Family mediator Christine Plews gives an insight into child inclusive mediation.
Putting children at the heart of mediation discussions
A straw poll amongst my family and friends recently showed that very few of them knew what family mediation was, how it fitted into the family law process and what actually happened at mediation. Indeed, there is often a misconception that mediation is somehow linked to reconciliation and the work of couple counsellors, and Relate, in helping couples repair relationship breakdowns. Therefore, it is not surprising that there is an even greater lack of knowledge when it comes to child inclusive mediation.
In order to explain what happens in child inclusive mediation, it is helpful to think about what happens at family mediation and why there is an increasing emphasis in some involvement from the children of the family.
Experienced family mediators will put the children at the heart of all discussions that there are had about the financial arrangements following a separation and certainly when considering the arrangements for the care of the children. Often the name and ages of the children are literally written large in every mediation meeting, and sometimes parents provide a photograph of the children, so that their wishes, needs, and welfare can be fully centre stage.
Increasingly, it is being realised that children need to have their voices heard directly to help them feel respected and listened to.
The Family Mediator's Code of Practice now embodies Article 12 of the UNCRC 1989, which gives all children the right to express their views in all matters affecting them in accordance with their age and maturity. All children of 10 and over should have the opportunity to be consulted during a mediation and younger children can be included unless there are safeguarding concerns or a child has learning difficulties or mental illness.
Children seeing the mediator
This prevents the parents perceiving the needs of the children differently and reporting conflicting views as to their wishes. Any mediator who sees a child without the parents has to have the consent of both parents and appropriate arrangements made about when and where the child, or children, should be seen. Another consideration is whether the children should be seen separately or only together.
Mediators who see children have to have specialist training. They are sometimes the same mediator who is supporting the parents through their discussions at mediation or another mediator who then reports to the parents at the next joint mediation meeting. There are pros and cons as to whether it should be a separate mediator or the same one. Parents cannot be informed of what the child or children have said explicitly unless the child or children consent. However, the mediator can give a flavour of the meeting with the children and confirm that they have informed the children that their views might not necessarily be followed by their parents but that their parents will take them into account when making their decisions.
The child's view
Obviously, if the children are prepared to give a view and have that communicated to their parents, it can be very powerful for the parents to know precisely what their child has said to a neutral person and, without pressure, in a safe space. It is also very important for the child to know that they had a voice in a process that could greatly affect the house they live in, the geographical location, and which school they attend.
Relationships with the extended family, neighbours and school friends are all greatly affected by the decisions that their parents make about the division of the finances and where they should subsequently live and/or the division of their time. The aim is to focus on the child rather than the needs of the parents/carers.
Often the meeting with a child takes place at school and is facilitated by a school’s counsellor, a person who the child is likely to know and have confidence in. They can also chaperone the child or help with arranging another suitable person to be present with the child. It is therefore important that the schools are aware of what is being proposed, can make the appropriate arrangements, and support the child both before, and after, what will be a significant meeting for them.
However difficult the practical arrangements are and the painful nature of the subject, it can only be a move in the right direction to ensure that the child no longer needs a megaphone to enable themselves to be heard in deciding the arrangements that affect them so greatly.
How Blake Morgan can help
Family mediator Christine Plews is writing a series of blogs for Family Mediation Week, which is 18-22 January 2021, and they will be published on Monday through to Friday. The aim of the week is to raise awareness of mediation and how it can help separating families manage their issues collaboratively and productively.
Christine is a vastly experienced family lawyer with over 30 years’ experience in this area. She is highly ranked and recommended in legal directories. Christine was a partner at Blake Morgan LLP until 2019 when she became a Consultant specialising in mediation.
Please do get in touch to find out how our family mediators can help you.
You can read the other articles written during Family Mediation Week here:
- My life is on hold because of court delays
- Be kind to yourself: prioritising your own wellbeing and family relationships
- Can you change mediator?
- When you need more than a mediator
This article is part of Private Client Issues – February 2021