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Mediation for Children: Making the Separation Process Bearable for All

Family mediation | Justice Family Lawyers

Separation and divorce are incredibly difficult, even for adults. However, children often feel the impact most acutely. 

Their world feels shaken, and they may struggle to understand the shifts in family dynamics.  Mediation isn’t just for adults; it’s also for children, as it offers a path toward making the separation process a bit gentler. 

It provides a space for giving children a voice, protecting their emotional well-being, and helping them feel secure even when their family structure changes.

This blog aims to discuss what child-inclusive mediation is, how it works, and its benefits and potential risks to a child 

What is a Child-Inclusive Mediation?

Child-inclusive mediation is a process designed to give children a voice during separation or divorce when parents are negotiating new living arrangements.  

While children aren’t involved in decision-making, a neutral mediator meets with them privately to hear their concerns and wishes. 

This safe space allows children to express anxieties or preferences without feeling caught in parental conflict. 

The mediator then relays this information to the parents, helping them create parenting plans that consider the children’s needs and well-being. 

This approach fosters a sense of security for children and encourages parents to make decisions, prioritising a smoother transition for the whole family.

Also read: What is Shuttle Mediation

Why Include the Children During the Mediation Process?

There are several key reasons why including children in the mediation process can be beneficial:

  • Empowerment:  Divorce or separation can make children feel like they have no control over their lives. Child-inclusive mediation gives them a voice, allowing them to express their feelings, concerns, and preferences in a safe environment. This helps them feel heard and understood.
  • Reduced Anxiety:  Children often worry about what will happen to them during and after a separation. They might fear living arrangements, school changes, or losing contact with loved ones. Mediation can open lines of communication, allowing them to address anxieties and feel reassured by knowing their needs are being considered.
  • Healthier Adjustment: Children involved in the mediation process may have smoother transitions. By being included, they gain a stronger sense that they were considered and that their opinions matter. This can reduce overall stress and lead to better long-term emotional outcomes.
  • Improved Parenting Plans: When mediators gain insight into a child’s anxieties, wishes, and daily needs, they can relay this information to parents. This helps parents formulate decisions that are truly in the children’s best interest, rather than focusing solely on their own desires.

Important Note: Children must know they are not the decision-makers. Mediators clarify that while their voice is essential, the ultimate choices still rest with the parents.

How Does Child-Inclusive Mediation Work?

Child-inclusive mediation in Australia follows a structured approach, focusing on the well-being of children during family disputes, such as divorces or separations.

The Australian family law system encourages practices that prioritise children’s needs and ensures their voices are heard in a manner that’s appropriate for their age and maturity. Here’s how it typically unfolds:

1. Decision to Involve Children

The process starts when parents, often encouraged by their mediator, decide to involve their children in the mediation process. This decision is voluntary but can be seen as beneficial for ensuring outcomes that are in the children’s best interests.

A trained mediator, skilled in child psychology and family dynamics, assesses whether the mediation process suits the children involved. This assessment considers the children’s ages, emotional well-being, and family situation.

2. Engaging a Child Consultant

A child consultant, often a psychologist or a social worker with experience in child development and family issues, is brought into the process. This professional is different from the mediator and is specifically focused on understanding the children’s needs and wishes.

Before meeting with the children, the child consultant explains to the parents how they will engage with the children, ensuring the approach is respectful, age-appropriate, and non-intrusive.

3. Interaction with the Children

The child consultant meets with the children separately from their parents. This session is designed to be a safe space for the children to express their feelings, thoughts, and preferences regarding the issues at hand.

The child’s comfort and sense of security are paramount. The consultant ensures that the children understand the confidentiality aspects of their discussions, although they also explain that their views will be shared with their parents to inform decisions.

4. Feedback Integration

The child consultant shares the children’s input with the parents and the mediator, ensuring that the children’s voices are heard in the mediation process. This is done sensitively and in a way that supports the children’s best interests.

The mediator then helps the parents to understand and consider their children’s perspectives as they work towards agreements on parenting arrangements, living situations, and other relevant issues.

5. Legal and Ethical Framework

In Australia, child-inclusive mediation is supported by family law legislation, which emphasises the importance of considering children’s views in decisions that affect them.

Practitioners are expected to adhere to high standards of confidentiality, competence, and child welfare, guided by professional bodies such as the Resolution Institute and the Law Council of Australia.

This process differs from arbitration in that it aims to make family disputes less adversarial.

It promotes outcomes that respect the welfare and rights of children, ensuring their voices contribute to the decisions that will shape their lives.

Can Including the Child in the Mediation Process Result in More Harm?

Yes, there are potential circumstances where including the child in the mediation process can have negative consequences. Here are some key concerns to be aware of:

  • Increased Pressure:  Some children might feel burdened by having their opinions considered, particularly if they sense their parents will be disappointed by their choices. This can create feelings of guilt or a sense of responsibility for adult decisions.
  • Manipulative Situations: In high-conflict separations,  one parent may try to use the child’s disclosures to their advantage or put pressure on the child to take their side. This can be extremely distressing for the child and undermines the goals of mediation.
  • Exposure to Parental Conflict: If there is ongoing hostility between parents, the mediation process could expose the child to heightened conflict. This can exacerbate anxieties and erode a sense of security.
  • Age and Maturity Inappropriateness: Younger children may not fully understand the complex dynamics of separation and divorce. They might lack the vocabulary or emotional maturity to express themselves in a productive manner during mediation.
  • Exacerbation of Existing Issues: Children with pre-existing  mental health conditions may find the mediation process emotionally stressful.  It’s important to consult with mental health professionals in these cases to determine if mediation is appropriate.

Mitigation Strategies:

  • Careful Assessment: Mediators should carefully screen situations for signs of high conflict, child vulnerability, and potential for manipulation before deciding if child-inclusive mediation is appropriate.
  • Age-appropriate Approach: Mediation methods need to be tailored to the child’s specific age and developmental stage.
  • Focus on Well-being: The child’s emotional well-being must be prioritised throughout the process. If signs of distress arise, the process should be reevaluated.

It’s crucial to remember that child-inclusive mediation is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.  Careful consideration of the individual child and the family dynamics is essential to ensuring it has a positive rather than a negative impact.

Seek Legal Advice on Mediation with Justice Family Lawyers

At Justice Family Lawyers, we understand the importance of your child’s voice in family disputes. We can provide advice on the mediation process and ensure their your rights are upheld and the perspectives of your children are heard, respected, and integrated into decisions that shape their future.

Let’s work together to create a harmonious outcome for your family. Contact us today to embrace a path of understanding and resolution for your children’s well-being.

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