, the child can feel like they are part of the solution and thus can engender a better relationship for the child with both parents.
The reasons why children might have this perspective can be complex, but when there is conflict between parents, children can sometimes choose to side with the parent who they see as being the easiest to side with, simply so they don’t have to deal with the conflict. This can become entrenched as a 'position' in the child’s mind and by working with the parents to try and address the basic conflict, that position can slowly be adjusted.
"Often they vote with their feet and decide not to see
the parent they perceive as being most in the wrong"
There is a distinct benefit for children in having their voice heard so that they feel their parents respect their opinions and feelings and to give the child some positive information about their parent’s working together. It is sometimes difficult for parents to accept their children’s views especially where they feel the child has been influenced by the other parent. The mediator can work with the parents to help them overcome their own fears and worries. Communication is key for everybody involved.
Choosing a Mediator who is trained to deliver Child Inclusive Mediation can be of real benefit to children during family breakdowns and beyond. At Thornton Jones Solicitors, we have such Mediators who can help separating couples discuss and agree, with the including of their children, an amicable outcome that engenders a positive future for everyone involved, including the children.
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Call us at any of our four offices to discuss your needs and to make an appointment.
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About Clare Thornton
Clare is a Family Law Solicitor, co-founder of Thornton Jones Solicitors and Managing Partner. Clare is a well known and respected Family Law Solicitor whose services are called upon frequently by clients and other firms of solicitors due to her excellence in both Family Law and Mediation.
Clare has specialised in family law ever since qualifying as a solicitor, and particularly enjoys helping people find ways through their divorce or separation that doesn't involve the courts. She says that having spent many years watching families being torn apart by the traditional court process, she chose to specialise in alternatives to court, which allow people to resolve issues in an amicable way that puts the interests of children first.
To do this, Clare has undertaken extensive training to become a qualified family mediator, collaborative family lawyer and family arbitrator – one of only a few in the country.
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