Children – ensuring their voices are heard in mediation
Keeping your children at the centre of mediation discussions can ensure all parties stay focused on what matters – the children. Blake Morgan looks at a case where mediation turned around a relationship and helped the client to finally come to an arrangement for how their children should be cared for.
Parents can often disagree over how children should divide their time long term. A recent case we handled involved acting for a father with a teenage daughter. He was in discussions but would send emails or text messages back and forth trying to negotiate an arrangement. This often broke down and the messages never seemed to advance to agreed arrangements for their daughter for more than a few months.
Our client found the current situation stressful and he wanted to reach a conclusion to this matter. He had done some online research and thought that court proceedings would be the only way to do this. He and his ex-partner did not get on very well and so at first our client was reluctant to try mediation.
When his daughter had been younger, our client had exchanged a number of letters regarding her arrangements. However, this took time and there seemed to be a reluctance on the mother's part to engage with this. The client was concerned that there was potential for misunderstanding in letters and that after a number of letters were sent, this way forward had not yet solved the problem. We had concerns over using the court process, as it often isn’t a 'quick fix' and the process can be more expensive than face to face discussions. We suggested that the client first tried mediation and explained that mediation is not relationship counselling and that a decision will not be imposed upon the parties. We urged the client to try mediation before escalating matters.
Because of their daughter's age and her being keen to have her voice heard, we recommended that the client proposed child inclusive mediation to his ex-partner, so that their daughter could meet with the mediator separately. The daughter could then let the mediator know her wishes about the plans going forward and give her opinion on the suggestions being made.
Over the following months the parties went to mediation. Our client was able to happily inform us that the parties had agreed their daughter's arrangements so that term time and school holidays had been fairly divided with the treatment of special occasions such as Christmas and the girl's birthday also being agreed.
The mother's solicitor and Blake Morgan each provided advice and help for our respective clients in the background to the mediation process, but the parties themselves had the discussions at the mediation. As well as agreeing the arrangements, the parents were also able to communicate together, and rebuild their bridges. This means that if unexpected issues arise in the future or if any arrangements occasionally need to change the parents will have a good chance of being able to discuss these matters without needing solicitors take the lead in those discussions.
Mediation has helped many clients to reach practical, constructive and fair agreements regarding their finances and also their children's arrangements. We have even known parties to discuss matters that are important to them but that would be too expensive to address in solicitors' letters. For example, how to divide the contents in the family home.
Blake Morgan's family mediators help clients based in London, Reading, Oxford, Southampton and Portsmouth. Please contact us for more information.