Sometimes it can be helpful to involve children directly in the mediation process
Your NFM mediator will be able to offer appointments for your children to be included in the mediation if you think it would help them.
Research shows that when parents separate children have concerns about what lies ahead, for example:
- Where will they live?
- Will they stay in the same house?
- How will they see their both of their parents?
- What about their friends, clubs, school, activities?
- How about family pets … will they see the dog?
- What about Grandma and Grandad?
We know that at this time of uncertainty children value the chance to share their worries and concerns, and contribute to the plans for the future.
Above all else we know they want you as their parents to reassure them that life will go on and be fine – that they are not to blame for your split, and that you are going to work together for them.
We appreciate it’s a difficult time for everyone but children can come out of it relatively well if you as parents can communicate with each other about your children’s needs today and in the future even though your relationship has ended.
Coming to mediation as parents is a good place to start. We appreciate that you too will be going through some difficult emotional practical legal and financial decision making. Mediation offers you the opportunity to consider all the issues that are important to you and work towards an agreed settlement. Central to your decision making will be the children, and making sure you can both continue to meet their needs even though your relationship has ended.
Focusing on your child’s needs
It is easy to lose sight of how the children are feeling as you struggle to restore some equilibrium in your own life. It may be hard to accept that your children may feel differently about your separation than you, and so giving them an opportunity to share their hopes and fears is a good way to focus your attention on their needs.
In Child-inclusive mediation, children can meet with the mediator to talk about what they would like for the future now that their parents have separated. As part of setting up a meeting with the children, the mediator will first meet with both parents and together you will agree what areas need to be discussed with the mediator. It may be, for example, that you are thinking about moving house and on the one hand this may seem exciting but on the other hand there will be anxieties over what will happen to school, friends, contact, and so on.
We know that you are the experts about your children. You know more than anyone what their needs are. This meeting gives them a chance to share their feelings about things at home now you’ve parted.
Remember also that children do not want to have to choose between their parents and they don’t like to be included in your adult rows. So this meeting provides them with a safe and confidential space to share any concerns or anxieties they might have.
The meeting with the children is confidential, and the mediator will agree with your children how and what information will be fed back to you as parents. In some cases children are happy to share with both of their parents what they have discussed and the mediator will help them to get across the points they want to make. In other cases the mediator agrees with the children what he/she can say to the parents.
In our experience all parents find child-inclusive mediation very valuable in helping them to focus on reaching a settlement and they are better able to incorporate their children’s wishes into their final settlement.
So in child-inclusive mediation parents are assured that:
- children will not be asked to make choices or decisions
- parental authority is respected
- children are seen only with the agreement of both parents
- we will discuss fully with them the process and purpose of a “listening meeting” before involving children.
When are children involved?
- Children can be invited to meet with the mediator at an early stage, to ensure that their issues are included in the parental agenda
- once options have been identified and explored, in order to hear their views and take them into account
- at the end, to communicate and explain proposed future arrangements and to “fine-tune” them in light of children’s response
- more than once
- for an individual or family meeting.
The stage that parents are at in negotiating their future arrangements is likely to be a key factor in deciding when to involve children, and there are some circumstances when child-inclusive mediation might not be suitable. The mediator’s discussion with the parents about the purpose and process of involving children will guide decisions on this.
Children and parents are told that this can be an opportunity for children to talk privately with the mediator. Parents will only be told what children wish them to hear to respect the confidential nature of the meeting (with the important exception to confidentiality in relation to risk of harm). They will be offered a confidential session and told that the mediator does not report everything back to the parents unless the child agrees to this. This allows children to get things off their chest, ask questions they might not otherwise feel okay about asking, and generally be reassured that things will get better.
The lower age limit for children being involved depends on their parents’ view of their capacity to use and understand the opportunity, but we use age five as a guideline. Your mediator may meet with the children alone, or may involve a co-worker. Arrangements for when the children come, who brings them, where people wait, how feedback will be communicated to parents and other similar matters will all be agreed with parents as part of the preparation process. Children are invited to attend but may choose not to take up the offer.
NFM is an approved and accredited training provider for child-inclusive mediation
NFM mediators are accredited by the Family Mediation Council, the regulatory body for family mediators.